Premier League

Walcott still wants striking role

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Sun, 18 Nov 2012 18:03:00

Sir Alex Ferguson is hoping Wayne Rooney will recover from illness to be available for Manchester United's UEFA Champions League game against Galatasaray.

Rooney was not involved in United's surprise 1-0 defeat at Norwich City on Saturday after being laid low by tonsillitis.

He is due to be assessed by United on Sunday and Ferguson is keen to have the striker in his plans for Tuesday's group game in Turkey.

Ferguson said: "We hope he will be in on Sunday - we will see what he is like then.

"If he does [come in] hopefully we can get him ready for Tuesday."

Rooney had already been a doubt for the Red Devils' trip to Carrow Road after being forced to miss England's midweek friendly against Sweden due to an ankle injury suffered in the win at Aston Villa.

United are guaranteed a place in the last 16 of the Champions League after winning their opening four group fixtures and Ferguson is expected to rest several key players against Galatasaray.

The Red Devils were usurped by rivals Manchester City at the top of the Premier League after the Citizens had earlier romped to a 5-0 home win over Aston Villa.

United never really got out of second gear in Saturday's televised clash against a well-organised Norwich side who are now unbeaten in five Premier League matches since the international break.

Ferguson had opted for Michael Carrick, on his 400th league appearance, and Ryan Giggs in central midfield, with Antonio Valencia and Ashley Young providing the width.

However, but for a missed kick by Robin van Persie after a beautiful ball into the Norwich box from Giggs and a close-range effort from Young which was well saved by John Ruddy, United created little of note in the first half.

Indeed, after falling behind to a well-taken header from Anthony Pilkington on the hour, the visitors failed to really stretch their hosts - even after the introduction of Paul Scholes and England forward Danny Wellbeck, who replaced the in-effective Javier Hernandez, given a chance as Wayne Rooney was not fit.

Ruddy tipped over a deflected header from Norwich defender Sebastien Bassong in stoppage-time, and then held onto Anderson's low drive.

For Ferguson, though, it was too little too late.

"We were too long in delaying our crosses. We should have got the ball in earlier," Ferguson said on MUTV.

"But we just didn't get into the space behind them, it just didn't happen for us.

"Norwich got plenty of men behind the ball and closed out all of the spaces and we just couldn't get our crosses in."

Despite the obvious disappointment of not being able to extend their five-match winning streak, Ferguson felt Norwich also deserved credit.

"There are times you have to recognise when your opponents have played beyond themselves," he said.

"It was a game in which you have got to give Norwich lots of credit for working so hard. It was a really special effort."

Anders Lindegaard had deputised for David de Gea in goal, after the Spaniard who was troubled by a wisdom tooth extraction, while Rooney was missing because of tonsillitis.

The forward sat out England's midweek friendly in Sweden because of an ankle problem.

United's medical team will now assess Rooney in the run-up to the Champions League Group H trip to Galatasaray.

Ferguson said: "We hope he will be in on Sunday - we will see what he is like then.

"If he does [come in] hopefully we can get him ready for Tuesday."

The Uruguay international produced another scintillating performance in the 3-0 win over Wigan, scoring twice and having a hand in another goal as the Reds recorded only their fourth home win of 2012.

Suarez is now the Premier League's top scorer with 10 goals in 12 matches and while Liverpool still rely heavily on him for their attacking impetus a seven-match unbeaten run has them heading in the right direction.

Brendan Rodgers' side are now only four points behind perennial Champions League qualifiers Arsenal, in sixth, and eight behind surprise package West Brom, currently occupying fourth place.

"Teams are dropping points all over the place," said Carragher.

"We look at it as if we haven't had a great start to the season but winning yesterday we're not too far of the top four, which is where we want to be.

"From our own point of view we want to push on and make a challenge for the top four.

"It seems like if everyone is throwing it away it is still up for grabs."

Carragher came off the bench late on, which gave him chance to appreciate fully Suarez's performance.

His first-time strike from Raheem Sterling's cross was matched only by his cool finish when played through by Jose Enrique, who then clinched the result with his first goal for the club after he followed in the rebound from Sterling's shot.

Carragher rates Suarez as high, if not higher, than the great forwards he has played alongside at Anfield and feels he is irreplaceable.

"I think he is definitely right up there," he told BBC Radio 5 Liver's Sportsweek.

"I can only talk about the players I've played with (Robbie) Fowler, (Michael) Owen, (Fernando) Torres and I think he comes pretty close to that list.

"It's not a great Liverpool side at the moment. The other players I've played with have played in sides that have won trophies and been near the top of the league.

"For him to do what he is doing in a side that is still building under the new manager I wouldn't swap him for anyone in the Premier League.

