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Monday 11 December 2017

Spotlight on Rooney

Chelsea pursuit of striker has raised the stakes for their trip to Old Trafford

If ever a football match was pre-loaded with intrigue for the neutrals and ammunition for both sets of supporters then it is Manchester United against Chelsea on Monday night.

In particular, the sparks are set to fly around the subject of Wayne Rooney.

United manager David Moyes says he is not for sale, and is considering playing him against his suitors, while Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho has stated his club will be returning with a third bid for the Old Trafford striker after the Premier League encounter between the sides.

Can United keep the player who has been so disgruntled of late, but who at his best provides the guile and imagination which so often makes things happen for the champions?

Can Chelsea prise Rooney away and give Mourinho's second coming a boost which could prove decisive?

It all ensures a simmering backdrop to a game which could well give an early clue as to who might lift the Premier League title come May.

You can see why Mourinho is tenacious in pursuit of Rooney. Chelsea possess a pleasing balance of youth and experience. They have a solid defence and potent triangular midfield axis in Eden Hazard, Juan Mata and Oscar with Victor Moses, Kevin De Bruyne and Andre Schurrle also providing options, but up front they lack the prolific goalscorer which former striker Didier Drogba gave them for so many years.

Who is Mourinho's main strike man? Is it the inconsistent Fernando Torres? Unlikely. Is it Demba Ba or the physically imposing, but still raw, 20-year-old Romelu Lukaku?

The point is that a side with ambitions of Premier League success and Champions League greatness require a reliable goal threat. They need to know where the goals are coming from week in and week out.

THREAT

They need a striker who can give them the guaranteed attacking threat of Robin van Persie, but then you could say that for every team in the Premier League.

Van Persie's 26 goals last season were the reason Alex Ferguson garnished his final campaign as United manager with his 13th Premier League title.

Two goals in the Community Shield against Wigan and another two in the destruction of Swansea in United's first league match suggest Van Persie is in the mood once more and at the peak of his powers.

He is the key to United's season. New boss David Moyes knows that, even if Danny Welbeck is coming on fast in the scoring department.

Yet that does not mean United can do without Rooney.

Van Persie scores goals. Rooney makes and scores them, 34 in 2009-10 and again in 2011-12. It is doubtful if any player, including the likes of Ryan Giggs, has worked harder or more unselfishly for the United cause than Rooney in an Old Trafford career during which he has frequently been asked to play out of position.

No one has influenced the ebb and flow of matches with more frequency. Perhaps only Paul Scholes, who many believe to be the most consistent midfielder in the Premier League era, can lay claim to having delivered greater creativity. That is why Moyes is so reluctant to give up on Rooney, despite the striker's disaffection over the past 12 months and Moyes' public proclamation that Van Persie is his number one asset.

MASTERFUL

What better way to convince Rooney to stay than by United turning in a masterful performance on Monday against Chelsea, a performance to convince the world that United post-Ferguson are still the leading light in English football?

You can be sure Mourinho will be having similar thoughts about his Chelsea team. Two wins in their first two league games have given Mourinho's second reign a rapid start, although the midweek struggle against Aston Villa suggested there is still work to be done.

The truth is, whatever the result on Monday, Moyes and Mourinho both need Rooney. The Premier League title might just rest on whoever wins that particular battle.

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