Man United v Spurs preview: Rooney's a pain in the leg

ENGLAND has been united in its concern for Wayne Rooney ever since the nation s shining light went down clutching his ankle in Munich at the end of March. With the Three Lions' World Cup hopes seemingly resting heavily on the 24-year-old...


Manchester United v Tottenham Hotspur, Saturday 12.45pm

ENGLAND has been united in its concern for Wayne Rooney ever since the nation's shining light went down clutching his ankle in Munich at the end of March.

With the Three Lions' World Cup hopes seemingly resting heavily on the 24-year-old's shoulders, football fans from every club are willing the league's leading scorer back to full fitness.

Well, maybe not just yet. National hero or not, Rooney is currently standing - albeit a bit gingerly - between Spurs and their long-term dream of Champions League football.

Rooney has scored 34 times in 42 games for United this season and, with 26 of them coming in the league, is leading the race for the golden boot.

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For the sake of Tottenham and England, it would certainly be best if the striker was rested on Saturday, but that is exceedingly unlikely.

Sir Alex Ferguson is not paid to protect England players before international tournaments and, as the manager of Manchester United, he has nothing to rest Rooney for - the title race is being decided right now, and the match against Spurs is as important as any.

Despite his suspect match fitness, United's talisman has continued to start the big games - the second leg of the Champions League quarter-final against Bayern Munich and the Manchester derby on Saturday.

Tellingly, when he was recently omitted against Blackburn Rovers at Ewood Park, United were held to a goalless draw. Those who suggest that the champions are now a one-man team certainly have ammunition, and Ferguson's other options are limited.

Michael Owen's season ended with a ruptured hamstring in the Carling Cup final, and the enigmatically toothless Dimitar Berbatov consistently fails to prove himself a worthy replacement.

The Bulgaria international, who notoriously went on strike at Spurs to force his move to Old Trafford in the summer of 2008, has scored just 12 times in 40 appearances this season - two less than he managed last campaign.

While he repeatedly states how happy he is at Old Trafford, the feelings are increasingly one-sided, and Berbatov's famously languid style continues to frustrate fans whose title defence has hung by a thread for weeks.

Ferguson's side are certainly back in contention now, one point off the lead after Spurs kindly defeated both Arsenal and Chelsea.

The Red Devils responded in kind, defeating Man City on Saturday thanks to Paul Scholes' header in the third minute of injury-time, but there can be no back-scratching between these two clubs this Saturday.

Spurs will hope for a favour from Arsenal in the late kick-off against City at the Emirates, but first they have their own job to do at Old Trafford, a job they usually struggle with.

Tottenham have not won at Old Trafford in any competition for over 20 years, and have failed to win a league game away against any of the traditional 'Big Four' in their last 66 attempts.

Spurs tasted their usual defeat at Old Trafford in December, as United ran out 2-0 winners in the Carling Cup en route to defending the trophy.

Ferguson fielded the likes of Tomas Kuszczak, Ritchie de Laet, Gabriel Obertan and Danny Welbeck against the Lilywhites that night, and still emerged victorious thanks to two superb strikes from Darron Gibson.

The 22-year-old has since become a regular in the United side, featuring in the last four games and starting Saturday's derby against City.

Gary Neville has also been heavily involved recently - taking up his place in a rearguard which boasts the best home defence across this season's top-flight fixtures.

JournalSport verdict: United's star man may be struggling, but Ferguson's side are always formidable at home, and have won nine of their last 10 games at Old Trafford. On-form Spurs can avoid defeat, but victory will continue to elude them.

Prediction: Manchester United 1 Spurs 1

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