Few rivalries in world football can compare to the bitter hostility between Manchester United and Liverpool; a quiet tension underlines conversation. Fans check their watches and stumble over words, their minds elsewhere. All of this in anticipation of the biggest game on the footballing calendar. Nothing else comes close to when the two most successful clubs in England’s history meet.
It’s at times like these that comparisons are made in order to predict which of the two will come out on top. And with both Liverpool and United boasting elite attacking forces for the first time in years, the mind wanders back to when this was last truly the case.
Robbie Fowler and Michael Owen, Dwight Yorke and Andy Cole – these were the headliners. The players capable of dragging their team over the line when needed most. True legends of the game whose partnerships were made known in matches of this calibre.
But which duo at their peak would you prefer to slot into your team’s current side?
Owen and Fowler
Owen and Fowler? pic.twitter.com/mXsYQNBEKJ
— Back of the Net (@backofthenetnew) October 4, 2017
With Fowler standing at sixth (183) and Owen at eighth (158) in Liverpool’s all-time scoring standings, it’s fair to say the pair were capable of helping themselves to a goal or two when needed. Though, contrary to popular belief, they didn’t feature together all that often.
When Owen came onto the Liverpool scene at the age of just seventeen in the 1995/96 season, Fowler was already in the process of firmly establishing his nickname of ‘God’ at the club; with 36 goals across all competitions that campaign. It wouldn’t be until the following year after an injury to their ‘senior’ striker, that an inexperienced Owen would get (and make the most of) his opportunity at Liverpool.
Managers Roy Evans and Gerard Houlier were quick to acknowledge that, when fit, Owen and Fowler operated in similar spaces between the opposition’s midfield and defence. Furthermore, the pair were both known to accelerate and turn their man instead of holding up the ball; averaging over six sprints per game each. This is why the combination of one of the two in tandem with Emile Heskey was preferred. Heskey would retain the ball and usher the midfield forward, whilst his partner made explosive attacking runs behind the defence.
With the combination of a prime Fowler and Owen at your disposal, you may not have the greatest of partnerships. Instead, however, you would find yourself with two pacy individuals with a clinical eye for goal – the benefit of this being the pairs’ non-reliance on their striking counterpart.
Take a look at Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge at Liverpool, for example. Since the Uruguayan’s departure, Sturridge has looked a shadow of his former self and has never reached the same levels of performance. Without Fowler, Owen would step up to the mantle with an improving his scoring-rate by 5%. Without Owen, Fowler would maintain a steady course – rather fortunate for Liverpool, as both strikers were prone to injury.
Owen picked up his first serious hamstring injury in 1999 against Leeds and spent the rest of his career (let alone his time at Liverpool) battling to keep the recurrent problem from the treatment table. Meanwhile, a collision with Everton ‘keeper Thomas Myhre in a 1998 derby, saw Fowler forevermore fighting an uphill battle for peak fitness.
Despite these injury records, like Liverpool legends Kevin Keegan and John Toshack, Owen and Fowler were something of a little and large combination when they were fit and playing together. For three successive seasons they netted a collective 30 goals and despite the repeated absences of one-another, maintained an impressive scoring record.
Yorke and Cole
Considered by many as one of the greatest Premier League partnerships of all-time, Yorke and Cole shared an understanding bordering on nothing short of telepathic. Their goal against Barcelona in the 1999 Champions League best encapsulates this and their partnership as a whole:
The pairs; 53 goals in the 1999/00 season earned them both the adulation of the Manchester United faithful, and their club the unique treble of the Premier League, FA Cup and Champions League titles.
Armed with pace, lethal finishing and an eye for a pass, Yorke and Cole dominated domestically and in Europe. They even expanded their influence to their own club, forcing world-class players in Ole Gunnar Solskjær and Teddy Sheringham to the bench.
What is most admirable about the pair was their unselfishness – a quality usually abhorred in a striker. We expect – and want – our frontmen to be greedy, willing them to channel an insatiable appetite to score themselves.
Andy Cole on his partnership with Dwight Yorke: "Everything felt right. We never had a cross word." pic.twitter.com/oGzzlSjUpN
— Squawka News (@SquawkaNews) October 8, 2017
Yet this duo made things work their way, assisting one another 13 times in their breakout season.
In modern football, strikers are expected to weigh in with more than just goals. So in terms of all-round contribution, surely Yorke and Cole would fit the mould?
Though, without their striking compatriot beside them on the pitch, both players see their numbers dwindle somewhat. Cole scored 10% less goals whilst Yorke managed 7% fewer – a very real issue when injuries came about.
Though close, Yorke and Cole surely edge proceedings in regard to their suitability to the modern game. The partnership of the two far outweighs the individual talent of Owen and Fowler, with their incredible goal tally enough to carry any side to league glory. Though Liverpool’s legends may hold the advantage should a member of the duo become injured, the double-pronged attack of Yorke and Cole looks well worth the risk.