Concerns over match fitness mean no rest for Rooney
Wayne Rooney is set to face Norwich City at Old Trafford on Saturday with Alex Ferguson aiming to boost the Manchester United forward's fitness ahead of next week's Champions League last 16 decider against Real Madrid.
Ferguson is expected to make wholesale changes to his team for the visit of Chris Hughton's side in order to safeguard the fitness of his planned starting line-up against Real three days later.
But with Rooney, who missed four days of training with a sinus problem last week, having played just 29 minutes of first-team football since the 1-1 first-leg draw in the Bernabeu on February 13, the 28-year-old has been lined up to start against Norwich. It is a game which could see United again stretch their lead at the top of the Premier League to 15 points prior to Manchester City's trip to Aston Villa on Monday evening.
United will be without Robin van Persie against Norwich due to the striker continuing to rest the bruised hip suffered against Queens Park Rangers last Saturday, but the Dutchman is expected to be fit to face Real.
Phil Jones, who injured his right ankle during the FA Cup fifth round win against Reading 10 days ago, is losing his battle to be fit to face the Spanish champions, however.
While Rooney is expected to start against Real, his lack of match action since the first leg is a concern, prompting the likelihood of him figuring from the start this weekend. The likes of Rio Ferdinand, Patrice Evra, Michael Carrick and Rafael da Silva are all set to be rested against Norwich.
Ferguson, meanwhile, believes United's run of four consecutive home games, which starts against Norwich, gives his team the opportunity to maintain their Treble hopes – particularly with the Old Trafford pitch improving following intensive work in the wake of heavy rain during December.
"We're hopeful that we can take full advantage of this spell of home games," Ferguson said. "But I must say that the one thing that is going to help us is that the pitch has improved a tremendous amount. Against Reading it was much, much better.
"It was not as good as the start of the season obviously, but it is getting there. With a further 10 days between the Reading and Norwich games, I expect it to be back to normal."
United are due to confirm a fifth fixture on their pre-season tour of Australia and the Far East this morning by announcing a game in Bangkok in mid-July. (© Daily Telegraph, London)