Michael Owen will miss out again on a recall to the England squad for the World Cup qualifier against Croatia next month barring injury to either Wayne Rooney or Jermain Defoe. Owen's first goal for Manchester United against Wigan last Saturday has not convinced Fabio Capello that he is worth a recall.
The England manager will be at Old Trafford on Saturday to watch United against Arsenal but he has already made up his mind that Owen is competing with Rooney and Defoe for two places in the squad. With Capello due to announce his squad this weekend it seems even a match-winning performance by Owen on Saturday would not be enough to earn him his first cap in 17 months.
The way that the Italian has structured his squad means that of the four strikers he will select, two will be of the target-man variety – Emile Heskey, Peter Crouch or Carlton Cole – and the other two will be the category into which Rooney, Defoe and Owen fall.
That means that it will be extremely difficult for Owen to re-establish himself before the World Cup finals unless there is a major injury to Rooney – the star player – or Defoe, whose six goals already this season, including two for England against the Netherlands earlier this month, make him the country's in-form striker.
Capello is understood to be unconvinced that Owen has turned a corner simply on the basis of a 19-minute cameo on Saturday in which he scored the fourth goal in a 5-0 win over Wigan. The squad for the friendly against Slovenia on 5 September and Croatia four days' later will either be announced by Capello on Saturday evening or after the Premier League matches on Sunday.
The England manager expects to be without Rio Ferdinand and Theo Walcott for the games. In place of the injured United defender, Capello is expected to pick the uncapped Gary Cahill of Bolton Wanderers. He will be fourth-choice centre-back in the squad having fulfilled the same role at the end of last season as a replacement for Ferdinand for the Kazakhstan and Andorra World Cup qualifiers.
In place of Walcott will be Aaron Lennon who has impressed with his early season form for Tottenham. Capello was at Upton Park on Sunday to see him score Spurs' first goal. Lennon last played for England in April in the win at home over Ukraine.
On Saturday, Capello's assistant Franco Baldini will be watching either Bolton v Liverpool or West Ham's trip to Blackburn Rovers before meeting up with his boss for the Saturday evening game at Old Trafford. It will enable Baldini to see either Cahill or Matthew Upson in action. Capello will then watch Portsmouth against Manchester City on Sunday in order to check on City's new signing Joleon Lescott.
Unfortunately for Capello his rule about not picking players who are not playing regularly could be undermined on a few fronts this weekend. Michael Carrick has only played one league game for United sides despite being fit and is not guaranteed to start against Arsenal on Saturday. There have been suggestions that he might have been offered to Spurs as a makeweight in a deal to get Luka Modric to Old Trafford.
Additionally, Emile Heskey was dropped by Martin O'Neill for Aston Villa's win over Liverpool. He is not guaranteed a starting place against Fulham on Sunday. Lescott has also not played since the first day of the season as his transfer to City was finalised. Peter Crouch was dropped from the last England squad on the basis that he had not played any pre-season games.
Number of months since Michael Owen won his last England cap, against France.