Potent partnership perfect for Potters
By Oliver Wilson
Stoke City could well be in for a treat this season as they get set to watch one of England’s greatest striking partnerships in the form of Peter Crouch and Michael Owen.
Tony Pulis snapped up Owen, the out-of-contract former Real Madrid and Liverpool striker, on Tuesday evening and the pair could form a thrilling combination at the Britannia if history can repeat itself.
Owen and Crouch, who both wore the red shirt of Liverpool, have partnered one another on only a handful of occasions, all of which came at international level.
Despite the infrequency of the two playing for the team, they proved to be one of the most fruitful strike forces that England have had.
The pair amassed 11 goals on their seven international starts together, including a 6-0 thumping of Jamaica in 2006 that saw Crouch bag a hat-trick, while Owen notched up three of his own against Columbia in May 2005 starting alongside the robot-dancing forward.
The aptly named little and large averaged 1.57 goals-per-game under managers Sven-Goran Eriksson and Steve McClaren, an incredible goal tally when compared to other prominent England strike pairings from that era.
Owen alongside Alan Shearer averaged 0.8 goals a game. However, the former Manchester United partnership of Wayne Rooney and the Chester-born 32-year-old Owen struck 0.947 goals per game.
Even the pairing of Emile “down again” Heskey and Owen – the strike force that lead England into battle that memorable night in Munich - could only average 0.941 goals per game in all their starts together.
Crouch, on the other hand, has never been offered a consistent partner up front and often has played as a lone target man. Yet despite playing 17 per cent of his international games next to Owen, it was alongside the Chester-born striker that the big man smashed in – and I use that phrase in the loosest meaning of the word – a third of his England goals.
Sceptics among us will look at the opposition that Crouch and Owen faced together between May 2005 and November 2007, and it would be fair to say that none of the defences they faced were world class.
Along with the 6-0 route of Jamaica and Owen’s hat-trick in a 3-2 win over Columbia, the pair went up against Paraguay, Trinidad & Tobago, Estonia and Austria twice.
But even the sceptics know that you can only play against what’s placed in front of you, with England managers denied the chance to play the two together on more occasions thanks to Owen’s chronic ability to pick up injuries. What was, and will be important to Stoke fans, is the bond that two strikers can create with one another, especially when that bond leads to the scoring rate the two shared.
Tony Pulis won’t be expecting the same sort of results as both players are in the twilight of their careers. Crouch, however, is only just the wrong side of 30 – a mere 20 months – and has looked a rejuvenated striker in a Potters side that plays to his strengths.
The key to the combination continuing their dazzling form from the past will be if Owen can stay fit. His lightening-quick feet obviously lack the pace of the Owen of 10 years ago, but he still posesses the predatory instincts and vision that a good striker needs to continue to score goals during the final years of their career. A number of the goals he put away for Manchester United in his two-year spell at the club involved his finding the right space at the right time before applying a clinical finish to the move. Good players don't lose that, and Michael was better then good.
But injuries have always hampered his career for both club and country, and a battle against his own body could be a tough one to win.
If he can overcome his aches and pains, though, Owen can be the dynamite poacher for Stoke, latching onto Crouch’s flicks as the towering forward continues to be the central threat of Pulis’s set pieces.
After Liverpool’s failing with the little and large combination of Andy Carroll and Luis Suarez, maybe it is the Potters who can successfully mold their strike force to work with a 5ft 8in poacher, and a 6ft 7in target man.