Rooney plays at former club Everton

Rooney plays at former club Everton

Published Feb. 18, 2010 1:16 p.m. ET

Wayne Rooney's two goals against AC Milan have taken his Manchester United tally for the season to 25 and now he goes to face the club where he started his career.

The former Everton striker is now a target for the fans at Goodison Park for leaving the club and United manager Alex Ferguson might be tempted to give his hardworking striker a break on Saturday.

But Ferguson needs more goals when the two teams meet as United tries to catch Chelsea in the Premier League title race.

Ferguson rates Rooney as one of the best players in the world alongside Lionel Messi, Kaka and former United winger Cristiano Ronaldo and wants to maintain the momentum with his team just a point behind Chelsea.

Rooney has started the last 15 league and cup games, scoring 13 times, and Ferguson is likely to stick with his tactic of fielding the striker alongside two wide players and leaving Dimitar Berbatov and Michael Owen on the bench.

"There has been an improvement in his game over the last two months," Ferguson said of Rooney. "Confidence has a lot to do with that but it's also his ability as a player.

"As I've said about him on a number of occasions what he has to do is improve his goal scoring. That is what he is doing now. When you look at the way he is performing at the moment he must be regarded amongst those players at the highest level."

On Saturday, however, Rooney will have to shut out the reception he now gets from the Everton fans and try to focus on adding to his scoring run.

He was unhappy with some of his teammates when the team fell behind against Milan in Tuesday's Champions League game at San Siro, which United won 3-2, and hopes that Ferguson gives him the support he needs to hit the target.

Nani, playing on the right wing, was a particular disappointment and Ferguson is likely to start with Antonio Valencia, who replaced the Portuguese player and created more danger with his crosses and runs.

United's task has been made a little easier because Everton won't have Marouane Fellaini who is sidelined for six months with a serious ankle injury which happened in the Feb. 6 loss at Liverpool. It is also likely to be without attacking midfielder Tim Cahill, who picked up a calf muscle injury in Tuesday's Europa League win over Sporting Lisbon.

Chelsea was not in action in midweek and goes to relegation-threatened Wolves on Saturday hoping to gather three more points as it moves in sight of regaining the title it last won in 2006.

Third place Arsenal has six points to make up on Chelsea and will be confident of gaining a home victory against a Sunderland side which has won only one and lost nine of its 13 away games in the league, conceding 28 goals.

Manchester City has climbed to fourth place and has a game in hand on its rivals. But it has a tough game at home to fifth-place Liverpool on Sunday in the race to capture a position that opens the door to the Champions League next season.

Of the other teams realistically in contention, sixth-place Tottenham visits lowly Wigan and Aston Villa, which is seventh, hosts next-to-last Burnley.

Last place Portsmouth hosts a Stoke side which has won only once in 12 away games but has climbed to comparative safety because of its home form.

In Saturday's other game, relegation strugglers West Ham and Hull meet at Upton Park. On Sunday, Fulham welcomes Birmingham and Blackburn is at home to Bolton.

In the race for promotion, Newcastle holds a three-point lead at the top of the League Championship and hosts Preston and second-place West Bromwich has a home game against Bristol City.

Third-place Nottingham Forest, which is five points behind, hosts improving Middlesbrough.