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United's derby hopes hang on Rooney

Updated: 2014-03-25 07:23
By Agence France-Presse in Manchester ( China Daily)

Encouraged by a tentative upturn in fortunes, Manchester United will be aiming to derail Manchester City's Premier League title surge when the sides meet at Old Trafford in Tuesday's derby.

United gave its flat-lining season an injection of life by beating Olympiakos last week to reach the Champions League quarterfinals and followed up by winning 2-0 at West Ham United in the league on Saturday.

Wayne Rooney scored both goals at West Ham --the first an astonishing lob from near the center line - and he said the 3-0 win over Olympiakos has helped to lift the mood around the club.

"I thought we played some really good stuff, moved the ball well and counter-attacked really well, so we are really pleased with the win," Rooney said of the success at Upton Park.

"The Olympiakos game gave us a big lift in confidence and belief as well in ourselves.

"This was a good result for us going into the derby, so we are looking forward to an exciting game and hopefully we will get a good result."

United is 11 points back of the Champions League qualifying places, but the consolation of a Europa League berth remains well within its reach.

The prospect of a Champions League quarterfinal against holder Bayern Munich, meanwhile, has added spice to a season that had appeared to be drifting into oblivion.

Rooney's form over the campaign's closing weeks will be vital, with strike partner Robin van Persie ruled out for up to six weeks after spraining his knee against Olympiakos.

The England striker's performance against West Ham suggested he is ready to step in for van Persie at the tip of the United attack, but Rooney was keen to highlight the contribution of attacking midfielder Juan Mata.

The Spaniard played alongside Shinji Kagawa in support of Rooney, who is hopeful the configuration will bear further fruit in the weeks ahead.

"I think it is the first time we have probably both played in a more advanced role, together with him up behind," Rooney said of Mata.

"It worked well. Obviously Juan is a very talented footballer; he has a good brain and when he gets in positions, you know as a forward you can make runs and he can see you."

Meanwhile, Manuel Pellegrini's City remains the side most likely to depose Chelsea at the top of the table and the trip to Old Trafford is the first of its three games in hand on Jose Mourinho's side.

City's 5-0 demolition of Fulham on Saturday left it six points behind the London club in third place, with Liverpool two points above, having played two more games.

The League Cup winner therefore remains in control of its own destiny and goalkeeper Joe Hart said the players are not afraid to admit the title is within their grasp.

"The fans, players, and staff - everyone needs to pull each other through if we want to get over the line first," Hart said.

(China Daily 03/25/2014 page24)