Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 31 August 2014

Manchester United v Tottenham Hotspur: Rooney’s top form a joy to behold for Sir Alex

Wayne Rooney

Manchester United boss Sir Alex Ferguson believes there is a freshness and vitality to Wayne Rooney this season that ensures “he can never stand still” on the pitch.

A year ago it was a different story as Rooney was out of sorts, a slump in form compounded by lurid allegations regarding his private life.

Come mid-October, with just two goals to his name and just one of those for United, Rooney stunned everyone at Old Trafford when he stated he wanted to leave the club.

Two days later, and in a dramatic U-turn, Rooney pledged his future to the club by signing a new five-year contract.

The start of the new year was effectively like turning over a new leaf for the 25-year-old as the goals began to flow again, scoring 14 in 26 appearances over the second half of the season.

Such form has spilled over into this season with Rooney scoring 13 minutes into last Sunday's season-opening 2-1 win at West Brom to suggest the campaign ahead could be a significant one. “He's been flying in pre-season,” said Ferguson.

“His fitness is terrific, he has the same energy all the time, he is a restless player on the pitch, he can never stand still.

“He is a tremendous asset to our squad.

“It's interesting to see how he is combining with (Danny) Welbeck at the moment. Both have done very well together.”

Giving 20-year-old Welbeck an opportunity in the Community Shield and at The Hawthorns has left Dimitar Berbatov consigned to the bench, while Ferguson also has Javier Hernandez to come back from concussion.

The attacking options for Ferguson are mouthwatering, adding: “I've Berbatov who did very well in pre-season, he played really well.

“When Chicarito (Hernandez) returns then I've a selection problem to work out the best combination.

“For me, Chicarito has goals written all over him, so it's not a bad position to be in.”

With Hernandez still sidelined and with Michael Owen also out with a niggly back problem, Ferguson is limited to either Berbatov or Welbeck to start alongside Rooney for tonight’s visit of Tottenham.

Although Spurs have not won at Old Trafford since 1989, a run of 26 matches in all competitions, they head to the north west in fine form after thumping Hearts 5-0 in Thursday's Europa League play-off first leg.

Even Ferguson has admitted to being “surprised” at the margin of victory as Hearts had already played six competitive matches prior to entertaining a Spurs side for whom it was their first game of the season.

Ferguson has already made clear he expects Harry Redknapp's side to again be in the hunt for the championship, which is why he knows an awkward encounter is in prospect tomorrow, no matter their superb record against them.

“They did fantastic last year, getting to the quarter-final of the Champions League,” said Ferguson.

“What caught them out in the league (finishing fifth) is because of how far they did get in the Champions League.

“It maybe drained their resources in terms of the size of the squad, and they had a few injuries at the time anyway.

“It's a squad with a lot of experience, pace on the wide positions with Bale and Lennon, then they've Defoe and Van der Vaart who are very good players, so they've a terrific squad.

“So it will be a hard game, it always is against Tottenham. Very seldom do we give them a drubbing or anything like that.”

With defenders Rio Ferdinand (hamstring) and captain Nemanja Vidic (calf) sidelined, it will be a young backline that faces Spurs.

Phil Jones, 19, makes his home debut following his £16.5m summer move from Blackburn and will partner Northern Ireland international Jonny Evans at the heart of the back four, with 21-year-old Chris Smalling at right-back. A gamble? More of a necessity.

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