Rooney is back to his best, says Queiroz

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The Independent Online

Carlos Queiroz has warned Watford to beware Wayne Rooney as Manchester United look to consolidate their lead at the top of the Premiership against the club lying bottom in the table at Old Trafford tonight.

After struggling for form over the opening half of the season, Rooney has recently sparked back into life, and goal-scoring form. The 21-year-old followed up his goal at Arsenal by scoring twice in the FA Cup win over Portsmouth at the weekend, the second a chip few would have dared try.

"When he does something like that, we immediately know we have a different forward in the next game," said Queiroz. "It didn't really surprise me - because when the opportunity arises in training, Wayne always tries to do special things like that."

When the concern over Rooney's form was at its height in December, Queiroz was among those to urge restraint, insisting a slight dip in standards was only natural considering how much the player had pushed himself to make England's squad for last summer's World Cup after breaking his foot in April. Added to that, the former Everton man missed three games at the start of this season after a pre-season dismissal against Porto.

However, having watched Rooney score his 11th goal of the season, Queiroz believes the youngster is almost back to his best. "Forwards are special in the sense that one goal can change the quality of their game from one moment to the next," he said.

"When they don't score they can become disturbed and lose confidence. It is almost as if the fewer goals they score, the less likely they are to score again. But I never saw anything that concerned me about Wayne's progression or the way he was working and playing. What happened to him in the first stage of the season was natural, given he had gone so long without playing."

Rio Ferdinand also saw nothing to worry about in Rooney's early-season form. "It is funny," he said. "With players of Wayne's calibre, no matter how well he is playing, when he is not scoring people start hammering him and taking his game to pieces. The one thing you know you will get from Wayne is a good workrate and a good team ethic. That runs through the club."

Ferguson had initially suggested Rooney might be on the bench tonight, but with the French international Louis Saha still to recover from a knee injury, he may well start. Cristiano Ronaldo is available again after a brief recuperative break in Dubai, while Edwin van der Sar will replace Tomasz Kuszczak in goal - the one certain change from the team that beat Portsmouth in the FA Cup at the weekend.

United next face Reading in the Cup and Ferdinand is desperate to make it third time lucky this year. The defender has not enjoyed the best of times in the competition since his arrival at Old Trafford from Leeds United. After being forced to sit out the 2004 final victory over Millwall because of his ban for a missed drugs test, Ferdinand was reduced to tears at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff 12 months later when United felt they dominated Arsenal, only to lose in a penalty shoot-out.

"I have not had great memories of the FA Cup in recent years," Ferdinand told MUTV. "Losing to Arsenal in Cardiff was probably one of the worst feelings I have ever had in football. We battered them for the whole game and lost on penalties. It just reminds you that you need the rub of the green and also need to play well to get to the final. Hopefully, we can do that this year."

Top of the Barclays Premiership by six points and with a seemingly inviting Champions' League knockout clash against Lille looming next month, United are still in a position to emulate their historic 1999 Treble-winning campaign.

Ferdinand is not getting carried away by the prospect of adding to a single League title and last season's Carling Cup. But he believes the mentality within the Old Trafford dressing room suggests the present standards can be maintained.

"You don't want to become runners-up," he said. "You get nothing for finishing second and we want to win every competition we are in. We have that winning mentality. We are doing okay, we have to keep going."

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