Wayne Rooney Won't Be Enough to Keep Manchester United in Champions League Hunt

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Wayne Rooney Won't Be Enough to Keep Manchester United in Champions League Hunt
Rui Vieira/Associated Press

Manchester United's hopes of making the Champions League remain slim, but they'd be even narrower by relying on just Wayne Rooney.

The England striker is joint-top goalscorer with Robin van Persie for the Red Devils this season, with 11 league goals in 23 appearances, which has helped move David Moyes' side to sixth place with a game in hand.

However, sitting nine points behind fierce rivals Manchester City, who still hold three games in hand over league leaders Chelsea, means that United's most realistic chance of Champions League football would be to leapfrog Arsenal.

The Gunners hold an 11-point lead over the defending champions, but still have games to play against top-five rivals Tottenham, Chelsea and City, as well as tricky matches against Europa League hopefuls Everton and Newcastle and relegation-scrapping Hull, West Brom and Norwich.

Premier League Table
Position Team Played Won Drawn Lost GD Points
1 Chelsea 29 20 6 3 34 66
2 Liverpool 28 18 5 5 38 59
3 Arsenal 28 18 5 5 24 59
4 Manchester City 26 18 3 5 42 57
5 Tottenham 29 16 5 8 0 53
6 Manchester United 28 14 6 8 15 48
7 Everton 27 13 9 5 11 48

BBC Sport

Dropped points in Arsenal's grueling run-in could open the door for Manchester United to sneak into the Champions League, but if they're to break into the top four against the odds, they must not rely on Rooney alone.

The striker spoke with club magazine Inside United (h/t Sky Sports) about his desire to captain both club and country, discussing his ability to lead both with and without the armband:

I've done it a few times and, if the manager wants me to be the captain, I would have no problem with that.

I would take it with both hands. However, it is down to the manager, because it's his decision on whoever he feels is the right person to lead the team. I'm sure he'll make that decision when the time comes.

I think, whether you've got the armband or not, I always feel I'm quite vocal on the pitch. I try to help the players when I feel I can and say what I think. I believe that's the most important thing, to be honest and say what you feel. If you say what you believe are the right things, you need to keep doing that.

There certainly hasn't been much to shout about on the pitch for United this season, but Rooney has risen to the challenge of playing under Moyes once again.

OptaJoe indicates that his form for the Red Devils has also earned him top gong for scoring and creating in the Premier League:

Nonetheless, it's imperative—to both United and England—that the Red Devils do not continue to pile pressure on the 28-year-old, with fears that the striker will burn out as he carries the striking burden.

Van Persie, who has scored just as many goals as Rooney, looks out of favour at Old Trafford. The Telegraph's Mark Ogden mentioned the possibility of a departure for RVP in the summer.

Sang Tan/Associated Press

In World Cup year, too, it won't just be Red Devils fans that hope Rooney isn't overused as he continues to lead the line, as England fans across the country hope that the striker can finally carve an impact in a major international tournament football.

Rooney's side take on Liverpool in Week 31 before looking to overturn their 2-0 aggregate deficit against Olympiakos in the Europa League just three days later. That is followed by matches against West Ham, Manchester City and Aston Villa before the end of March.

Rui Vieira/Associated Press

Four of the side's 10 remaining Premier League fixtures are against sides who are languishing in and around the relegation zone, with two matches against top-five opposition and games against Europa League hopefuls Newcastle, Everton and Southampton.

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Eleven fixtures in the next eight-and-a-half weeks could present a chance for Rooney, as well as many of his team-mates, to suffer a burnout as they strive for Champions League football.

A pile-up of pressure and fixtures could curtail Rooney's ability to influence matches for his side.

It'll be up to Moyes to ensure that he effectively shuffles his pack to ensure that Rooney, Van Persie and Danny Welbeck all get an equal share of first-team startsalong with Javier Hernandez, who has been largely used from the bench this season.

There's no doubt that England fans—and Roy Hodgson—will be keeping their fingers crossed that the striker's team-mates live up to their reputations and help carry the bulk of ambitious pressure.

However, with a heavy points total to make up, it looks like it is a case of too little, too late for Moyes' men, who would be better to target Europa League football next season.

 

Follow me @DanBrett90 for more reaction, analysis and insight from the beautiful game.

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