Wayne Rooney doubtful for Manchester United's 'massive' Anfield Cup tie
Wayne Rooney's availability to face Liverpool in tomorrow's hugely anticipated FA Cup fourth-round match was in doubt last night, after the player missed yesterday's training session.
It is unclear whether Rooney, who sustained knocks to his calf and ankle in Sunday's win at Arsenal, has trained at all this week and if Sir Alex Ferguson confirms that suspicion at his weekly press conference this morning, he could find himself with no fewer than 10 senior players missing for the visit to Anfield. A back spasm sustained by Rio Ferdinand eight days ago is likely to rule him out, with the most keenly awaited medical update being that of Luis Nani. The manager has rejected suggestions that a metatarsal injury also incurred at the Emirates could keep Nani out for two months, but the initial two-week prognosis does seem to have been optimistic.
The involvement of Anderson and Ashley Young is in doubt, with Tom Cleverley only just back in first-team training and Michael Owen, Darren Fletcher and Nemanja Vidic longer-term absentees. Rooney has scored once in 11 visits to Anfield, leading Ferguson to omit him from the starting XI last October for the league fixture which he had had just described as the biggest in the world. But the loss of the player for a game which carries increased intensity following Luis Suarez's suspension on an for directing racist abuse at United's Patrice Evra would be a blow with United injury-ravaged.
Liverpool, who may start the fixture with Andy Carroll and rest Craig Bellamy with subsequent league games against Wolves and Tottenham of more significance in the long run, are concerned to take the sting out of a game which brings potential for reprisals following the eight-game suspension of Suarez. Captain Steven Gerrard yesterday indicated the club was desperate to keep its name off the front pages of newspapers and urged supporters to behave with maturity.
"We do all have a responsibility," he said. "With Fair Play [the Uefa campaign which seeks to reduce discrimination], and the campaigns that have been going on for a long time, we all have a responsibility to ensure that this game is remembered for the football. Liverpool and Manchester United is a massive rivalry and of course there is going to be stuff in the papers and banter between fans. But it would be fantastic if after the weekend it is remembered for being a top game and obviously, from our point of view, a Liverpool win. We don't want any stories from this game besides a football match between two top sides and may the best team win."
The Football Association has been in dialogue with both clubs, as well as Chelsea and Queen's Park Rangers who face each other, and having monitored their preparations, has written to all four clubs reminding them of their responsibilities in not making pre-match remarks which may be inflammatory. The governing body has been present at some of the strategy meetings, with a particularly heavy involvement in preparations for the Anfield fixture. Privately, the FA has been encouraged by the way the four clubs are approaching the risks attached to the fixtures.
Merseyside Police warned those intending reprisals of any kind that there will be repercussions. "If there's any unlawful behaviour we will take action," said Merseyside Police chief superintendent Jon Ward. "There is CCTV in place and we will identify anyone responsible and take robust action."