With the international break over, Manchester United returns to Premier League action with the visit of West Bromwich Albion on Saturday. While Sir Alex Ferguson has few fresh injury worries, his squad returns to action with more headlines about Wayne Rooney’s future at the club. It’s a distraction Ferguson could do without.
Despite more than one media outlet drawing misleading conclusions from Rooney’s apparent contradiction of his manager over the striker’s ankle injury, the 24-year-old will certainly start against the Baggies at Old Trafford. The striker missed United’s draw with Sunderland and the visit to Valencia in the Champions League.
Moreover, Rooney desperately needs a solid performance on Saturday and not solely to refocus the media’s attention from off-the-field problems. After all, with just one goal for United this season, Rooney’s contribution to the team has been minimal to date with questions now being asked of his role in the team.
But Ferguson brushed off talk of a rift between player and manager, despite Rooney’s indiscreet interview in midweek.
“It is water off a duck’s back to me,” Ferguson said.
“I don’t know where all these things come from. The boy is always in the spotlight and being addressed by the press. It is important how you handle it in my experience. But it just runs off me. It doesn’t mean anything.”
Potential dispute aside, United needs to regain momentum after the draws with Bolton Wanderers and Sunderland that have seen Ferguson’s side slip five points behind leaders Chelsea. Indeed, the Baggie’s visit marks the first of nine matches in 29 days, including next month’s trip to Eastlands and the visit of Arsenal, in which United cannot win the Premier League but could certainly lose ground.
Ferguson is set to pick from a full squad against the high-flying visitors, with only Park Ji-Sung reporting injured from international duty. The South Korean captain missed his country’s fixture with Japan on Tuesday with knee pain.
However, Owen Hargreaves will not feature on Saturday according to Ferguson, despite the player’s surgeon suggestion otherwise last week. Hargreaves, 29, has not started a match for United in more than two years and featured for just 37 seconds last season. The midfielder is now suffering from a calf strain.
“Owen is not ready,” said Ferguson.
“He is injured. He has missed training for the last few days. We are having difficulties with the doctor in Colorado coming out with statements that are not accurate.
“It is not fair to the player for him to say Owen is going to be playing tomorrow. It is ridiculous. I pick the team and I have been doing it for quite a while.
“We have this small interference, which is causing some confusion. He is out with a calf injury.”
Elsewhere, Rio Ferdinand came through the international break without further reaction and will partner Nemanja Vidic in defence. Ferguson will also choose between Patrice Evra, John O’Shea and Rafael da Silva for two full-back spots against West Brom.
In midfield Paul Scholes has rested for a fortnight, while Ryan Giggs is fit again after a hamstring strain. The manager is likely to pick a midfield four, with Darren Fletcher, Anderson and Michael Carrick competing for one spot along side Scholes.
With Stoke City away to come after Bursaspor in midweek, it is probable the United manager will use his full squad resources in the upcoming games.
Meanwhile, West Brom could be without lightening quick striker Peter Odemwingie, who is struggling to recover from a knee strain and will have a late fitness test. Marc-Antoine Fortune stands by. Midfielder Jerome Thomas is also a doubt with a calf injury.
Despite winning at the Emirates recently and lying sixth in the Premier League table, West Brom will arrive at Old Trafford seeking a first win in more than 32 years.
“Our win at Arsenal probably gives the players a bit more belief in their own ability,” said boss Roberto di Matteo.
“But that win is not going to change our attitude because it was always good, very positive and very committed.”
United’s underwhelming performances in away games aside, Ferguson’s team is still unbeaten this season. Amid the turmoil of financial uncertainty and Rooney’s problems that fact is often forgotten.
“You have to recognise that performance at the Emirates Stadium. To score three goals there tells you something. This will be a tough game, make no mistake,” Ferguson added.
West Brom – 451 – Carson; Olsson, Shorey, Tamas, Jara; Morrison, Brunt, Dorrans, Mulumbu, Scharner; Odemwingie. Subs from: Cox, Myhill, Pablo, Tchoyi, Barnes, Reid, Fortune, Mattock, Pablo, Bednar, Zuiverloon, Meite.
Van der Sar, Kuszczak, Amos, Smalling, Ferdinand, Vidic, Evra, O’Shea, Evans, Rafael, Fabio, Brown, Anderson, Bébé, Nani, Carrick, Scholes, Giggs, Gibson, Fletcher, Hernández, Berbatov, Macheda, Rooney, Owen, Obertan.
Referee: Mark Jones
Assistant referees: Darren Cann & Andy Garratt
Fourth official: Kevin Friend
United – DWWDWD
West Brom – LDWWWD