Rooney has got the fire back in his belly -- Moyes
Manager confident return of striker's hunger can help deliver knockout blow in Germany
The forecast for Leverkusen this evening is sub-zero temperatures, but Wayne Rooney will be glowing like the Ready Brek kid.
He has, said David Moyes approvingly last night, "got the fire back in his belly." While the Manchester United manager added, in a reference to the booking Rooney received at Cardiff on Sunday, "I don't want him kicking people," he made the point that Rooney is at his best when he is being aggressive on the pitch.
Rooney might have been dismissed within the opening 10 minutes at Cardiff City Stadium for kicking out at Jordon Mutch, but after been booked he scored one of United's goals and made the other.
Moyes, having arrived in Germany for United's Champions League group match against Bayer Leverkusen, said: "I think Wayne's form, attitude and temperament have been first-class this season.
"I couldn't fault any of them. There will always be times when players have little moments when they don't always quite go for them. On (Sunday) Wayne was probably a little bit fortunate but I don't want him to change.
"I don't want him to be kicking at anybody, but I want him aggressive, challenging and full of running. I want Wayne to have fire in his belly. I think he plays better when he's tough and aggressive. I think at the moment we're seeing a really good Wayne Rooney who's in top form and scoring goals as well.
"It's a big part of his game. He's an aggressive player, he plays with his heart, as well as the skills he's got in abundance. That's a big part of what he is.
"That's the way he was when he was a boy at Everton with me. A lot of people said that might have been missing from his game last season -- it's certainly not missing now. He's got the hunger back and the desire back and he's committed for everything. I'd rather have a Wayne Rooney that way than any other way."
Rooney has had mixed fortunes in Germany. He scored on his last appearance in the country against Schalke 04 but in 2010 in Munich he suffered the foot injury which affected his World Cup later that year.
With Robin van Persie still absent with a groin injury, United need him in form, and disciplined, tonight, as qualification for the knock-out stages is by no means guaranteed.
The three-time European champions remain in command of Group A and will progress with a win -- or a draw, should Shakhtar Donetsk improbably lose at home to Real Sociedad. But should they lose tonight and Shakhtar win, United will need at least a draw, and possibly a win, at home to the dangerous Ukrainians on December 10.
Nemanja Vidic and Michael Carrick are also out injured, while Marouane Fellaini is suspended. "They are both injured," Moyes said referring to Vidic and Van Persie. "Nemanja Vidic had concussion and Robin has a problem with his groin. Neither of them are long-term but they are not quite ready yet."
That could mean they will be fit to face either Tottenham or Everton in the Premier League fixtures that follow the German expedition. Tonight's match could herald the return of Phil Jones to central midfield after recovering from his groin problem.
"Jones has travelled and is in the squad," Moyes said. "It is normal to lose players to injury and suspension at big clubs. But we have a squad which we will be able to use and they can show what they can do."
Moyes believes United face a "big game" tonight.
"When I first saw the group I thought Shakhtar (away) would be the toughest match, but this is tough because Leverkusen have great home form," Moyes said. "We had a great opportunity to pull away in Sociedad (where United missed a late penalty and drew), but we didn't, so we have a big game now."
So they do. Chemical giants Bayer's one-time works team have never won the German title, conceded four at Old Trafford in September and their leading striker is injured, but they should not be underestimated.
They prevented United reaching the 2002 Champions League final, and what would have been an emotional Glasgow night for Alex Ferguson, but it is not just historical precedent United should beware of. With 10 wins from 13 matches Bayer, managed by former Liverpool player Sami Hyypia, lie second only to European champions Bayern Munich in the Bundesliga and in all competitions at home they have won eight and drawn one this season.
But the loss of Sidney Sam, who has scored 11 goals and made several others, is a severe blow, as sports director Rudi Voller recognised, but it does provide the opportunity for Stefan Kiessling to again put his credentials on display.
The striker scored 27 goals last season and 12 this, but a falling out with Joachim Loew means he appears not to be in consideration for the national team. In Sam's absence, Kiessling is likely to be paired with Robbie Kruse.
"We had too much respect for them (in losing 4-2 at Old Trafford) and had a bit of fear," said Kiessling. "Since then we have put in several good performances. We're confident. We're a force at home, but we have to beat these big teams." (© Independent News Service)
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