United without Rooney but ready for Fulham

United without Rooney but ready for Fulham

Published Apr. 7, 2011 3:37 p.m. ET

Even without suspended striker Wayne Rooney, it will be a major surprise if Manchester United's march to the Premier League title is blown off course when Fulham visits Old Trafford on Saturday.

United looks to have regained the swagger of champions just at the perfect time, with Wednesday's 1-0 win over Chelsea in the quarterfinals of the Champions League arguably its most assured and accomplished performance this season.

The in-form Rooney will miss out this weekend after losing an appeal against the severity of his two-match ban for swearing into a television camera, but United has the replacements to cope with the England international's absence.

United is seven points clear of second-place Arsenal, which visits Blackpool on Sunday seeking a first away win in any competition since the middle of January and a reversal in form after a poor last month of results.


Any faint hopes of reigning champion Chelsea and Manchester City challenging for the title look to have gone, leaving them to fight for the final two Champions League places with Tottenham.

Third-place City visits Liverpool on Monday, while Chelsea, which is a point behind in fourth but has a game in hand, is at home to bottom side Wigan on Saturday.

Spurs, a further five points back, look to recover from a 4-0 thrashing at the hands of Real Madrid in the Champions League on Tuesday when they host Stoke on Saturday.

Rooney produced a superb all-round display against Chelsea and looks close to the form he showed last season, having scored 10 goals in the past two months in all competitions.

United felt hard done by that Rooney's suspension was upheld by England's Football Association on Thursday.

"Wayne Rooney swearing on TV - as much as I don't condone it, is not front-page news," fit-again United defender Rio Ferdinand said. "There are bigger things going on in the world. There are things happening in Libya and Ivory Coast and we are talking about Wayne Rooney on the front page of newspapers because he swore at a camera.

"We should follow him as a footballer rather than keep lynching him for a lot of the stuff that goes on."

United will undoubtedly miss the work rate and scoring edge provided by Rooney, but Ferguson has many other players who have stepped up in recent games. The return of right winger Antonio Valencia has also lifted the northwest side, which is looking to claim a record 19th English title - surpassing the haul of fierce rival Liverpool.

Midtable Fulham, managed by former United striker Mark Hughes, hasn't won away in 2011 but has pulled clear of relegation trouble thanks to its strong home form. The team also has Bobby Zamora back fit, with the England striker scoring twice against Blackpool last weekend in his first start in seven months.

"We're not thinking about going down, we're thinking about going up and concentrating on that," Fulham midfielder Dickson Etuhu said.

Arsenal's title tilt is fading, with Arsene Wenger's team drawing its last three matches - including two at home against struggling sides Sunderland and Blackburn.

Despite that run, the Gunners should be confident of downing Blackpool, which has been in freefall since the turn of the year and is only a point and a place above the bottom three.

Second-bottom Wolverhampton Wanderers hosts Everton and West Ham, which is the other team in the relegation zone, visits Bolton on Saturday.

The day's other matches see Blackburn host fellow relegation rival Birmingham and Sunderland at home to West Bromwich Albion. Newcastle visits Aston Villa on Sunday.