Rooney primed for derby


United were poor that night in the FA Cup at Deepdale, coming from behind to win.

That, however, was the night Wayne Rooney was restored to a centre-forward position, the night Louis van Gaal finally began to realise the best place from which his best player and captain should lead was from the front.

United actually lost their next game at Swansea but have subsequently won their next five in the league, with Rooney scoring four times. Incredibly, given the pattern of this season, they head into tomorrow’s derby game with Manchester City as slight favourites.

Prior to that night in Lancashire, Rooney was on the verge of knocking on his manager’s door to ask for an explanation about his deployment in the centre of midfield. It seemed as though Van Gaal was about to experience his first very real problem at Old Trafford.

Whether he sniffed something in the air, we will never know. But Van Gaal performed a sharp volte face at just the right time and Rooney has gone on to become the most significant figure in United’s return to relevance.

At Old Trafford tomorrow, just as he has since Cristiano Ronaldo left for Real Madrid almost six years ago, Rooney represents the most serious threat to City’s prospects.

Prior to the win over Tottenham, Rooney stood before his team-mates in Manchester’s Lowry Hotel and delivered an impassioned call to arms. He is once more the central figure at his club, in more ways than one.

‘I think some people mix up scoring goals with form,’ said Van Gaal yesterday. ‘For us Wayne is very important as a player, as a captain and because he can score goals. But he can do that from midfield, too. The last goal he scored — against Aston Villa — came when he was playing in midfield.’

Van Gaal’s mid-season deployment of Rooney remains a sensitive subject. No coach likes to admit he may have been wrong. All that matters now, though, is the 29-year-old’s current trajectory, which is undoubtedly upwards.

His name is written right through recent derby history of course. He is the fixture’s record goalscorer and the scorer of one of its most spectacular goals, that remarkable overhead kick back in 2011 that some City supporters, rather oddly, still maintain came off his shin.

Previously there had been the transfer saga of autumn 2010.

Courted heavily by City as he prevaricated over a new United contract, Rooney most definitely had his head turned. To this day, rumours persist of meetings in an underground car park at the Etihad Stadium — that one has always seemed a little fanciful — and promises of a salary in excess of £300,000 per week.

What we do know is that there was a point when City and their manager Roberto Mancini thought the transfer was about to happen. So, too, did many United fans. ‘Join City and You’re Dead’ warned graffiti on a city-centre poster carrying his image at the time.

Had it done so then these fixtures would probably never have been the same again. As it is, derby day now finds Rooney even more fired up and motivated than ever.

City have won the last four and one only has to scroll through the tapes to watch the England centre forward’s body language, especially during last season’s 4-1 reverse at the Etihad, to see exactly how that has gone down.

Rooney may be a Liverpudlian but he understands the City rivalry better than most at his club. Tomorrow in Stretford, Rooney has the opportunity to ease United clear of Manuel Pellegrini’s team.

When asked yesterday if he has a leader of the United captain’s ilk in his squad the City manager was less than convincing.

‘Every squad has different kinds of personalities, different players,’ said Pellegrini. ‘All of them have different options to motivate in different ways.

‘I don’t think it’s good to analyse the personality of our captain. In a squad you must have not just one leader, not just the captain.’

City captain Vincent Kompany has been struggling with a hamstring injury but is expected to play tomorrow, albeit with discomfort.

He has admitted Rooney’s volley of 2011 stayed with him for some time and it’s little wonder.

It remains a stand-out memory of recent fixtures and Rooney now finds himself in the perfect position to contribute some more. – Daily Mail

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