Robbie Earle: Crouch and Owen still have goals to achieve at Stoke
A WORLD Cup in Brazil will be a special footballing occasion, but I must admit my mind was wandering towards the Premier League during this week's qualifiers with Moldova and Ukraine.
In fact I am sure Stoke fans are glad the international interruption is over and the game against Manchester City is almost upon us.
What a game this promises to be. Both teams are unbeaten in the Premier League and, although we are only three games into the campaign, this is a significant match for Stoke and City.
Manchester City are my title favourites because they will have learned so much from last season when they snatched the crown in the last seconds of the final game.
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They also have the most balanced squad in the league, so my money would be on them winning back-to-back titles.
However, Roberto Mancini's men will be well aware that a victory at the Britannia Stadium is one of those results that would send out an early warning to their title rivals.
None of the top four won at the Brit last season and Manchester City haven't won there since Stoke were promoted four years ago.
It annoys me when, on these occasions, people always make reference to a wet and windy Britannia, as though North Staffordshire is locked into some cold snap and never sees the sun.
Regardless of the conditions, Stoke will be trying to make life as uncomfortable as possible for the champions.
Three draws out of three is a steady rather than spectacular start for Tony Pulis's side because I am sure they would have hoped to pick up a win from one of their away games at Reading and Wigan.
However, I reckon Stoke are one big performance away from really kicking their season off – and Saturday afternoon provides a great opportunity to do so for a team who love to upset the big boys.
Looking through the squads, it's hard to make a case for a Stoke victory.
But that's why the Premier League makes for such compulsive viewing – because no one would be surprised if Pulis's side upset the richest club in the world.
You only have to look at the respective transfers to recognise the gulf, even though Manchester City have been relatively restrained this summer. In football stickler terms, we could swap all Stoke's seven signings and still not get to the £15m the Mancunians paid Everton for Jack Rodwell.
It's been an interesting summer for Mancini who has spent £50m reinforcing his squad rather than making one marquee signing.
Instead, by signing Rodwell, Maicon, Scott Sinclair, Mastija Nastasic and Javi Garcia, he's given himself the depth in quality to compete on four fronts.
It's quite possible he could field a completely different starting line-up in the Champions League than he does in the Premier League and still have plenty of A listers on show.
Let's not forget that Stoke have a former A list personality in their ranks too.
I am sure Michael Owen will be itching to get on the pitch after a full week's training.
It's going to be fascinating to see how much effect he can have on his new team over the next few weeks.
A partnership of Owen and Peter Crouch is a possibility because their little and large combination has been a success at international level.
Indeed, Crouch mentioned this week that he and Owen could still have international futures under Roy Hodgson if the goals start flowing at Stoke.
After all, Crouch has 22 goals in 42 England games while Owen has 40 in 89 and is the only England player to score in four major tournaments.
However, Pulis is probably slightly relieved that neither of his England strikers are actively involved in the international fold these days.
These games don't make life easy for club managers. After all, Pulis hasn't had Charlie Adam for a training session since the Scotland international signed on deadline day.
But at least he's had Owen for a full week to assess his fitness ahead of Saturday's game, and maybe pair him up with Crouch in training.
Far be it from me to close the door on two men who have made such a significant mark on the international stage.
However, I would respectfully suggest that England have now moved on with a younger guard as they seek to qualify for that Rio trip in four years' time.
Owen and Crouch have much more immediate goals, pardon the pun, by proving they can combine in the Premier League to fire Stoke into contention for a European place.
And helping Stoke beat the reigning champions would be a great way to start a new era.