Manchester United's Wayne Rooney (Photo: AP)
A week after his petulant sending-off while on international duty, Wayne Rooney’s temperament will be back under the spotlight on Saturday when Manchester United takes on fierce rival Liverpool in arguably the biggest match in English football.
Rooney was dismissed when he kicked out wildly at Montenegro defender Miodrag Dzudovic in England’s 2-2 draw in Podgorica last Friday, ensuring he’ll miss the start of next summer’s European Championship and underlining his reputation as his country’s most talented but reckless player.
His character will be tested again on Saturday when United, the Premier League leader, heads to Anfield for what is notoriously a fiery northwest derby between England’s two most successful clubs.
With second-place Manchester City only behind United on goal difference ahead of its home match against Aston Villa on Saturday, United manager Alex Ferguson will be relying on Rooney to fire the goals against Liverpool to keep the reigning champions on top.
“He’s got a fiery temper and, to my mind, (the red card) is not the worse thing in the world,” Ferguson is quoted by United’s website as telling American radio station Sirius XM this week.
“Obviously, he’ll be disappointed … but he’s shown tremendous improvement in terms of temperament and his reaction to tackles over the last few years.”
It is sure to be a typically hostile atmosphere at Anfield in a match between two teams that have won the English league 37 times between them. United last season usurped Liverpool’s haul of 18 titles.
Rooney, United’s top scorer in the league this season with nine goals, has never hidden his dislike of Liverpool, which stems from spending the formative years of his career with Merseyside rival Everton before a move to Old Trafford in 2004.
In 2009, United was forced to remove quotes from Rooney from the club’s website after his comments about “hating” Liverpool were deemed inappropriate ahead of a match between the rivals at Old Trafford.
Liverpool has been inconsistent in its first seven matches, although a 2-0 win at Everton before the international break lifted the team to fifth—six points behind United.
Manager Kenny Dalglish could hand fit-again captain Steven Gerrard his first start in seven months.
Carlos Tevez returned to training for Manchester City on Thursday but is unlikely to feature against fellow unbeaten side Villa, which is sixth after winning two and drawing five of its first seven games.
The Argentina striker was told by City on Wednesday that he must face a disciplinary hearing after his apparent refusal to come on as a substitute in the Champions League defeat to Bayern Munich last month.
City manager Roberto Mancini has vowed never to pick Tevez again and with Sergio Aguero set to miss out with a groin injury sustained in the 4-0 win at Blackburn last time out, the Italian coach could recall Edin Dzeko alongside Mario Balotelli up front.
Chelsea is likely to be the team that challenges the dominance of the two Manchester clubs this season, and is three points behind the pacesetters going into a home match against Everton.
David Moyes’ side has beaten Chelsea on their last two meetings—an FA Cup replay in February and on the final day of last season’s league campaign at Goodison Park.
Fourth-place Newcastle, the division’s surprise package and the other club yet to be defeated, is at home on Sunday to Tottenham, which could be without on-loan striker Emmanuel Adebayor (hamstring).
Elsewhere on Sunday, Sunderland manager Steve Bruce is widely reported to be under heavy pressure going into his team’s away match at Arsenal, which is looking to bounce back from a 2-1 defeat to Tottenham in the north London derby two weeks ago, and West Bromwich Albion hosts fellow Midlands team Wolverhampton Wanderers.
Also Saturday it’s: Wigan vs. Bolton; Queens Park Rangers vs. Blackburn; Stoke vs. Fulham; and Norwich vs. Swansea.