Wayne Rooney will play as Manchester United faces a test of mental strength, as much as quality, at Goodison Park this weekend. Although Everton’s poor league start is the worst in the David Moyes era, Goodison is likely to rock to the sound of bile with the return of United’s former blue to the ground of his youth.
Rooney, desperate to play following a week of salacious media coverage, is seeking just a third goal against his old club.
Manager Sir Alex Ferguson reacted tetchily to media questions about Rooney at this morning’s Carrington press conference, with journalists told the 69-year-old manager would not answer questions about the United striker. Refusing to answer legitimate questions about Rooney’s state of mind and how the player might react to a hostile Goodison atmosphere, Ferguson chose to concentrate on United’s record at a ground that prove far from happy hunting last season.
“Let’s put it to bed straightaway. I am not discussing any of my players’ personal lives,” said the Scot of Rooney’s tabloid headlines, in an unfortunate turn of phrase.
“It is always a nightmare going there [Goodison] and it wouldn’t matter whether it was Dixie Dean playing for us. It is a hard place to go to, the atmosphere is fantastic. But we have had to deal with it for many years and there is no problem with our record there.”
While United will travel with Rooney, Ferguson is without central midfielders Michael Carrick and Anderson, each player having picked up injuries during the week. While Carrick has been sent to see a specialist about a long-standing ankle problem, Anderson suffered a reaction following a reserve fixture in midweek.
“He should be out for three weeks, maybe a month at most,” said Ferguson of Carrick, who has not figured in the manager’s plans so far this season
“It has been bothering him for a few weeks, so we sent him to a specialist in London and he had an injection. We are hoping that settles it down.
“We have been considering what we should do about it. The best thing is to get it treated and out of the road now because everyone in the squad is fit.
“Anderson came off with a little niggle yesterday but it is nothing serious,” Ferguson added.
“It is just the fact he has been out for a long time and he is just coming back. I don’t think it will knock him back any length of time.”
Better news comes in the form of Rio Ferdinand, who did not play in United’s reserve fixture against Stockport last night. However, Ferguson said that the 31-year-old England captain’s training performances have been so good that he will travel with the squad to Liverpool.
With matches against Rangers and then Liverpool to follow at Old Trafford, the Scot is likely to rotate his squad in the coming week. The extended recuperation period should help though, with most of Ferguson’s players returning from international duty a day earlier than in the past after FIFA switched the synchronised calendar to a Friday – Tuesday schedule.
However, Ferguson may choose to bench both Antonio Valencia and Chicharito, each of whom return to Old Trafford late Thursday night from duty in South America. Park Ji-Sung comes into contention for a place on the wing, while Ferguson must choose which game Paul Scholes will miss of the three in the coming week.
Ferguson must also choose a partner for Rooney in attack, with Dimitar Berbatov in excellent form and fresh after resting during the international break. However, with United likely to come under pressure from the home side, the Scot could choose to deploy a 4-5-1 system for the first time this season, relegating the Bulgarian to the bench.
One player likely to feature at some point on Saturday is Ryan Giggs, whose chance of managing the Welsh national team in the wake of John Toshack’s resignation was dismissed out of hand by Ferguson.
“I spoke to him. It will not happen,” said the Scot who stands accused of regularly pulling Giggs out of international friendlies before the Welshman retired.
“We have to be selfish here. I am not even prepared to negotiate on this matter. At his age, Ryan needs to use all his energy and concentration to be here.
“It is a big season for him. It maybe his second last, it may be his last. We want it to be the second last. The best way for that to happen is for him to concentrate on being here.”
Everton, meanwhile, will be without talented teenager Jack Rodwell in midfield, who will miss the next three months of the campaign, and former Reds Louis Saha and Phil Neville.
Team – 4-5-1 – Howard; Hibbert, Baines, Jagielka, Distin; Arteta, Cahill, Pienaar, Fellaini, Bilyaletdinov; Beckford. Subs from: Heitinga, Mucha, Coleman, Osman, Magaye Gueye, Anichebe, Forshaw, Garbutt, Shane, Duffy, Agard, Bidwell, Baxter, Wallace, Akpan, Shkodran Mustafi.
Referee: Martin Atkinson
Assistant referees: Peter Kirkup & Mick McDonough
Fourth official: Michael Jones
United – WWDW
Everton – LDL