Ferguson ponders striker shortage

United could top the EPL this weekend despite Ferguson fears over Rooney fitness.

    Rooney has been on top form for United with 23 league goals so far [GALLO/GETTY]

    Manchester United could return to the top of the English Premier League this weekend, as the champions try to take advantage of Chelsea's FA Cup clash against Stoke.

    United could claim the top spot with a win or draw at Wolverhampton Wanderers, but are aware that a slip will give rivals Arsenal - who are currently sitting three points behind leaders Chelsea - an opportunity to climb two places.

    Following United's success in the League Cup final last weekend, manager Alex Ferguson will be looking to gain advantage over both London rivals, but he faces immediate selection problems ahead of Saturday's game.

    The Scot may need to persist with his reliance on striker Wayne Rooney after Michael Owen was ruled out for the rest of the season with a hamstring injury picked up in the League Cup final.

    But Rooney was left doubtful for United's trip to Wolves after 86 minutes of national duty mid-week, and ending the League Cup final complaining of a twinge in his right knee. 

    No rest

    Rooney was set to be rested last weekend but was forced into action when Owen limped off at Wembley.

    EPL fixtures

    Saturday March 6

     Arsenal v Burnley
     West Ham v Bolton
     Wolverhampton v Man Utd

    Sunday March 7

     Everton v Hull

    Monday March 8

     Wigan v Liverpool

    Tuesday March 9

    Portsmouth v Birmingham
     Sunderland v Bolton

    The striker, who has scored a season-best 23 goals in the EPL so far, then played a full role in a mid-week friendly for England against African Champions Egypt.

    "We have to assess Wayne because he played almost 90 minutes for England the other night at Wembley, which I was disappointed in,'' United manager Alex Ferguson said.

    "When you are playing on that pitch for almost an hour on Sunday and then nearly a full game on Wednesday it's far too much.

    "Now he is a doubt for Wolves.''

    Ferguson must now decide whether to further risk fatigue for Rooney or field Dimitar Berbatov alone up front.

    "Hopefully we can get the points we need and go top of the league as Chelsea are in the FA Cup," said Ferguson.

    "Going top of the league at this stage of the season is no bad thing."

    There was some relief for Ferguson however, with the news that defender Rio Ferdinand is set to return from a back injury that kept him out of the past two games and England's midweek game.

    And England midfielder Owen Hargreaves is finally close to returning after 16 months out, with a reserve appearance scheduled for Thursday.

    Arsenal, who host Burnley on Saturday, also have similar injury worries with Aaron Ramsey on the sidelines along with the injured William Gallas and suspended Alex Song.

    Arsenal are expected to recall Andrei Arshavin and Denilson from injury absences, while Abou Diaby may return from a knee problem.

    "Arshavin could be available and there is a little, little chance that Diaby could be available again too,'' Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger said.

    "I am convinced that Denilson and Arshavin will be OK but for Diaby it is 50:50.

    "If we have good news from the other players coming back we should still have a strong squad out.''

    United fans are showing their displeasure over the Glazer ownership [AFP]

    Continuing protests

    United's problems continue off the pitch as fans continue their protest against the club's controversial American owners, the Glazer family.

    Increasingly more fans are supporting the Green and Gold campaign, based on the colours of United's forerunners, Newton Heath, in a visible protest against the Glazers' ownership of United - once the most profitable sporting club in the world but now saddled with debts of $1.08 billion.

    Earlier in the week, a group of rich United fans, known as the Red Knights, announced they were putting together a bid to buy the club for more than $1.15 billion pounds.

    United chief executive David Gill said on Wednesday the club were not for sale but the fan base appears to be mobilising nonetheless.

    Old rivals

    Chelsea host Stoke on Sunday as the only one of the Premier League's so-called big four left in the FA Cup.

    Stoke City fans have had precious little to celebrate in 122 years but victory at Chelsea would put them one game away from reaching the FA Cup final for the first time while reviving some painful memories.

    Having already knocked out Manchester City and Arsenal this season, another upset against the holders is entirely possible and the Stamford Bridge clash has set the Potteries abuzz with nostalgia.

    Stoke were founder members of the Football League in 1888 yet their only-ever trophy is the 1972 League Cup when they beat Chelsea in the final. 

    SOURCE: Agencies


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