Rooney waits to deliver Hammer blow
MAN UNITED v WEST HAM
(Tomorrow, 12.30am, Singtel TV Ch 103 & StarHub TV Ch 228 - Eleven Plus)
It is a sign of Wayne Rooney's recent troubles that he is not guaranteed to make Manchester United's starting line-up against West Ham tomorrow morning (Singapore time) despite breaking a club record this week.
The United captain became the Red Devils' all-time leading European scorer with 39 goals on Thursday, after a fine finish to set up a 4-0 Europa League victory over Feyenoord.
He needs just one more goal now to draw level with England great Bobby Charlton (249 goals) as United's highest scorer in all competitions.
Yet in a television interview after the Feyenoord game, Rooney, who has struggled for form this season, launched into an attack on the British media.
Rooney, who was on England duty at the time, faced heavy criticism this month after photographs appearing to show him drunk at a wedding party were published in a newspaper, although he was cleared by the Football Association yesterday (see facing report).
While he had apologised for "inappropriate" behaviour, Rooney has since downplayed the incident.
The forward feels he has been harshly treated, but perhaps there is a sense that he has a point to prove too.
Rooney has started just one of United's last seven English Premier League games, with manager Jose Mourinho preferring Juan Mata or Paul Pogba in the withdrawn role behind main striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
While there is satisfaction in breaking club records, it does little to dispel the sense that, at 31, Rooney's best days may be behind him.
Winning a starting spot tomorrow would go some way to dispelling that notion.
Another United player seeking to disprove his critics is midfielder Henrikh Mkhitaryan, who started a club game for the first time since Sept 10 when he played against Feyenoord on Thursday.
The Armenia captain's lack of opportunities under Mourinho since his £26 million ($46m) pre-season move from Borussia Dortmund has been a source of bafflement for many fans.
However, the manager is adamant that Mkhitaryan has not been frozen out.
"He just needs now to replicate this kind of performance in the English Premier League," Mourinho said.
"The Premier League is different - he needs one more step. Obviously now, confidence levels are higher.
"This performance gives him the right to believe that he can play the next match again and he needs to replicate this kind of performance in the Premier League with more physicality and more aggression."
With just one win in their last six Premier League games, United have slipped to sixth and need rapid domestic improvement.
They do, at least, have Ibrahimovic available in attack, the forward having missed last Saturday's 1-1 draw at home to Arsenal because of suspension.
Last weekend's agonising late defeat by London rivals Tottenham Hotspur left West Ham just one point and one place above the relegation places.
It also raised questions over the long-term future of manager Slaven Bilic.
"I feel the pressure, of course, because we are not delivering and performing enough to get points to feel happy," said Bilic.
"But I see the improvement, I see a team who are hungry and alive, and the points were there for us in a very difficult away game. That's what I'm focused on and not to make mistakes like we did against Spurs."
He added: "It's still very tight. With a win against Tottenham, we would have been 12th or 11th.
"But we are in the position we are. You can say it's still early days, but we have to start picking up points. We can say we were unlucky or we deserve more, but the table doesn't lie."
Hammers central defender Winston Reid is suspended, but Bilic hopes to have midfielder Pedro Obiang back in his squad. - AFP.
There is not much to say, I am doing my job. I speak to the owners, mostly Mr Sullivan, regularly after every game and in between if something needs talking about. I feel supported and as I have said so many times, I concentrate on my job and our next game, and that’s basically it.
— West Ham manager Slaven Bilic on his future
Rooney cleared over drinking storm — reports
England captain Wayne Rooney has been cleared after the Football Association investigated reports that he stayed up late drinking while on international duty, British media outlets reported yesterday.
Rooney, 31, apologised for the publication of "inappropriate" pictures of him mingling with wedding guests at England's team hotel between their recent games against Scotland and Spain.
But the Manchester United captain described media coverage of the incident as "disgraceful" and said he felt he had been the victim of a witch hunt.
Several news organisations, including the BBC, said Rooney, who surpassed Bobby Charlton's record of 49 goals for England last year and has to date scored 51 times for his country, had been assured by the FA he would not face charges over the matter.
The Daily Mirror said the FA had learnt Rooney posed for pictures outside the wedding party venue, contradicting reports he had "gatecrashed" it and had not broken a curfew.
The FA is also looking into claims several players were out late on the Saturday night that fell between England's 3-0 World Cup qualifying win over Scotland and 2-2 friendly draw with Spain.
The FA has since banned England players from going on nights out while on international duty. - AFP.