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Wayne Rooney’s demand for a move away from Manchester United has stunned manager Alex Ferguson, especially given the striker’s poor form and support the club have given him through personal problems.
After winning three successive Premier League titles with United and the 2008 Champions League, Rooney enjoyed his best personal season with the club in 2009-10 — when his impressive tally of 34 goals in all competitions was only enough to bring the League Cup to Old Trafford.
The departure of Cristiano Ronaldo to Real Madrid and Carlos Tevez to Manchester City last year had left Rooney with a punishing workload up front, which he carried with some aplomb
But if Rooney leaves, who will take the mantle of being the pack leader in a team devoid of other big names?
If Netherlands coach Bert van Marwijk had slapped down Nigel de Jong after the World Cup final, Hatem Ben Arfa might now not be facing six months out with a broken leg.
Instead, only after a second “robust” challenge has De Jong been punished by being dropped for the upcoming Euro 2012 qualifiers with Moldova and Sweden.
Perusing through the latest influx of major pre-season signings to join the English Premier League can quickly become a competition to find which transaction does not include the words Manchester and City.
As expected, it is the blue half of Manchester that have splashed the cash on behalf of Italian manager Roberto Mancini, as they bid to break into the top four and come away with a minimum of Champions League soccer this season.
It was a case of “now or never” for Tottenham this season as, if they had failed to snatch fourth place and a passport to the Champions League, they might never had had another shot.
Crashing the “big four” has been the target of half-a-dozen clubs in the last decade and Spurs went close with two fifth-placed finishes in 2006 and 07.
With predictions league leader Paul Radford fast closing in on the title, attention in the Premier League turns to the Manchester derby and whether Tottenham can build on their memorable victory over city rivals Arsenal against visiting leaders Chelsea.
There is a lot at stake for the two Manchester clubs. A win for United would keep their hopes of catching Chelsea alive, while City need three points to tighten their grip on fourth and a lucrative place in next season’s Champions League.
Not for the first time this season, Manchester United stunned Manchester City in injury-time and clawed out a win that took them through to next month’s League Cup final against Aston Villa, while making a point to their ambitious neighbours.
Wayne Rooney’s late header was also a reminder that for all the weaknesses of this particular team, even with Cristiano Ronaldo gone to Real Madrid and Carlos Tevez off to Eastlands, United retain an uncanny ability to swing games their way in the face of adversity. Against the odds, they are somehow still on course for a treble.
This time last year, I wrote a piece arguing that Manchester City were setting their sights in the transfer market pathetically low.
For a club with almost limiteless funds, putting Craig Bellamy and Nigel de Jong at the top of the transfer wish list was a bit like a Lottery winner hunting through the racks of last year’s suits at TK Maxx.
Manchester City’s chief executive Garry Cook has made an impassioned defence of the reasons for Mark Hughes’ sacking.
The feeling persists, however, that Hughes was harshly treated by the club.
Cook states that he and the club’s owners gave Hughes all the resources that he needed to achieve the target of 70 points for the season. The one resource Hughes did not get was time. Had just two of the almost freakish seven successive draws been turned into victories, City would have been in an extremely strong position in the race for a top-four spot.
It may be good entertainment but new Manchester City boss Roberto Mancini will not have enjoyed watching their 4-3 win over Sunderland on Saturday.
The uncomfortable nature of his appointment, with Mark Hughes taking charge of the game knowing he was sacked, will be a minor thought to the Italian now he has seen the challenge ahead of him.
MONDAY UPDATE: So how did you do? Here at Reuters we had our usual collection of baffling predictions and near misses along with a surprisingly high amount of lucky stabs in the dark.
It was a good job I made Man City v Chelsea the double pointer as two “experts” correctly plumped for the 2-1 City win. I fear an amount of copying also took place with Arsenal v Stoke as seven panel memebers were right to guess 2-0.