Sir Alex Ferguson must surely be feeling fired up and refreshed after the Premier League made way for international football this weekend – and for more reason than one! The Man United manager has seen a raft of his superstars firing their respective nations to glory, and surely no fine individual performance will have raised a smile as much as that of Wayne Rooney. The £30m man has been condemned for some much-publicised off-field incidents, and England coach Fabio Capello was criticised publicly in many quarters – and perhaps privately in that of the FA – for opting to play the under-fire striker.
The risk proved to work wonders, however, culminating in a fine individual performance from one of United’s most recognisable faces. Having broken his England duck a few nights earlier in the 4-0 win over Bulgaria, Rooney silenced his critics in what was his first competitive match since the revelations were released, in a performance Three Lions coach Fabio Capello described as “perfect.” Such fine play will surely prove the perfect tonic to Fergie as United bid to regain control of English football and regain the Premier League crown – after having broken the worst goal drought of his career, Rooney appears to be back among the goals as well as the high match ratings.
Another player whose form the United gaffer must surely have few qualms about is the talismanic Paul Scholes. The 35-year-old has been playing as though he is 10 years younger so far this season, and has put in performances that have resulted in Capello requesting that he pulls on the white of England once again. Scholes has thus far refuted claims that he could be set to emerge from the international self-exile, having wandered into the wilderness with his retirement after becoming disillusioned with the scene after England’s Euro 2004 campaign. There was initial talk of him returning for the World Cup this summer, which then subsided after he stated that the call had come too late. Whether temptation sets in nearer Euro 2012 should England qualify, however, remains to be seen.
With his top stars returning, and former internationals such as Scholes fully rested after the break, Sir Alex will surely be confident of his United side taking some of the points against Everton at Goodison Park on Saturday, thereby avenging last season’s 3-1 defeat on Merseyside. The Red Devils have a decent record at Rooney’s old stomping ground, and Fergie could be set to unleash the majority of the talent at his disposal in order to try and maintain the pressure on early-day leaders Chelsea, who are the only side with a 100% record to date and who hold a 2 point lead over United following the Reds’ 2-2 draw with Fulham two weeks ago.
With Everton languishing second from bottom of the league and without a win, and with United already near the top of the table, a victory for Fergie’s men would appear to be written in the stars. However, Everton have scalped United on more than one occasion, and the presence of Mikel Arteta is always likely to prove a threat to even a midfield as staunch as that of United’s. The Spaniard himself has been the subject of much talk recently about his international allegiance – but as he remains as yet uncapped at senior level, though he has played at various levels up to U-21 for Spain. There have been calls for him to join Rooney’s supply line in an England shirt due to his citizenship, but his immediate goal will surely be to quell the threat of the Eleven-time Premier League winners.
One player who is particularly likely to feature could be left-back Patrice Evra. The France defender has been banned for five international matches for his role in the unrest amongst the France camp during the World Cup this summer – and the suspension has been upheld by the French FA. They said about his appeal: “The Appeals High Commission confirms the five-match sanction for non-selection by France.”
With Chelsea visiting their rivals West Ham the same day United make the short trip to Merseyside, Fergie’s men must do all they can to ensure the Blues can’t pull away at the top. If United fail to win, Chelsea’s lead could potentially stretch as far as 5 points already. That is something Sir Alex surely will not be likely to accept any time soon – a return to winning ways to coincide with his star striker’s return to form will be just the stress relief Fergie needs.