Friday 16 August 2013
When BT Sport was choosing the first of its 38 live Barclays Premier League matches to start its new live coverage of the competition from the 2013/14 season, the selection of Liverpool v Stoke City was an apt one for the new broadcaster's co-commentator Michael Owen.
The two clubs, who meet at Anfield 12.45pm on Saturday, 17 August, bookended Owen's career. The former England striker spent his first eight seasons at Liverpool, scoring 118 goals from 216 Barclays Premier League appearances as he became a hero of the Kop.
"The adrenalin rush that scoring a goal gives you will be impossible to replicate"
After spells at Real Madrid, Newcastle United and Manchester United, Owen's final season came at the Britannia Stadium in 2012/13. It was a largely frustrating one with one League goal from eight appearances.
The lack of playing time at Stoke meant that when he decided to hang up his boots this summer, the shock of no longer being a player was dampened.
"I was almost gradually weaned away from the game, not playing much," he says of his final two seasons. "So there was almost, in my mind, inevitability about it unlike, say Jamie Carragher, who was heavily involved last season but also retired in the summer.
"I have not missed the travelling and running pre-season but once the ball gets kicked and the season starts I'll miss it a bit. Certainly the adrenalin rush that scoring a goal gives you will be impossible to replicate and I will miss the enjoyment from being in and around the training ground, which is full of characters, and the buzz of matchday. But the training day-to-day, I won't miss."
Looking ahead to the Liverpool match, Owen is confident that as well as the signings of Simon Mignolet and Kolo Toure from Barclays Premier League rivals, the two new signings from Spain, Luis Alberto, from Sevilla, and Iago Aspas, from Celta Vigo, will not have too much trouble adapting to the English game.
"I was concerned about Aspas's physique but he likes to run the channels and has good movement"
"When I started out the difference between leagues of other countries was more apparent," he said. "Playing a Spanish team was almost like playing a different sport such was the variation in the style of play.
"Now with more players going to other countries, the game is almost as one, so it's not as hard to adapt as it once was. The main adaptation for imports is to the life, be it the culture, the weather, the food. I know this from my time at Real Madrid."
The previous two times the teams have met at Anfield have ended in goalless draws but Owen does not see this happening this season, not least because of Liverpool’s greater attacking threat this time around, not least through Coutinho, Steven Gerrard and Daniel Sturridge, if fit.
Another forward who has impressed Owen in mid-season has been Aspas.
"I have been pleasantly surprised by him," Owen said. "He is slight and I was concerned about his physique but he likes to run the channels and has good movement.
"He can also run behind the defence and has a lovely touch and gets into goalscoring opportunities a lot, scoring a few in pre-season. He may not start a load of games but will be involved. The only question mark is over his size if he plays alone up front."
As for Stoke, while they have not "gone mad" in the transfer window, says Owen, the biggest change is the manager. The departure of Tony Pulis and the arrival of Mark Hughes will lead to a change in style, to which Stoke's team may need time to adapt.
"Under Pulis Stoke were very direct and I cannot imagine Hughes will do the same," Owen said. "How do they adapt to that change, is the big question, bearing in mind they have been playing that style for a number of years."
"Hughes's teams play good passing team but are physical, like he played the game"
Owen is optimistic for his final club, especially if Hughes can replicate the managerial achievements he achieved at Manchester City and Blackburn.
"Hughes has a decent managerial record," Owen says. "His teams play a good passing game but are physical, like he played the game.
"People who saw his Manchester City play were impressed and certainly at Blackburn he did well."
But for Saturday, Owen expects his first side to come out on top.
"I have watched three Liverpool matches in pre-season and I have liked what I saw in terms of possession and creating chances," he says. "They have a bit too much for Stoke so I think that they will edge it on Saturday."
Top four: 1) Chelsea; 2) Man Utd; 3) Man City; 4) Liverpool.
Top scorer: Robin van Persie - He'll be playing in most games. They create a load of goals. At Man City goals will be shared around, while neither Chelsea nor Arsenal have the same quality of striker. Maybe Spurs' Roberto Soldado will score a few but no one can touch Van Persie.
Player to watch: Romelu Lukaku (Chelsea) has the makings of a very good player, if he is given his chance at Stamford Bridge. He could be a real star.
Signing of the summer: Jesus Navas (Man City). He is tiny but a real traditional winger who beats players with loads of pace.
Michael Owen is lead co-commentator for BT Sport's coverage of 38 exclusively live Barclays Premier League matches. BT Sport is free with BT broadband, to find out more visit www.btsport.com