Michael Owen says Liverpool remain underdogs in this season’s title race, but believes the ‘exceptional’ Darwin Nunez has the potential to succeed Mohamed Salah and be an ‘absolute force in the Premier League’.
Liverpool find themselves top of the table with a five-point lead over second-placed Manchester City at the midway stage of the campaign, though Pep Guardiola’s defending champions have a game in hand over the Reds.
Unbeaten in the English top flight since their defeat at Tottenham in September, the Merseyside giants are riding a five-match winning streak in all competitions ahead of their Carabao Cup semi-final second leg with Fulham this evening.
Meanwhile, Arsenal saw their title tilt falter over the winter period, prior to their much-needed 5-0 victory over Crystal Palace, as City well and truly hit their stride and welcomed their talisman, Kevin De Bruyne, back into the fold.
Given the changes Jurgen Klopp has made to Liverpool’s squad, with the likes of Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino, Jordan Henderson and James Milner all departing in recent windows, Owen has been mightily impressed with how his former team have adapted.
But the ex-England striker feels the reigning champions – currently riding a nine-game unbeaten run – are ‘still the team to beat’.
Asked about Liverpool’s title hopes this season, Owen told talkSPORT: ‘I’ve been incredibly impressed. Don’t get me wrong… visually, I don’t think they knock the spots off the team that won the league with Mane, Salah and Firmino.
‘That team literally blew teams away and was just incredible to watch. I don’t watch Liverpool at the moment and think that they can go and blow teams away like that team did.
‘However, considering they’ve changed their whole midfield over the summer, considering they’re evolving their team and changing their attack over recent years, to be winning while in transition is a great habit and I can only see the team getting better.
‘So to be sat there top, five points ahead… I know they’ve played one more game than Manchester City… but five points top, you have to say they’ve got a right chance.
‘But listen, Manchester City are still the team to beat.’
Liverpool’s star man Salah – who recently said his side were capable of ‘doing something special’ – picked up a concerning muscle injury while on international duty at the Africa Cup of Nations this month and it’s believed the Egyptian could be sidelined for between three and four weeks.
While Owen feels Nunez is still ‘very raw’ in certain aspects of his play, he is confident the Uruguay forward has the attributes to replace Salah in the long-term.
‘Salah was always going to be away for a period of time anyway so it’s almost just changed things for Liverpool, in terms of there is an injury instead of international duty,’ Owen added.
‘Hopefully he gets back because he’s rarely injured. But Nunez is a player that has divided opinion. I think he’s very raw in some of his play but I also think he’s exceptional in some of his play.
‘When you think of Liverpool for the future, obviously they’re not going to be with Salah forever and he’s into his 30s now. Somebody is going to have to step up or they’re going to have to replace him with someone who can try to replicate his goals.
‘This guy [Nunez] is the one player in that team who has got the scope to be able to do that and I see him developing into an absolute force in the Premier League.
‘I still think he could go the other way, he’s not the full package yet, but he does things that absolutely blow your mind. He’s so direct, so strong, quick and he’s got so much ability. If he could just brush up in certain areas he could be the real thing.’
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