Wayne Rooney will lead Manchester United’s attack as the Reds visit Everton on Saturday lunchtime. The former Blue, dropped from this fixture by Ferguson last season, will face the inevitable cacophony of abuse on his return to Goodison Park. But at the end of a tough week for the club manager Ferguson insists Rooney will start the fixture.
While Rooney is retained from the side that lost 6-1 against Manchester City last weekend, Ferguson is expected to make several changes in Liverpool. Indeed, a quartet of players are under genuine pressure after the heavy defeat to near-neighbours City. Ferguson openly criticised defenders Rio Ferdinand and Patrice Evra on Sunday, while United’s dysfunctional central midfield pair of Anderson and Darren Fletcher could be relegated to the bench on form alone.
Yet it is Rooney on whom the greatest pressure resides, with manager, team-mates and supporters expecting a big performance from the 26-year-old striker.
“He’s had mixed success going to Everton,” admitted Ferguson on Friday.
“He’s scored a couple of goals in previous games and gets booed as normal. He got booked in one game and I took him off because he’d been booked and there was no way I was going to give the referee an opportunity to send him off.
“That’s where the hype around the ground in terms of him getting booed every time he makes a challenge comes into it. He’s had mixed fortunes there but he’s scored a couple of goals and done well in some of the games and hopefully that will be the case tomorrow.”
Saturday’s game will mark Ferguson’s first opportunity for ruthlessness in the wake of derby humiliation. While a largely fringe and reserve team beat Aldershot Town in the Carling Cup on Tuesday night, United’s visit to Everton is the first genuine test of the Scot’s ability to rally his troops.
United has previously suffered heavy defeats to Newcastle United in 1996, Southampton the same season, and Chelsea three years later. In those campaigns the club went on to win the Premier League title, underlining that one result does not a season make.
“It’s been a tough week for everyone,” added Ferguson.
“It was bad result but we have to get over it – the fans, players, employees, staff – everyone was involved in the disappointment. We must kick on. We enjoyed Tuesday night but we need to show ourselves tomorrow. We hope we can recover from the disappointment of last weekend. We’ve done that well over the years and we have to do it again. Nothing changes in football. The challenge is always there to be the very, very best which we hope we can do now.
“It’s not going to be an easy game. I went to see that game on Wednesday and in typical fashion of a David Moyes team they were all committed. He’s had a few injuries and he rested a few players which is the norm in the cup, but they still represented their club very well. They all put a shift in and are always committed. We know what Louis [Saha] is capable of – he has fantastic ability and we have to make sure we do our best.”
Ferguson may be without winger Ashley Young for the short trip west, with the former Aston Villa player suffering a toe injury in training this week. Young’s expected absence adds to the Scot’s selection dilemma in wide areas, with Nani poor against City. Antonio Valencia and Park Ji-Sung each completed a much-needed 90 minutes at Aldershot in midweek and at least one of the pair should start.
Ferguson will welcome back Tom Cleverley, who is pushing for his first Premier League start since 10 September. The 22-year-old midfielder was carried off with an ankle injury against Bolton Wanderers but started United’s 3-0 win over Aldershot. Despite the bright start to the season United’s performances have markedly deteriorated in Cleverley’s absence.
“We have one or two knocks,” Ferguson said of his playing resources.
“Ashley Young has a toe injury and we’ll see what he’s like today. The knocks are nothing serious and I hope we’ll have a strong enough squad for tomorrow.
“Tom has got the potential, the expectation lies with everyone. For any United player, we expect a certain standard. Tom played his first game on Tuesday night – we gave him an hour. He had trained for about 10 days so he was in good physical condition for it. Given that we have a game tomorrow, I think an hour was just about right for him.”
Meanwhile, Korean Park says the United squad is focused on the job ahead despite the disappointment of last week. The 30-year-old could start in Young’s stead at Goodison Park – just the third of his Premier League season – where United drew last season after conceding two late goals to David Moyes’ outfit.
“We have to concentrate and everyone has to turn up to show the City game has not affected us,” Park told ManUtd.com.
“We have to get over that. We have to put it right on the pitch and we have to prove it. It’s a very important game to us and we have to go there and fight to get the points. It’s not an easy game at Goodison Park – it’s always difficult there. Just look at last season, when we were winning 3-1 and in injury-time they scored two goals.”
Everton, knocked out of the Carling Cup by Chelsea in mid-week, may have more than one reason to rue the 2-1 loss against the Londoners. While game went into energy-sapping extra time, midfielder Royston Drenthe was sent off for two bookable offences and will miss the fixture through suspension. Meanwhile key Evertonians Tim Cahill and Phil Neville are both out injured.
Yet it is on Rooney whom all eyes will focus, including a hostile home crowd against which Ferguson sought to protect his star player last season. It is, says Moyes, an animosity from which Everton supporters should move on.
“Wayne would be the first one to tell you – he would be delighted to come back with his wee boy and watch Everton,” Moyes added.
“He is bringing up his son as an Everton supporter and he will always be an Evertonian. He’ll get criticism because he left the club but time has moved on, we’ve moved on and so has he.”
By Saturday afternoon United supporters will know whether the team has moved on from last Sunday’s demoralising defeat or not.
Everton versus Manchester United, Premier League, Goodison Park, Saturday 29 October 2011, 12.00pm.
Everton (4-4-2): Howard; Hibbert, Jagielka, Distin, Baines; Osman, Fellaini, Rodwell, Coleman; Vellios, Saha. Subs from: Mucha, Heitinga, Bilyaletdinov, Stracqualursi, Barkley, Hahnemann.
United (4-4-1-1): De Gea; Smalling, Jones, Vidic, Evra; Nani, Cleverley, Carrick, Park; Rooney; Hernandez. Subs from: Lindegaard, Fabio, Evans, Ferdinand, Pogba, Fletcher, Anderson, Berbatov, Welbeck, Valencia, Owen, Diouf.
- Manchester United covered just 106.09km in the game against City last weekend – the side’s second lowest tally of the season – with Darren Fletcher covering the most ground with 11.29km
- Yet United still contains three of the top ten players in the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index, including Ashley Young and Luis Nani, who have each put in 37 crosses so far this season.
- Nani is also in second place for most dribbles completed (34) and Young in fourth (33).
- In the opposition Marouane Fellaini remains the Toffees midfield heartbeat, averaging 11.911km per game.
- However, the Index underlines how much Everton will miss Royston Drenthe, who scored his second Everton goal against Fulham last week. The Dutchman’s two goals have come from just five attempts, with four on target. He has also laid on three assists this season.
- One time United transfer target Jack Rodwell scored his first goal of the season against Fulham. The young midfielder has returned to form this season, making 11 interceptions and winning 87 per cent of tackles attempted.
Referee: Mark Halsey (Welwyn Garden City)
Assistant referees: S Bennett, A Halliday