Football: Guessing game on Rooney's role

Due to United's wealth of attacking options, captain Wayne Rooney is not assured of returning to the side for today's game against Crystal Palace, despite the absence of the injured Henrikh Mkhitaryan.
Due to United's wealth of attacking options, captain Wayne Rooney is not assured of returning to the side for today's game against Crystal Palace, despite the absence of the injured Henrikh Mkhitaryan.PHOTO: REUTERS

Mourinho declares no guarantee skipper will play, in spite of Mkhitaryan's absence

LONDON • Jose Mourinho has warned Wayne Rooney that he cannot be sure of being involved in Manchester United's clash with Crystal Palace today, despite Henrikh Mkhitaryan's injury.

The United captain has been relegated to the bench this season and has started just one league game since being left out against Leicester City at the end of September.

Rooney is one goal short of the 249 career United goals scored by Bobby Charlton.

But, with just three goals this season and only one in the league, the striker might have to wait a while longer to make history.

And although an ankle injury to Mkhitaryan in Sunday's win against Tottenham will keep the Armenian forward out of United's next two games, Mourinho insists Rooney, 31, is just one of five players battling to start at Selhurst Park.

"I knew that was coming," joked Mourinho when asked if Rooney would start. "Rooney, (Marcus) Rashford, (Jesse) Lingard, Ashley Young, Memphis Depay - that's a position where we have lots of players so that will not be another problem, to choose a player to play. The problem is Mkhitaryan was playing so well and now he's not there."

Mourinho said he feared the worst when seeing a replay of Danny Rose's challenge on Mkhitaryan.

"When I watched the tackle on TV, I was a bit scared," said the United manager. "Hopefully he can play at Christmas (Boxing Day), we believe it's possible. So when I saw him on the stretcher I thought it would be more difficult. It's a pity because he is going to miss matches in his best period but at least we don't lose a player for so long."

Mourinho paid tribute to his central defensive duo, Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo, whose United careers have been blighted by injury and inconsistent form.

With the pair impressing and Eric Bailly returning to full fitness, the manager is confident about his defensive options.

"I am surprised with Phil because he had this injury which stopped him for a long time," said Mourinho. "Now he looks fresh, sharp and fast. Marcos also had lots of problems with injuries and he also looks free of (them)."

There will be one enforced change in United's defence at Palace as right-back Antonio Valencia is suspended.

That could mean Matteo Darmian moving to right-back and Daley Blind stepping in on the left.

For struggling Palace, winger Wilfried Zaha will face his former club convinced that he is now proving his critics wrong.

Zaha returned to Selhurst Park after an unsuccessful stint at Old Trafford two years ago and his form this season has prompted Palace manager Alan Pardew to lament that Zaha may be lost to England if he takes up an offer to play for Ivory Coast.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, THE GUARDIAN

CRYSTAL PALACE V MAN UNITED
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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 14, 2016, with the headline 'Guessing game on Rooney's role'. Print Edition | Subscribe