Wayne Rooney will face Chelsea at Stamford Bridge tonight having cited sustained abuse from West Ham fans during Saturday's 4-2 victory at Upton Park as the trigger for his foul-mouthed rant into a TV camera in his appeal against a two-match ban.
Rooney, who could be joined by the fit-again Rio Ferdinand in the starting line-up for Manchester United's Champions League quarter-final clash against Chelsea, is expected to overcome a shin injury.
But the United forward could be forced to wait until 6.0 this afternoon -- less than two hours before kick-off tonight -- before discovering whether his appeal against the severity of his punishment for swearing into a camera has been successful.
The English FA confirmed last night that Rooney had accepted the charge, imposed on Monday, of using offensive, insulting and/or abusive language, but had submitted a claim that the automatic penalty of a two-game suspension was 'clearly excessive.' A disciplinary commission, at which neither United or Rooney can be represented, will consider the submission today before reaching a verdict no later than 6.0.
If successful, Rooney's ban could be reduced to one game, making him free to face Manchester City in the FA Cup semi-final at Wembley on April 16.
Conversely, the commission could reject the appeal and add a further game, ruling the player out of the April 19 trip to Newcastle, should the appeal be regarded as frivolous.
United manager Alex Ferguson refused to discuss the Rooney situation in his pre-match press conference yesterday, beyond confirming that the club had submitted its response to the FA.
But it is understood that Rooney's appeal will be supported by United's claim that his outburst, which followed his hat-trick goal on Saturday, was a mixture of elation and the release of frustration and anger at what he and Manchester United believe to have been repeated chants of an unsavoury nature directed at the 25-year-old from the home supporters.
In their submission to the FA commission, United will also highlight Rooney's swiftly issued apology on Saturday afternoon which they hope will underline his contrition and acceptance of wrongdoing.
Yet with the FA determined to strike a blow for their own Respect campaign by taking strong action against Rooney, United and their advisers will stress the need for respect to be a two-way process, with players and managers deserving protection against personal and abusive chants from supporters.
The chants directed at Rooney on Saturday are understood to have been of a personal nature, with some referring to allegations that he slept with prostitutes.
United's anger at Rooney's charge remains, however, with the club's sense of frustration increased by documentation outlining the charge which confirms that match referee Lee Mason informed the FA that he would have dismissed Rooney had he witnessed the incident on Saturday.
Chelsea manager Ancelotti has emerged an unlikely ally for Rooney, however, after admitting his surprise at the FA's action, which has led some United fans to call for a boycott of merchandise and food and Wembley during the semi-final next week.
Ancelotti said: "Wrong? Obviously the behaviour is not so good, but when you score a goal. In Italy nothing happens if a player shouts into a camera.
"Here, two-game ban, they are very strong here. I am surprised."
Rooney will be back on the pitch against Chelsea tonight, however, and Ferguson is also considering playing Ferdinand at centre-half, despite the England defender having been sidelined since February 5 with a calf injury.
"I don't know (about Ferdinand), but he has been terrific in training," Ferguson said. "He did 10 days' physical work before he came into the football training. He's been training with us for seven days now."
Ferguson claims that European glory is the ultimate objective of Chelsea owner Abramovich, especially after United beat the Blues in the 2008 final, but the Scot insists that his own team is equally motivated by the prospect of winning the Champions League again.
"It (Champions League) is the driving force for Abramovich," Ferguson said. "He wants that most. That is why he paid £50m for (Fernando) Torres. They will be desperate to win the European Cup, but no more desperate than we are." (© Daily Telegraph, London)