Fowler: EPL champs will wear blue
It's not often you hear Liverpool legend Robbie Fowler proclaiming blue is the colour.
But, in an exclusive interview with The New Paper yesterday, the former Reds striker - who is still revered by the Anfield faithful as "God" - tipped Manchester City and Chelsea as the two teams most likely to lift the Premier League trophy next May.
When asked who he felt were the frontrunners for the title, Fowler said: "You've got to look at the usual suspects, haven't you? Manchester City and Chelsea will be right up there.
"City, of course, are champions, so they'll be considered the favourites.
"And Chelsea showed last year what they could do as well, and I'm sure they'll be looking to go two places better."
The team from the blue half of Manchester won their second Premier League title in three years last term, but have not sat still.
Manuel Pellegrini has bolstered his squad by signing Malaga goalkeeper Willy Caballero, Arsenal right back Bacary Sagna, Porto midfielder Fernando Reges and, in one of the surprises of the transfer window so far, ex-Chelsea man Frank Lampard on loan.
Chelsea, meanwhile, have signalled their intent on improving their third-placed finish by splashing some serious cash.
Jose Mourinho moved swiftly to sign Barcelona midfielder Cesc Fabregas for £33 million ($70m) and the Atletico Madrid duo of striker Diego Costa (£38m) left back Felipe Luis (£20m).
The Special One also welcomed back Belgian shot-stopper Thibaut Courtouis after two fine seasons on loan at Atletico, and the youngster looks set to usurp Petr Cech as Chelsea's No. 1 this season.
But, while he acknowledged their strength in depth could give City and Chelsea the edge over their rivals, Fowler said the topsy-turvy nature of last season showed that there is every chance a team decked out in red could crash the party.
"Last season was probably one of the best seasons of the Premier League we've seen, it was so open," said the 39-year-old.
"There are a few others teams who could do well, too. You have Arsenal, who didn't have a striker other than Olivier Giroud last year, but now they've signed Alexis Sanchez.
"Liverpool will get better. And you can never rule out Manchester United."
When it came to talking about Liverpool's fierce rivals, Fowler chose to be diplomatic.
Under new manager Louis van Gaal, the Red Devils beat Liverpool 3-1 to win the International Champions Cup in Miami on Monday.
But Fowler backed Reds manager Brendan Rodgers' comments recently, which suggested former Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Holland coach van Gaal could be "surprised" by the level of competition in the Premier League.
Said the former England striker: "What I can say about United is that they've have been a great team for many years but, like any situation where there's a new manager coming in, it's never easy.
"Next season will be tough for them, like it will be for many other teams as well.
"It's been so far, so good for them in pre-season... But pre-season games are different from Premier League ones, and you can only really tell how well they'll do when the league kicks off."
Interestingly, while he said van Gaal could use his man-management skills to lift United's underperforming stars, Fowler bristled when it was suggested the Dutchman had already rejuvenated Red Devils talisman Wayne Rooney.
Rooney came in for heavy criticism in United's seventh-placed finish in the league and England's group-stage exit at the World Cup in Brazil in June.
But the striker has excelled in United's unbeaten pre-season matches.
Said Fowler: "I think people who criticise him and say he looks unmotivated or whatever, are far off the mark.
"It's disrespectful and unfair to him. I know Wayne Rooney, and he's a fantastic player. Great players don't suddenly become motivated because of a new manager coming in."
I think people who criticise him and say he looks unmotivated or whatever, are far off the mark. It’s disrespectful and unfair to him. I know Wayne Rooney, and he’s a fantastic player. Great players don’t suddenly become motivated because of a new manager coming in.
- Robbie Fowler defending Wayne Rooney
Robbie: pool can cope without Suarez
No Luis Suarez, no problem.
Liverpool will still challenge for honours when the new season kicks off next Saturday.
That's the assurance Reds legend Robbie Fowler has for the club's fans after star striker Suarez moved to Spanish giants Barcelona for £75 million ($158 million) last month.
The move followed a controversial World Cup campaign for the Uruguayan hitman, who was banned for nine international matches and four months from all football activities for biting Italy defender Giorgio Chiellini in a group match.
After the incident, Fowler told UK radio station TalkSPORT that "you can't defend" Suarez for "dragging the good name of Liverpool through the mud again".
