Injury forces Owen out until Christmas

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The Independent Football

Michael Owen has been ruled out for three weeks following a scan on the thigh muscle he injured in Liverpool's Uefa Cup win over Steaua Bucharest.

The England striker has torn muscle fibres in his right leg, the latest injury blow to hit the 23-year-old in recent months. Owen damaged his shin during the 2-1 home defeat by Arsenal on 4 October and was ruled out for England's game in Turkey and the next two Liverpool matches.

He returned against Leeds on 25 October but then was ruled out with an ankle problem. In all he has played only four of the last nine Liverpool matches and it may be Christmas before the striker is back in action.

Gérard Houllier said of Owen's latest injury: "Michael has pulled a few fibres of the thigh muscle, he will be out for two to three weeks. It was not just a strain, the scan was the proof there was something wrong.

"It was purely accidental and came when he kicked the ball with the outside of his right foot. He felt something go and came off straight away. It is not a tear or a big pull, but what you do not want is him playing with an injury because it can become chronic."

Alan Shearer and his Newcastle team-mates will battle against the fatigue of a tough European night in an attempt to claim another three points at Wolves. Sir Bobby Robson's men will be back in action less than 40 hours after securing their passage to the Uefa Cup third round with a hard-fought 1-0 win over FC Basle for the 12.30pm kick-off at Molineux.

The game is being shown live on television despite United's appeals to have it put back a day, and Shearer, who had to have stitches in an eye wound during Thursday night's game, added: "It seems a crazy decision to play the game on Saturday. We're disappointed that the game is not on Sunday - and the fact it's a lunchtime start rubs salt into the wounds."

While Liverpool and Newcastle went through, and Hearts fell by the wayside, Manchester City need to rediscover the self-belief they had at the beginning of the season, according to the midfielder Shaun Wright-Phillips.

City go into tomorrow's game against Middlesbrough having failed to score for the third match running, after being knocked out of the Uefa Cup by the Polish side Groclin.

"We have got to get back to the way we can play in the Premier League and start our season off again," Wright-Phillips said. "If we do that I am sure there will be plenty of good days ahead."

City had the backing of 1,000 fans in Poland and they were hoping to see an improvement on the 1-1 first-leg scoreline. Instead they had to settle for a 0-0 draw which ended their stint in the competition after victories against TNS and Lokeren.

The Hearts coach, Craig Levein, admits his over-cautious tactics may have cost his side a place in the third round of the Uefa Cup - but said he had to guard against a thrashing against Bordeaux.

Levein was applauded for the tactics he employed in the first leg a few weeks ago, when Mark de Vries grabbed the only goal of the game to give Hearts a real chance of remaining in Europe beyond Christmas for the first time in 14 years. But a 2-0 home defeat on Thursday ended this season's European ambitions.

"Maybe I could have played 4-4-2 and had a go, and that's the easiest thing in the world to say when the game is finished. But if we had done that and pushed forward then we could have been three or four goals down in the first 20 minutes.

"Maybe it was a little too cautious but it's a learning curve for me, too. If we had been in Europe for four or five years on the trot and were still in this position then that could be down to bad management but I've learnt a hell of a lot from Thursday's game."

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