Belfast Telegraph

Manchester United 2 Valencia 0

Michael Owen failed in his mission to fire his way towards an England recall with a Manchester United goal against Valencia at Old Trafford tonight.

England's fourth highest goalscorer could not find the target with four good chances in front of a watching Fabio Capello, leaving strike partner Wayne Rooney and unheralded teenager Tom Cleverley to snatch the headlines as United defeated the cash-strapped Primera Liga outfit.

Capello took his seat alongside trusted assistant Franco Baldini right on kick-off, which was just as well given Owen was part of the same side as Rooney for the first time in United's pre-season campaign, which now extends to seven matches.

The last time Owen featured for his country was in the friendly win over France in March 2008, since when Capello has continually cited lack of fitness for the 29-year-old's continued omission.

No such excuse can be made when Capello names his squad to face Holland in an Amsterdam friendly next week given Owen looks fresher and sharper than at any stage of his ill-fated four years at Newcastle.

If only Owen could have taken one of those gilt-edged opportunities he would really have been looking forward to Saturday's squad announcement.

Instead, his normally deadly shooting boots let him down. That might only be troubling to a less confident striker but it must be slightly uncomfortable for someone supposedly being won over, the position Capello finds himself in.

Still, in leaping to meet Patrice Evra's near-post cross and guiding it over, then springing the Valencia offside trap before chipping narrowly wide and finally blasting straight at Cesar Sanchez after being set free by Ritchie De Laet, Owen showed the old striking instincts remain.

The second move also proved, while Cristiano Ronaldo will continue to be missed for some time to come at Old Trafford, Rooney is ready to assume his crown as king of these parts.

Restored to the central striking berth he was forced to vacate in order to maximise the threat from a player deemed the world's best and most expensive, while at the same time neutralising his refusal to defend, Rooney is a man eager to make an impact.

Dropping deep when necessary, pushing forward on occasion, it is exactly the role Capello has identified for him with England. And it looks like he could be equally effective there for his club side, too.

It was little surprise that, after Owen's problems hitting the net, Rooney should provide the example, leaping highest to guide home a cross from the excellent Antonio Valencia, whose right-wing cross seven minutes after the re-start was the high point of a very encouraging Old Trafford bow.

If Rooney is a world-class talent who has been straining at the leash, De Laet is a complete unknown to those not versed in the depth of United's squad.

A 20-year-old from Belgium, bought by Ferguson from Stoke on the advice of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer last January, De Laet made his senior debut at Hull on the final day of last season.

He emerged a winner on that occasion and built on his reputation still further with an eye-catching display at right-back, showing he was not afraid to attack in addition to his willingness to do the dirty work in defence.

Given Gary Neville, Wes Brown and Rafael Da Silva are all out injured, Da Laet is a possible to face Birmingham when the Premier League champions begin their quest to win a fourth consecutive title on August 16.

Another Owen chance went begging before Rooney made his mark, his strike partner subsequently drilling wide after nipping in to collect possession after another Valencia burst had been halted.

Half a dozen substitutions followed, including the exits of Owen, Rooney and De Laet and the arrival of Cleverley, the Basingstoke-born midfielder who will celebrate his 20th birthday in a week's time but showed maturity beyond his years to provide the calm finish to wrap up victory after Valencia had again provided the cross.

Belfast Telegraph


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