OPTA PONDER ERIKSSON'S OPTIONS
By Rupert Webster
Last Updated: 01/01/70 1:00am
The general consensus seems to be that Michael Owen is the only certainty up front, and the statistics certainly suggest that the Liverpool man is England's most potent attacking weapon. He has scored twice in competitive games under Eriksson, while Emile Heskey, Andy Cole and Robbie Fowler have managed just one strike between them. It is also interesting to note that in that time Heskey has not managed to fire a single accurate shot, but has set up two goals for team-mates, indicating that he could well be an effective option at left wing.
The fact that Owen was on the bench for much of the only game that England have failed to win under Eriksson (against Holland) will also support his claim for inclusion in Munich. Indeed, Fowler and Cole seemed lacklustre in that game and England rarely looked like scoring, whereas England have averaged 3.0 goals per game with Owen and Fowler, and 2.7 with Owen and Cole.
But with Eriksson having coached the team through only three World Cup qualifiers, he will obviously have to rely on Premiership form as much as the players' performances for the national team. The Swede and assistant Tord Grip have certainly seen enough matches since January to have a very good idea who should start in Germany.
Since the former Lazio manager took control, it is Owen's league form which will have impressed the most. He has scored 10 times, having netted with 24% of his shots. Perhaps surprisingly considering his recent troubles at Anfield, Fowler is England's next most effective forward. He has scored with 23% of his efforts on goal since January - a far better proportion than Heskey (12%) or Cole (15%) have managed - and scored six times. Indeed, it is possible to make a persuasive case for Fowler's inclusion on Saturday, but perhaps not alongside Owen.
Throughout the 2000-01 season and the start of the new campaign, Fowler has played alongside both Heskey and Owen regularly for Liverpool. The Reds have won a superb 82% of the games where the former Leicester man has partnered Fowler, and averaged more that two goals per game. This is better than the Reds' record with Owen and Heskey, when they have scored 1.8 goals per match and won 62% of games.
The worst combination for Gerard Houllier's side has been with Owen and Fowler, who have led Liverpool to a win in just 33% of their matches together.
It is clearly a difficult choice for Eriksson. Of all four strikers, Heskey appears to be the one who forms the best understandings with his team-mates, and both England and Liverpool seem to benefit from his presence. However, the bustling Liverpool forward is somewhat goal-shy and needs to be paired with a more prolific striker. On current form, this should be either Owen or Fowler, who both have the eye for goal to trouble Germany's defence on Saturday.