United 2 Valencia 0
ONLY Michael Owen will know how he failed to score on his Old Trafford debut. In front of the watching England manager Fabio Capello, Sir Alex Ferguson?s ?most controversial? summer signing, was presented with three gilt-edge opportunities to get his name on the score-sheet, only to fluff his lines on each occasion. Of particular annoyance to a striker who has established himself as one of the deadliest finishers of his generation, on two of those three occasions he failed to even hit the target. But despite his unusual profligacy, Owen was still afforded a standing ovation when he departed the pitch shortly after the hour ? and neither Ferguson nor Capello can have failed to notice a sharpness in his play that has been conspicuously absent in recent years. At his best, Owen will know he could have scored at least four goals against a Valencia side that simply couldn?t get to grips with his speed of mind or movement. In that sense this was the Owen of old ? hanging on the shoulders of defenders, making incisive runs that continually cut the Spanish side?s defence to shreds. Even more encouraging for Ferguson and Capello alike, was the impressive understanding he showed with Wayne Rooney, who scored the opening goal in a 2-0 win, as well as producing a sumptuous display. Substitute Tom Cleverley?s strike on 73 minutes was a nice touch for the youngster, but last night was always going to be about Owen. Debate Even if Capello remains to be convinced, Ferguson is certain he will prove an inspired acquisition. ?Perhaps our most controversial summer signing was Michael Owen,? he said. ?Who I believe will continue to surprise people. ?He may have reached the stage of his career where he won?t figure in every game but he?ll score a lot of goals for us in keeping with his tremendous record throughout his career for England, Liverpool and Newcastle. ?There seems to be constant debate about the injuries he?s picked up over the years, but you look at Paul Scholes, who?s had two or three bad injuries, and he?s always come back. ?So we are not worried about Michael. If players have the resolve to get back then they always will, and there?s no doubt that Michael still loves the game of football and is hungry to play.? Having steadfastly refused to play them together in any of United?s previous six pre-season matches, Ferguson finally gave Rooney and Owen the chance to develop their partnership at club level. Operates The pair know each other well from the international stage, though the jury is still out as to whether they can form an effective duo. Chief sceptic is Capello, who was at Old Trafford to run the rule over Owen, who he has exiled from his World Cup plans. Owen remains hopeful he can convince the England coach that he still has an international future ? and much may depend on how he operates alongside Rooney at United. Rooney is very much the key figure for both club and country, so be it for United or England, the onus is very much on Owen to make the partnership work. History tells us that the former Liverpool and Real Madrid forward has tended to suffer when the pair have played together. Though they scored 15 goals in the 20 games they started together for England, Owen accounted for just six. He should have made it one in only 20 minutes of their United partnership when put through by a delicious reverse pass by Rooney. With Valencia goalkeeper, Cesar Sanchez quickly off his line, Owen tried to lift the ball over him, but watched as it bobbled the wrong side of the post. Connect Just 10 minutes later he was set free again ? this time by the vision of Darren Fletcher, but saw his shot beaten away by Sanchez. If on that occasion he could claim the keeper did well to deny him, he had no such excuses five minutes after the break when put through again by Fletcher. Again he only had Sanchez to beat, but arched his effort well wide of goal. Shortly after he did well to work a half chance just inside the box, but failed to hit the target again. And so it was down to Rooney to put United ahead on 52 minutes ? and he owed much to Antonio Valencia, who impressed on his first appearance in front of his new fans. Taking the ball to the byline on the right, the Ecuadorian lifted a cross into the six yard box, which Rooney powered into the top corner. Valencia was once again the provider for Cleverley to seal the win, beating a man before centering for Dimitar Berbatov. The Bulgarian failed to connect, as did Federico Macheda, but Cleverley made no mistake tucking the ball home. Valencia?s best chance of the match came when Michel struck the bar in the first half, while Darron Gibson might have added to the margin of United?s win when also hitting the bar late on.
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