Wayne Rooney celebrates scoring the opening goal during their Premier League match vs Portsmouth at Old Trafford on February 6. AFP photo
LONDON (AFP) – Manchester United striker Wayne Rooney returns to the club where he made his name when the Premier League champions travel to Everton on Saturday.
The England forward's double in the mid-week Champions League victory against AC Milan took his tally for the season to 25 goals and he will be eager for more as United continue their quest for a fourth straight Premier League title at Goodison Park.
Rooney has become something of a hate figure for Everton fans, having left the club to move to Old Trafford in 2004, but he will be the last person who wants United manager Sir Alex Ferguson to give him a rest this weekend with their side a point behind leaders Chelsea.
"Particularly in the last two months we have seen development in his game and confidence has a lot to do with that," Ferguson said of Rooney.
"His basic ability is as good as any of (the world's top) players. What he's got to do is improve his goalscoring, which he's now doing and if he continues that trend then he's got to be regarded alongside any player."
Louis Saha may hope Manchester United go on to win the Premier League title but such thoughts will be at the back of the in-form Everton striker's when he faces his old club this weekend.
Saha, whose four seasons at Old Trafford were plagued by injuries, has scored 15 goals so far this season and was on target twice in Everton's 2-1 win over league leaders Chelsea earlier this month.
Everton, ninth in the table and 23 points off top spot, may be out of title contention themselves but, having cut Chelsea's lead to just a point, they are ready to play another significant part in the destiny of the championship.
"I'd love to say Everton are going to win the league but obviously that's not going to happen," said Saha.
"Chelsea are very strong but I think United are better, and personally I would be delighted if they won it," the 31-year-old Frenchman added.
The Merseysiders' task on Saturday, however, will be made harder by the absence of Marouane Fellaini, out for six months with an ankle injury, while Australia midfielder Tim Cahill is doubtful after suffering a calf problem in the mid-week Europa Cup win over Sporting Lisbon.
Chelsea will look to get their title bid back on track when they travel to Wolves, who are just a point above the relegation zone.
Third-placed Arsenal, who are six points adrift of London rivals Chelsea, will fancy their chances against a Sunderland side who've won just one of their 13 away games in the league so far this season.
Manchester City and Liverpool, two sides scrapping for a fourth-place finish that will guarantee Champions League football next season, go head to head at Eastlands on Sunday.
City have climbed to fourth and are a point in front of Liverpool, who narrowly beat Romanian side Unirea Urziceni in the Europa League on Thursday, with a game in hand over the Reds.
Manchester City's Dutch midfielder Nigel de Jong is relishing the contest.
"Liverpool is always going to be a huge game and a match we will be giving our all to win," he said.
"We also have the added incentive of knowing a win will dent one of our main rivals for a Champions League spot.
"Our fans have waited more than 30 years for success and I want to be part of the team that ends their long wait."
Tottenham and Aston Villa, also aiming for European football next season, play relegation-threatened Wigan and Burnley respectively.
Bottom-of-the-table Portsmouth, whose financial problems continue to threaten the club's very existence, are at home to Stoke while fellow strugglers Hull travel to West Ham.
Blackburn and Bolton meet in a Lancashire derby on Sunday when Fulham, fresh from a Europa League win over Ukraine's Shakhtar Donetsk, face Birmingham City.
Fixtures (1500GMT unless otherwise stated)
Arsenal v Sunderland, Everton v Manchester United (1245GMT), Portsmouth v Stoke (1730GMT), West Ham v Hull, Wolves v Chelsea
Aston Villa v Burnley (1400GMT), Blackburn v Bolton (1200GMT), Fulham v Birmingham, Manchester City v Liverpool, Wigan v Tottenham (1615GMT)