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Every Man Utd goal for Owen will increase pressure on Benitez

EDITORIAL: You wonder if Jamie Carragher has tempered his celebrating since Cristiano Ronaldo's departure from Manchester United.

When Ronaldo's move to Real Madrid was announced, the Liverpool defender made no secret of his glee that their greatest rivals had lost their greatest player. But what about now? And what about Carra's former teammate, Michael Owen?

The story goes that when Owen went public about suspending contract talks at Newcastle United last season, both Carragher and Steven Gerrard approached manager Rafa Benitez urging him to bring the striker back to Liverpool. Their pleas apparently fell on deaf ears. Now Owen is running around for United - and scoring goals.

Two strikes in preseason against Malaysian opposition is hardly earth-shattering stuff, but the promise is there. Every goal, every game he takes the field for United, will just turn up the heat ever more gradually on what Benitez is doing at Anfield.

And it hasn't cost United rival Sir Alex Ferguson a red cent. He even managed to get Owen on much less than he was earning on Tyneside.

At Anfield this season, there'll be no David Villa, the Valencia striker. A similar type to Owen, Villa was lined up as Fernando Torres' strike-partner for the new campaign. But Valencia's stubbornness and Liverpool's own cashflow problems, meant the deal was never likely to happen.

If Owen can start the season amongst the goals for United, there is sure to be questions directed at Benitez as to why he felt above the gamble that Ferguson has made. This time round, there can be no fobbing off to the great black hole of 'the board' or 'administration', Benitez now has total say on transfers - the buck stops with him.

Even now, Ferguson is media-managing the signing with all the acumen of an Alistair Campbell. From talking up Owen's value and experience, Ferguson is now winding back expectations, suggesting he'd be happy with just 25 games from the striker this season. For a club that expects to play over 70, you can be sure the manager will privately be demanding much more from the 29 year-old.

Ferguson went public last week about Karim Benzema, the new Real Madrid striker, being his first-choice, but the Spanish giants have probably done him a favour. The United manager rates his young forwards Danny Welbeck and Kiko Macheda very highly and has declared confidence both will be major players at Old Trafford.

But how would either of them have felt if Benzema had arrived? In contrast, at 29, Owen is no long-term threat to either teenager and will help Ferguson keep both happy. Something which he failed to do with Giuseppe Rossi, now of Villarreal.

But for Ferguson, the biggest factor in the entire transfer is sure to be what Owen's success will mean at Liverpool. For all the hand-wringing over their Rome failure, Ferguson would have taken Champions League defeat over losing the Premiership title to Liverpool everytime.

And in Owen, with the new season still weeks away, he has just delivered a major psychological blow to Benitez - and without spending a penny.

Chris Beattie
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Chris Beattie

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