Ferguson sees an opening for Owen
Manager backs his new striker to shine at Wembley and soon win England recall
It is nearly two years since Michael Owen last played at Wembley in a trio of games that saw Israel, Estonia and, most improbably, Russia each demolished by the same 3-0 scoreline.
Owen's contribution was three goals for his country – two more than Manchester United have collectively managed in five appearances at the new stadium – and they were to be his last for England.
If he is to win back that shirt, much will depend on how he starts for United and tomorrow's Community Shield encounter with Chelsea is the kind of platform he would crave, even if Wayne Rooney and Dimitar Berbatov are likely to be Sir Alex Ferguson's first choice at Wembley.
"At the end of the day, Fabio Capello is not going to pick a player for England on his reputation from eight years ago," Ferguson said. "But the first thing you would say is that England are not endowed with a bunch of top strikers. The only consistent performer has been Wayne Rooney.
"They have tried Emile Heskey, they have tried Peter Crouch, they have even tried Theo Walcott – they included him in the 2006 World Cup squad at 17 years of age which is amazing. I still can't understand it and there really is a dearth of top strikers in the country. So that gives Michael Owen a chance.
"Our approach has been to say to him, 'Enjoy being here, enjoy the training'. It is only through what he does here that Fabio can really look at him. His name and reputation will not get him into the World Cup squad but what he does over the season with us will, hopefully."
The new Wembley has yet to see a commanding performance by Manchester United. In five games, they have only scored once – Ryan Giggs's goal against Chelsea in the Community Shield two years ago. Ferguson acknowledged the lack of panache United have displayed, arguing the slow pitch is the likeliest culprit.
With Edwin van der Sar having broken his hand in the penalty shoot-out with Bayern Munich that decided the Audi Cup – an injury that will take eight to 10 weeks to heal – Ben Foster is likely to get an early opportunity to prove his manager's assertion that he is England's best keeper. Nemanja Vidic will also not be available until the season is two weeks' old.
Despite Liverpool's strong finish to last season, Ferguson still sees Chelsea as the greatest threat to preventing Manchester United winning a fourth successive title, something that has never previously been achieved in English top-flight football. "Carlo Ancelotti will take up the baton from where Guus Hiddink left off," he said. "Carlo has his own way of playing – the diamond in the middle which he has used for years at Milan - which will be different from how Guus operated. But they have a lot of experience and a lot of terrific players.
"John Terry deciding to stay will keep them stronger, there is no doubt about that. It is difficult to say how this year is going to pan out. Ourselves, Chelsea, Liverpool and Arsenal are all looking at what is happening at Manchester City with great interest. We are asking ourselves if this can work because none of us has really gone into the market in a big way. We have sold Cristiano Ronaldo, Liverpool have sold Xabi Alonso, Arsenal have sold Emmanuel Adebayor."
Ferguson, however, thought Liverpool were unlikely to suffer unduly from Alonso's defection to Real Madrid, where he joins Ronaldo. "I am not sure it is a great loss," said the Scot. "If they thought they had a chance of winning the league, then they wouldn't have sold him. So he is obviously one that they didn't think they needed."
The Manchester United manager denied reports that, at a recent golf day, he had quipped there was more chance of him holing in one than there was of Liverpool winning the title, but added that it was not something he expected.
"Liverpool got 86 points last season and that is an exceptional total for a team that finishes second," he said. "We won it in 1997 with 75. That is a grand total to finish second. Whether they can amass that many again, you never know."
Early signs: Portents for the title race
*The winners of the Community Shield have gone on to win the Premier League in the same season just five times since the top flight's rebranding in 1992, although it has happened three times in the past four campaigns. Tomorrow's opposing teams remain the only sides in the Premier League era to have won both in the same season – United four times, Chelsea once.
*United and Chelsea contest the curtain-raiser for the fourth time in 12 years.
Year......... Shield winner ......... Champions
1992......... Leeds 4 Liverpool 3 .... Man Utd
1993......... Man U 1 (p) Arsenal 1... Man Utd
1994......... Man U 2 Bl'burn 0......... Blackburn
1995......... Everton 1 Bl'burn 0........Man Utd
1996......... Man U 4 Newcastle 0......Man Utd
1997......... Man U 1 (p) Chelsea 1....Arsenal
1998......... Arsenal 3 Man Utd 0....... Man Utd
1999......... Arsenal 2 Man Utd 1........Man Utd
2000......... Chelsea 2 Man Utd 0.......Man Utd
2001......... Liverpool 2 Man Utd 1......Arsenal
2002......... Arsenal 1 Liverpool 0.......Man Utd
2003......... Man U 1 (p) Arsenal 1......Arsenal
2004......... Arsenal 3 Man Utd 1........ Chelsea
2005......... Chelsea 2 Arsenal 1........Chelsea
2006......... Liverpool 2 Chelsea 1......Man Utd
2007......... Man U 1 (p) Chelsea 1.....Man Utd
2008......... Man U 0 (p) P'mth 0 .........Man Utd
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