While Fowler described the Uruguayan as a top talent, the 39-year-old suggested Liverpool were better off without him at the club.
"He arrived at the club as a good player and Liverpool progressed with him throughout his three seasons," he told The New Paper yesterday.
"But no player is bigger than the club. Players come and go, but the club remain. What's important now is for the supporters to get behind the club and the team that's there."
There is no denying the massive influence Suarez had at Liverpool.
He scored 69 league goals in three and a half seasons, including 31 last term, when the Reds finished four points behind champions Manchester City.
In March, Suarez also broke Fowler's club record of 28 goals in a single Premier League season.
But Fowler insisted things are looking up for the club.
Manager Brendan Rodgers has signed eight players, including Benfica winger Lazar Markovic (£25m), Bayer Leverkusen midfielder Emre Can (£12m) and Southampton trio Dejan Lovren (£25m), Adam Lallana (£25m) and Rickie Lambert (£4m).
MORE TO COME?
Rodgers is also reported to be on the lookout for a world-class striker.
Fowler refused to heed the media speculation and suggested they can do well even without adding a top striker.
"It's an interesting time to be a Liverpool fan," he said.
"The team surprised a lot of people last year.
"Although there's probably more pressure this time round, I think with the signings they've made, there are no doubts they'll do well again."
When asked which signing stood out, he said: "I'm excited about all of them, but I really like the Lambert signing.
"To get an England striker who's proven himself in the Premier League for £4m is great business.
"Then there is Lallana, who impressed everyone last season, and the lad Markovic, who's quick and direct.
"So I'm looking forward to seeing them when the season starts."
Ex-Reds to take on S'pore legends in 11-a-side match
Call it a reunion of sorts.
Robbie Fowler and other former Liverpool stars such as Steve McManaman, Stephane Henchoz, Vladimir Smicer and Patrik Berger will line up together for the first time in an 11-a-side exhibition match in The Castlewood Group Liverpool Masters at the Jalan Besar Stadium on Nov 15.
While some of the ex-Reds play together in five-a-side indoor Masters' tournaments, this is the team's debut on a full-sized pitch.
They will face a team of local legends, spearheaded by an attack comprising Fandi Ahmad, V Sundramoorthy and Aleksandar Duric.
Sundram fired the first salvo two weeks ago, cheekily saying the Singapore team intend to unapologetically "cheat" by making use of Duric's fitness against the Liverpool veterans.
Former Lion Duric, 43, is still playing professionally in the S.League with Tampines Rovers and is the league's all-time top scorer.
Fowler, however, believed his side had enough in their tanks to see off Singapore's challenge.
"This is the first time we'll be playing an 11-a-side game and it's a privilege to do it in Singapore," said the 39-year-old with a chuckle.
"We're not worried at all (about a fit Duric and the Singapore team).
"We might not be as quick as before, but we'll play with as much pride and passion as we always have. That's why we were Premier League players."
Fowler, who is the sixth-highest EPL scorer (163) and boasts the record for the league's fastest hat-trick (4 minutes and 23 seconds, against Arsenal in 1995), said he was looking forward to seeing the Liverpool fans here.
"I've been to Singapore many, many times. The stadiums are always full, the fans are always passionate and the support for Liverpool, in particular, is phenomenal.
"My message to Liverpool fans is: Get out there and get a ticket, and support us again because we always look forward to seeing you."
Chance to dine with Reds legends
Fancy having lunch with Robbie Fowler, Steve McManaman and other former Liverpool players?
Four lucky fans will get that chance when the Reds' Masters team visit Singapore in November to play an exhibition match against ex-Singapore stars at the Jalan Besar Stadium.
All you have to do is purchase a ticket online via www.ticketbooth.com and two lucky winners will enjoy the "Masters Football Asia Experience", where they will get the chance to have a pre-match lunch with the Liverpool and Singapore players. In addition, they will also hop on the team buses leaving for the stadium.
Two other winners of the "Ultimate Castlewood Experience" will, in addition to having lunch and going on the team buses, sit on the team benches for the match and attend the VIP after-party.
Tickets from $10 are on sale and the four winners will be picked via a lucky draw on Nov 12.