Paul Parker

Rooney walking a fine line with Fergie

Paul Parker

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Under pressure: Alex Ferguson - Manchester United v West Bromwich Albion

After Wayne Rooney went against his manager's comments about an ankle injury dogging him all season, claiming that he had no such problem, he has given Ferguson a dilemma.

Whether Ferguson rests his out-of-form striker, maintaining his stance that he is not fully fit, or plays him against West Brom, the decision will be heavily scrutinised.

I think he will say to Rooney that if he has no problem with his ankle, go out on to the pitch and prove it. In doing so he will deflect the attention back on to Rooney. If he thrives, he has got his star man back, and if he struggles then he is vindicated.

It's clear that Rooney's head is still not right, and with his loss of form coming at a time when his contract is up at the end of next season, he is suddenly in a precarious position.

There has been talk about interest from Real Madrid recently, but there is just as much chance of that being stirred by agents as having any basis in fact. Besides, after the way he has played since the end of last season, why would he be wanted at the Bernabeu?

Rooney needs to think very carefully about his next move. To come out and openly defy Ferguson, after all the support he has received through such a difficult time in both his personal and professional life, means he is walking a very fine line.

Everyone talks about the infamous 'hairdryer' treatment players suffer when they upset him, but when he's really had enough then his response is a lot more emphatic. One day, you're a Manchester United player. The next day, you're gone. 

Match of the weekend: Everton v Liverpool

After all the court and board room upheaval for Liverpool off the pitch this week, under normal circumstances a matchday would provide some respite for the club and its fans. But, despite the euphoria of finally seeing ownership of the club change hands, a trip to Goodison Park is probably the last fixture they would have wanted.

For most of the time under Rafa Benitez, Liverpool had the ability to pull a big result out of the bag when they really needed one, but the way they have been playing this season I'm not sure they are capable of that anymore.

My main worry is that the players will use the club's turbulent last couple of weeks as an excuse to hide behind to mask their poor performances. When things are going well then everybody claims that they never read the papers or let off-field matters affect them, but when times are bad suddenly these things become crucial.

Looking at the bigger picture, this is just another game with three points at stake. If someone wins they are still only three points above their rivals at the bottom of the table after a decent chunk of the season. Right now, however, a defeat for Liverpool would strike another lethal blow to the players' already crippled morale.

Upset of the week: Blackpool v Manchester City

It's difficult to see a match in this weekend's fixtures that could upset the form book, but if you were to take a punt then City's trip to Bloomfield Road could be worth a look.

The two towns are less than an hour down the road, so there is a derby aspect to the match. Plus, Blackpool will still be riding high from that victory at Anfield two weeks ago, and Ian Holloway is the perfect man to keep that feel-good factor up.

They have been unlucky at times this season, and although they were beaten 4-0 at Chelsea, Holloway showed he was not afraid to change things around and they looked a lot better in the second half, when they did not concede.

They have only had to deal with a handful of players leaving for international duty, meaning that most of the shallow squad got a good rest, vital for a side fighting to stay in their first season. Conversely, you could almost count the number of City's first-teamers that stayed at home on the fingers of one hand.

Clearly, City should come away with all three points, but I've just given my reasons for why I think this match carries with it the best chance of an upset.

Player to watch: Andy Carroll - Newcastle United v Wigan Athletic

With England's players drawing a blank against Montenegro in midweek, there has again been a clamour for Fabio Capello to ditch many of the established players and bring in more young players.

Had he been fit and playing, then calls for Carroll to be included would have sprung up again.  Carroll is certainly a real prospect for the future, but for now he has quite enough pressure to deal with for a 21-year-old.

It can't be easy wearing number nine on the back of your shirt when you play for Newcastle, but he has made a name for himself after helping fire the Magpies back into the top flight at the first time of asking.

Despite that, I would feel much more comfortable if he where to get a full season of Premier League football under his belt, and then go to the U21 European Championships next summer, and let him develop at his own pace.

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