London: Sir Alex Ferguson is preparing to unleash a fit-again Wayne Rooney on the Premier League as Manchester United look to kick-start their title charge at Blackburn Rovers on Saturday.
Rooney made his first start for United since early October in Wednesday’s Champions League trip to Glasgow, scoring from the penalty spot to secure a 1-0 victory over Rangers.
Ferguson admits Rooney is a long way from being the unstoppable force that saw him score 34 times in all competitions last season on his way to scooping the Players’ Player of the Year award.
Yet the United boss plans to give Rooney as much game time as possible to restore him to full match sharpness.
“He needs games,” said Ferguson. “The way we are going to do that is to keep him on the pitch for 90 minutes.
“That will continue now as we try to get him to his level. He is rusty, that is obvious, but it is a start for him.”
United are currently level on points with Chelsea at the top of the table and can pile the pressure on the out-of-form champions with a victory at Blackburn, which could give them a three-point lead.
Chelsea, meanwhile, travel to Newcastle on Sunday with boss Carlo Ancelotti hoping his injury-hit side can snap a dismal run of results that has seen them beaten three times in four league matches.
Chelsea attacker Salomon Kalou has played down the speculation surrounding Ancelotti’s position following the departure of assistant coach Ray Wilkins earlier ths month.
“It has not been weird for us,” said Kalou following Chelsea’s 2-1 Champions League win over MSK Zilina at Stamford Bridge in mid-week.
“Everything has been the same. We have trained like normal.
“This weekend against Newcastle is a big game. We are back to winning ways and we have to continue. This weekend will be a good game again for us.”
Arsenal can take fleeting possession of top spot if they manage a victory at Aston Villa in Saturday’s early kick-off.
The Gunners’ hopes of scoring an away victory have been dealt a blow, however, by injuries to captain Cesc Fabregas and Emmanuel Eboue, who both face spells on the sidelines.
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger is likely to have Dutch international Robin van Persie available for selection as the Gunners try to recover from last week’s home defeat against Tottenham in the north London derby.
Spurs entertain Liverpool at White Hart Lane with confidence sky high after the away win at Arsenal and reaching the Champions League knockout rounds with ease in Wednesday’s 3-0 win over Werder Bremen.
Tottenham boss Harry Rednapp has repeatedly stated Spurs can mount a serious league challenge this term in what is becoming one of the most open title races in years, and the signs are that the manager’s confidence is rubbing off on his squad.
“After Saturday, I think the players know we can do something,” Spurs centre-back William Gallas said, referring to the 3-2 comeback win at Arsenal.
“We have the quality, so what we have to understand is to believe in ourselves and go on the pitch and fight for 90 minutes.”
Spurs striker Peter Crouch, who rejoined Spurs from Liverpool in 2009, also believes Tottenham have the talent to push for the top.
“Right from the start when I came to this club, I was looking around the dressing room thinking, ‘How have we not achieved anything?’, and I think it’s only a matter of time,” Crouch said.
“Last season, obviously finishing fourth was a great achievement but I think we can go one better and try to win something this year.”
Saturday: (1500GMT unless otherwise stated):
Aston Villa v Arsenal (1245GMT), Bolton v Blackpool, Everton v West Brom, Fulham v Birmingham, Man Utd v Blackburn, Stoke City v Man City, West Ham v Wigan Athletic, Wolves v Sunderland
Newcastle v Chelsea (1330GMT), Tottenham v Liverpool (1600GMT)