Owen saved for super Sunday

Liverpool are optimistic that Michael Owen will be fit for Sunday’s critical Premiership game against Manchester United despite Gérard Houllier admitting he would have risked wrecking the striker’s season had he included him against Steaua Bucharest this week.

Owen remained on Merseyside as his teammates travelled to Romania for Thursday’s Uefa Cup second-round tie, nursing a severely bruised ankle that has troubled him for more than a month. The injury was picked up during the 2-1 home defeat to Arsenal on October 4, from which the 23 year old eventually limped with a serious shin injury.

The latter complaint forced him out of England’s Euro 2004 qualifier in Turkey a week later, but while Owen’s shin has now healed, the bruising around his ankle has stubbornly failed to respond to treatment. The forward underwent two scans on the joint last month, which did not reveal any ligament damage, and a third test is due.

‘I’d have preferred him to have played in this game, but I don’t want to ruin his season by over-playing him with an injury,” said Houllier, who withdrew Owen after 77 minutes of the 2-1 league win at Fulham on Sunday as a precaution. ‘He hasn’t travelled because I didn’t want to take a risk. We will try and get him fit for the next game instead because a Premiership game against Manchester United takes priority, no question.

‘Leaving him out of this game also takes into account the player’s health. If it had been a cup final he would have played, but this is not the cup final, yet. We want him for United, simple as that, and if he played in both games he could aggravate the injury. It would give everyone a lift if he was fit for Sunday.”

Owen has missed three of Liverpool’s matches since sustaining the bruising against Arsenal, though Houllier started with him in the Premiership game with Leeds on October 25 in an attempt to arrest a slump in form. That gamble paid off, Owen’s opening goal paving the way for a 3-1 victory, though it is only clear now the extent of the risk the Frenchman had taken.

With that in mind, Owen is certain to be withdrawn from the England squad if selected for the friendly against Denmark at Old Trafford on November 16, regardless of whether he is fit to play against United. The striker had expected to travel to Romania, but was unable to train properly at Melwood and will now spend the week receiving treatment on the ankle.

‘He is the club’s best goal-scorer [in Europe], but we have a wider perspective on this,” added Houllier. ‘It’s not even just about Manchester United — it’s about his future fitness and I don’t want to risk him. When you take a decision like this you have to consider the health of the player and I don’t want to gamble on that.

‘It’s not his shin, but his ankle that is still sore. If he feels his ankle on a recurring basis as he is now and needs a week to recover, then I’ll give him a week. Maybe he could have played in this game, but if he plays in this there is a high risk he won’t make it for Manchester United.

‘The strange thing is that it seems to be okay during games, but then it flares up the next day. He will stay here and have more treatment and do cardiovascular work in the gym so that he’s not short on fitness.

‘He’s had two scans already which didn’t show anything, and he’ll have another one. He has bruising around the ankle. There is no damage to the ligament, but I am confident he will be all right for Sunday given that he won’t play in Romania.”

Kieron Dyer did not travel with Newcastle United for their Uefa Cup match against Basle. The England midfielder is still suffering from the hamstring injury that has caused him to miss the last four games. —

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