"I think what he does in our team and what he gives us no other player really could."

Despite Suarez continuing to grab the headlines Rodgers was keen to ensure the praise was spread around the team.

"I thought Raheem was excellent. At 17 years of age he played 86 minutes for England in his first cap during the week and he could probably have played another game he is that fit," said the Reds boss.

"I thought he was well supported by those around him but of course the goalscorer always gets top of the bill.

"I thought Jordan Henderson was outstanding when he came on (in a tactical switch after just 36 minutes).

"I thought we needed to flip our midfield around and I thought he was excellent.

"He has been really patient, he is learning all the time and he has a great part to play in our future going forward."

Rodgers knows he needs to strengthen when the transfer window reopens but hopes by then his current players have put themselves in a position to be able to challenge for the top four.

"I am not going to say we are going to get five or six players in, it doesn't work that way," he added.

"We know it is going to be very difficult this season in terms of transition in the group but we'll get some players in and with the players we have we'll work with them and see where it takes us.

"I am looking forward to pushing on now. Hopefully we will keep a strong squad and see what happens in January then we can have a great second half to the season."

Having lost Ben Watson to a broken leg in a freak clash with Sterling Wigan manager Roberto Martinez also has an injury worry about captain Gary Caldwell.

"He is a concern because he has a little problem with his hamstring but we will get a better diagnosis on Monday," said the Spaniard, who felt the midweek internationals had affected his side.

"I can't wait to get rid of all the distractions of international fixtures and concentrate on the league now until March.

"We can't wait to get back into a normal week and hopefully get the injured players back as quickly as we can."

Walcott further strengthened his negotiating position in his ongoing contract saga by scoring his fifth goal in as many games in Saturday's 5-2 Premier League win at Emirates Stadium.

As well as having been at loggerheads with the Gunners over the value of any new deal, the England star has reportedly demanded assurances from manager Arsene Wenger he would get more opportunities to play as a striker.

And despite being made to wait until the 86th minute to show what he could do in the position, he still managed to rack up his ninth goal of the season.

With Olivier Giroud having continued his own fine scoring run before Walcott was shifted inside from the right wing, his team-mate was prepared to bide his time.

But asked whether he still craved a more central role, Walcott told talkSPORT: "Oh, without a doubt. I've always believed I'm a striker.

"The boss gave me five minutes at the end there and I managed to grab a goal, which is great.

"But when you've got someone like Olivier, who's playing well, there's no need to change a winning team at the moment.

"I think my time will come. I've just got to be a little more patient.

"But, like I say, I want to play up front. That's my position."

Walcott was relaxed about contract talks that threatened to end in an acrimonious split during the last transfer window, while Wenger insisted he was doing everything possible to ensure the former Southampton star did not walk away when his current deal expires next summer.

Wenger has repeatedly failed to convince his biggest names not to quit the club during Arsenal's seven-year trophy drought but Walcott appeared more optimistic about the club's prospects following the derby victory, which lifted them to sixth in the table.

"It's looking bright," he said.

"We've just got to, obviously, not get ahead of ourselves because we need to push on.

"If we don't win our next game, it's going to be a disappointing result."

Arsenal still look an accident waiting to happen at the back but in Walcott, Giroud, Lukas Podolski, Mikel Arteta, Jack Wilshere and the outstanding Santi Cazorla, they have the ammunition and sharpshooters to fire themselves into the Champions League spots.

Walcott told BBC Sport: "We were very ruthless going forward and it's great to win, especially in the derby, for the fans, for us players as well, because these are the games you do not want to lose.

"But now we've got to show that in every single game."

Cazorla, particularly, looks key to Arsenal's hopes.

Walcott said: "He's on top of the world at the moment.

"His first season in the Premier League, he's an absolute dream to play with.

"I'm on the pitch now with him and the stuff he does is absolutely fantastic to watch.

"I don't know what foot he's best at. He's supplying goals. He just sort of slows the game down when needed.

"You've got him and Jack in the middle and that's definitely going to help our game."

Cazorla, Giroud and Podolski all found the net in what was their first derby and Walcott added: "The foreign guys, they know what it means now."

The outcome yesterday could have been so different but for Emmanuel Adebayor's needless red card while Spurs were winning 1-0, while Arsenal still looked far from comfortable when allowing Gareth Bale to make it 4-2.

Wenger said: "You could see that the confidence was not completely still there.

"I hope this result will help us make a step up on that level.

"When your confidence drops, your game suffers straightaway.

"We have to find stability in our expression and we need more time to work on that but there is something special in the team.

"We are off the top and we have not much time to improve."

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