Sir Alex Ferguson says that keeping Wayne Rooney will kick-start Manchester United’s season after five draws in the first eight Premier League fixtures this season. The United manager is without Rooney for the trip to Stoke City on Sunday but says that his side will now begin chasing Chelsea in earnest, with the Londoners eight points ahead.
Rooney will miss the next three weeks, possibly returning for the Manchester derby on 10 November, so Ferguson is likely to persist with Dimitar Berbatov as a lone striker at the Britannia. Javier Hernández is in contention, although the smart money is on the Mexican starting on the bench against the tough-tackling Midlanders.
Although Rooney questioned United’s “ambition” this week, Ferguson ordered the player to apologise to his team-mates as the Scot attempts to repair his fractured squad.
“We have to start making up ground quickly,” Ferguson admitted.
“We can only do that with everyone on board. With no one jumping ship then we can see the real Manchester United.
“It has been a turbulent few days, we have important issues ahead, starting with Stoke City on Sunday.
“We have been hurt by events but Wayne has apologised to me and the players. He will do so with the supporters too.
“I always feel it is a quality in a person when they say they are sorry and realise they have made a mistake.”
Rooney reportedly clashed with Ferguson over United’s midfield this week, lambasting the manager over his failure to capture Rafael van der Vaart ahead of Tottenham Hotspur.
It’s a mistake Ferguson may yet rectify in the coming window by adding to United’s creative options in midfield. For now Paul Scholes will return despite United being over-run by Sunderland and West Bromwich Albion recently.
Despite, or perhaps because of, the spin over the past seven days Ferguson faces one of the most difficult challenges of his managerial career. With fans and players angered by Rooney’s actions, Ferguson must now rally his troops for one of United’s most demanding away fixtures of the season.
But Full-back Patrice Evra, who suggested Rooney should no longer be picked if he cannot trust his team-mates, is confident United will turn a corner in the coming weeks.
“Anyone can talk about Manchester United, but nobody has beaten us. The problem is just Manchester United because no team has played better than us,” said the Frenchman, who has begun the season quietly.
“People may think I am crazy to say that, but it is true. We have played many games and been 2-0 up and then drawn or made things difficult. The problem is just us because when we defend like we can, we show we are a strong team.
“No-one can tell me we have played badly against anyone. I believe that. I think we are playing well. We are just doing some silly mistakes. That is the true problem.”
“We can be the Manchester United everyone wants to see.”
While defensive errors have contributed to United’s problems, the ‘real Manchester United’, the team that attacks with pace and verve, has largely been held in reserve save for Berbatov’s brilliance against Liverpool and Nani’s newly found consistency.
Indeed, it’s hard to see where that might come from against Stoke, with Tony Pullis’ men expert at breaking up the opposition play, although United has claimed victories in five of the last seven league games at the Britannia. Indeed, the Potters’ last league win against United was on Boxing Day 1984.
Still, with “nobody jumping ship” the trip represents a real opportunity to demonstrate a newly united front.
Stoke, meanwhile, will welcome back striker Ricardo Fuller, despite the striker aggravating a shoulder injury at Bolton Wanderers. Midfielder Dean Whitehead is banned.
Stoke (4-5-1): Sorensen; Huth, Shawcross, Faye, Collins; Pennant, Delap, Whitehead, Etherington, Walters; Jones. Subs from: Begovic, Higginbotham, Wilson, Wilkinson, Fuller, Gudjohnsen, Whelan.
Van der Sar, Kuszczak, Amos, Smalling, Ferdinand, Vidic, Evra, O’Shea, Rafael, Fabio, Brown, Anderson, Nani, Carrick, Gibson, Fletcher, Hernández, Berbatov, Macheda.
Referee: Andre Marriner
Assistant referees: Mike Cairns & Martin Yerby
Fourth official: Mike Jones
Stoke – WDWWWL
United – WWDWDW