The 'big man' is back: Rooney buzzing over thought of Valencia link

 

No prizes for guessing who was at the front of the line when the training ground sprints started in the brilliant Carrington sunshine yesterday morning. It was Wayne Rooney, beaming at Nani, looking like a formidable force as he leapt into action over the cones. Rooney has a way of looking more diminutive when the world is weighing on his shoulders and standing taller than his 5ft 8in frame when it's turning in his favour, and it's "the big man" who's suddenly back.

Three goals in four games, a successful reincarnation as a midfielder against Arsenal, and he is beginning to resemble the old recognisable form again. As Manchester United seek to maintain their hopes of a treble in a delicately poised Champions League tie with Marseilles at Old Trafford this evening, his manager did not reject the notion that his absence – physically and psychologically – from the earlier parts of the season will be to his club's benefit now.

That Sir Alex Ferguson should have included Antonio Valencia in his assessment of the restored assets was significant considering that the Ecuadorean – finally back for 45 minutes of football on Saturday – is the player whose name Rooney always says he most wants to see on the teamsheet. "They are both young and have great energies," the manager said. "Antonio going to be available now is a great boost to us. Hopefully it will help us. But the team needs to step up too. The team needs to perform to win the league."

This tone was not bullish. Ferguson's disinterest in the media paraphernalia which surrounds the Champions League is becoming more evident as the months roll by. But the progression to an FA Cup semi-final against Manchester City brought talk yesterday of trebles and fixture permutations – subjects which, though he wouldn't say as much, exhilarate him and reveal that his club are still standing on all fronts in a season when they have not sparkled.



There will be tension tonight against Didier Deschamps' side, fortified by the return of forward André-Pierre Gignac, whose danger is all the greater after the 0-0 draw on the Mediterranean coast. But Ferguson's injury problems are not as bad as they had seemed.

Nani plunged into the familiar "boxes" keep-ball drill, confounding the notion created by Ferguson's press conference last Friday that United were on tenterhooks about the crevice in his shin, caused by Jamie Carragher's tackle, becoming infected. "There's a good chance [he'll play]," said his manager yesterday. Michael Carrick is also fit, contrary to expectations, though Ferguson's disclosure that Nemanja Vidic had taken a knock against Arsenal – the Serbian centre-half did not train yesterday – will add to the tension until the teamsheet appears at 7pm. "He should be ok. He's tough enough," Ferguson murmured.

Two first-half goals are what United really need, which is why the Rooney/Valencia axis might be most significant. No one has been such an able provider of headed goals for Rooney than Valencia – it was at this stage of the Champions League last season that he sent in the cross in San Siro which delivered the first of two Rooney goals against Milan. The same combination delivered Rooney's decisive goal against Aston Villa in the Carling Cup final.

The improved finishing is the part of Valencia's game which United have made. Ferguson had a hunch that the quality – which marks him out as more of an Andrei Kanchelskis than a Ronaldo – was in him. It was visible when Valencia memorably dispatched a low Rooney cross in the Community Shield last August with calmness and not inconsiderable technical skill. This is what Ferguson has been missing since the midfielder turned his foot on a wet Old Trafford pitch against Rangers on the night United began their Champions League campaign, breaking an ankle and damaging ligaments.

United need him, with one of the most congested and dramatic run-ins even Ferguson has known, if their journey towards a European Wembley final continues. We may hear the full vent of Ferguson's fury if, as is quite possible, United face a Champions League quarter-final second leg and the FA Cup semi-final with City in the space of three days and lose the latter – though for now we get only the sense of anticipation. "It's an incredible draw," Ferguson said of the City tie. "A lot of people thought this would be a better final, but that's disrespectful to the other teams. That's taken away from us now. It's a straightforward derby semi-final and it should be a fantastic game. You have to face that [fixture] situation a million times. You have to get on with it. We won't be withdrawing so we will be there."

Ferguson was prickly when an individual from the French media contingent suggested United had gone to Marseilles for a 0-0 draw. "I thought Marseilles went for the 0-0. Maybe they are the ones who are confident." He knows from the goalless first legs in Madrid (2000) and Monaco (1998) that deadlock can bring elimination. In all European competition, United have won only five of the nine ties in which the first game finished goalless.

Rooney didn't look unduly concerned, though. Of Valencia's return, he said: "I can't tell you how good it is to see him back out there. He looked like he'd never been away [on Saturday.] It's fantastic for him and fantastic for us."

Key confrontations

Dimitar Berbatov v Gabriel Heinze

With his technical prowess, it is surprising Berbatov has not scored a Champions League goal since October 2008. To change that, he will need to outwit the former United player Heinze who is expected to move inside to centre-back.

Paul Scholes v Stéphane Mbia

Scholes has been a hero on many Old Trafford European nights; Mbia, the imposing destroyer, will have to stop him having an impact tonight. Expect tackles aplenty: Mbia has nine yellow cards so far this season, Scholes, 10.

Rafael v André Ayew

The Manchester United full-back must be wary of Ayew's dribbling ability. The young Brazilian will need to follow his confident performance against Arsenal with more of the same against the talented Ghanaian.



Life and Style
love + sex
Life and Style
Tikka Masala has been overtaken by Jalfrezi as the nation's most popular curry
food + drink
News
people
Voices
A propaganda video shows Isis forces near Tikrit
voicesAdam Walker: The Koran has violent passages, but it also has others that explicitly tells us how to interpret them
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn