Capello relieved by Rooney's return to form

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The Independent Football

If anyone had the most to lose from Wayne Rooney's slump in form last year - apart from the man himself - it was Fabio Capello whose England team's woeful collapse in South Africa cost him a great deal of credibility and almost his job. So it was instructive to hear last week that the England manager finally believes that his erstwhile star player is at last approaching his best again.

That was before Capello was in the directors' box at Old Trafford on Tuesday night to watch Rooney score twice against Aston Villa, his first goals from open play in the stadium since he endured that fateful ankle injury against Bayern Munich on 31 March to which all his subsequent problems on the field could be traced.

In a briefing with English newspapers last week it was Capello's opinion that the form of Rooney since the turn of the year was evidence that he was putting behind him the disappointments of South Africa as well as the controversy that surrounded allegations in his private life in September.

While Rooney's performance against Blackpool last week was, by his own admission, one of those games that bucked the trend of his recent improvements Capello had no doubt that he was returning to the kind of form pre-31 March. Capello names his England squad on Saturday night to play Denmark on Wednesday and it is anticipated that Rooney will start the game in Copenhagen.

Capello said: "Rooney is a fantastic player. He's one of the best English players. He hadn't scored [from open play] in this period [since March]. I hope he will start [scoring] with us. I have to speak with him, but the movement and passing is now good. And his head is now ok. The movement with the ball, without the ball, is good."

Rooney's goals against Villa were his first from open play at Old Trafford since that Bayern game and his total of four in the league still leaves him considerably behind his strike partner Dimitar Berbatov on 19 goals. It was noticeable that the player himself pointed out in a post-match interview on Tiuesday that Luis Nani's cross for his second goal was the kind of service that he had do with more of.

Rooney said that Nani's early cross to the back post at half-time was an example of what he could do when he chose to be more economical in possession. "It was a great ball from Nani," Rooney said. "It's something he can do really well. It would be great to see him do more like that. He is a great dribbler but if he was to mix it up more it would be good."

A trip to Wolverhampton Wanderers, whose manager Mick McCarthy sat next to Capello on Tuesday night at Old Trafford, awaits on Saturday with the potential for a 30th consecutive game unbeaten for United - what will be a club record. More goals for Rooney then would send him into an international break in his best form since before England's friendly against Egypt last March.

Nani said that he expected Rooney to go on "a run" of goals. "He [Rooney] might not have scored many goals but he is very important for the team because he works so hard in every game," Nani said. "Sometimes the games haven't gone the way he wanted but last night was his best performance of this season. He will be more confident now and I am sure he will score more goals in the next few games."

"We are a very confident team at the moment. We don't want to lose and will work hard to keep this way because we want to finish the season in first. I don't know how long we can go on for but we hope to finish the season unbeaten. It will be very hard but we intend to win those last games as well."

Having missed the friendly against France in November while he was in America recovering from an ankle injury, Rooney will be back in Capello's squad on Saturday. However, there may well be doubts over whether Jermain Defoe, who also missed the France game, will merit an inclusion given his goalscoring record of late. Darren Bent, also injured for that friendly is expected to be called back into the squad.