By Mike Collett
WAYNE Rooney can help ease the pressure on beleaguered Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal and move closer to Sir Bobby Charlton’s club scoring record if he maintains his hot streak against Stoke City in the Premier League on Tuesday (10pm).
United forgot their league woes on Friday when they won 3-1 at Championship side Derby County in the FA Cup with Rooney’s superb curling shot taking his tally to six in six games and 243 for the club, six behind Charlton.
Van Gaal’s team return to league action for the first time since losing 1-0 at home to Southampton, lying fifth in the table on 37 points – 10 adrift of leaders Leicester City and five away from the top four.
Leicester will continue their unlikely push for a first-ever title when they face 18-time champions Liverpool at the King Power (9.45pm). Second-placed Manchester City go to Sunderland (9.45pm), third-placed Arsenal host Southampton (9.45pm) and fourth-placed Tottenham Hotspur visit Norwich City (9.45pm).
The spotlight will be on Van Gaal, however, and Rooney is hoping he can take the heat off his Dutch manager when they face a Stoke side managed by former United striker Mark Hughes.
Stoke have lost all seven Premier League matches they have played at Old Trafford and have not won there for almost 40 years. They did however outplay United in a 2-0 home win at the Britannia Stadium on Boxing Day – a result that prompted several national newspapers to report Van Gaal would be sacked.
Rooney overtook Charlton’s record of 49 goals for England this season and he told the United website (www.manutd.com) he could not help but have one eye on the club record now.
“Of course, I’m well aware of it” he said. “Like the England record, when it was getting closer, it was coming up every week, so I’m sure it will now.”
Rooney said it was unfair to lay all the blame for the team’s struggles on the manager. “The players have to take a lot of responsibility for performances and results,” he said.
“We have to stand up and take criticism when it’s there.”
Leicester have confounded expectations to move to top spot, losing only twice in the league all season.
Liverpool inflicted their last league defeat with a 1-0 win at Anfield on Boxing Day, but Leicester have maintained their form since and sit three points clear of Manchester City and Arsenal after 23 matches.
Arsenal, without a win in their last three league games, face Southampton at the Emirates and their long injury list is finally showing signs of shrinking with striker Alexis Sanchez scoring in the 2-1 FA Cup win over Burnley on Saturday.
City, with 13 goals in their last four league and Cup games face relegation-threatened Sunderland while Spurs, rounding out the top four on 42 points, will seek to extend their 10-match unbeaten league away run at Norwich.