EPL preview: Van Gaal defends Rooney, Wenger-Mourinho feud, Rogers under Pressure, and more

By AFP
Published: September 19, 2015
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PHOTO: AFP

PHOTO: AFP

SOUTHAMPTON / LONDON / LIVERPOOL: Louis van Gaal refuses to accept that Wayne Rooney is in a scoring slump despite the Manchester United captain going into Sunday’s visit to Southampton without a Premier League goal in over five months.

Rooney, who recently became England’s leading all-time international goalscorer, has not hit the net in a Premier League game for United since the first weekend in April, although his club manager prefers to focus on the hat-trick the striker scored in the Champions League at Bruges last month rather than his 10-game domestic barren spell.

“He scored against Bruges. He scored,” said van Gaal. “It doesn’t matter if it’s the Premier League or the Champions League. I was very happy when we scored more goals.

“It does not matter to me who is scoring. But we have to score more. When you are so dominant as we are, in all the matches, we have to win these games.

“He has a range of scoring goals. You can count all the goals he’s made. In my memory, Rooney has scored a lot.

“He’s nearly the record holder in the Premier League so I hope he will beat that record but I have to wait and see, like you do.”

Such a quest is still some distance off, Rooney’s 185 career Premier League goals placing him two behind second placed Andy Cole and way behind all-time leading scorer Alan Shearer and his 260.

Rooney, 29, needs to score 76 times to overtake Shearer and, bearing in mind that the past five seasons in total have seen the United man score “only” 79 goals, van Gaal may be disappointed in his wish.

Rooney missed United’s victory over Liverpool last weekend with a hamstring injury, but looks certain to return against a Southampton side who van Gaal expects, like defending champions Chelsea, to improve drastically as the season progresses.

“Wayne is back, it was a minor injury and we didn’t want to take risks,” said van Gaal. “But he has had training and treatment and I think he can start.

“Southampton have a very good team, not worse than last year, but they started very badly. It’s the same with Chelsea, but they shall come back, as we did last year. I don’t think is a normal position for them.”

Wenger won’t be drawn into Mourinho feud

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger insists he won’t allow himself to be drawn into another war of words with old rival Jose Mourinho ahead of Saturday’s clash at Chelsea.

Wenger and Mourinho have a long history of exchanging jibes through the media in a tetchy relationship that occasionally boils over when they come face to face.

The most memorable examples of that animosity have occurred over the last year, with Wenger infamously shoving Chelsea boss Mourinho during a furious touchline row at Stamford Bridge, while the pair went to great lengths to avoid shaking hands after Arsenal’s Community Shield win in August.

In the past, Mourinho has branded Wenger a “specialist in failure” and a “voyeur”, but despite the bitter feud the Arsenal boss would rather his side’s performance on the pitch make the headlines this weekend.

“No special relationship (between any manager) is my worry, all I worry about is our performance,” said Wenger, who has won only one of his 14 meetings with Mourinho.

“I respect everybody in the job and focus on what I love and that is football. All the rest honestly does not concern me much.

“Realistically people come to watch football and all the rest is a little bit secondary. What is important is the quality of what we will see on the pitch and you want people to focus on that.”

Asked if he would shake Mourinho’s hand and if he regretted their touchline bust-up, Wenger replied: “I don’t want to talk about that. I have nothing more to say about this situation.”

For his part, Mourinho has warned Wenger that Chelsea are back in the groove.

Rodgers vows to defuse Liverpool tensions

Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers has acknowledged he is under pressure after a poor recent run of form ahead of Sunday’s clash with Norwich at Anfield.

Rodgers has pledged to remain calm, but the grumblings against him will only grow louder if his team fail to overcome the Canaries.

Successive league defeats against West Ham and Manchester United have done little for the manager’s standing.

But greater disquiet has been caused by the timidity of his team’s performances in both matches.

Rodgers, then, will be hopeful that his casualty list is about to shrink significantly, with Jordan Henderson, Daniel Sturridge and Joe Allen all close to returns from  injury.

Captain Henderson is back in training after travelling to the United States for treatment on a troublesome heel problem that has kept him out of Liverpool’s last three league matches, none of which were won.

Asked about the pressure on his position, Rodgers said: “That’s the nature of management. It’s important to remain calm. I always focus on what I can control.

“I can’t control what is written. I can only control the process of making sure that I get the most out of the players.”

Liverpool have scored only three goals in their opening three league games, but were given reason for optimism as a fringe side including several promising youngsters drew 1-1 at Bordeaux in the Europa League on Thursday.

“It’s about risk taking for us. That wee bit of risk has gone out of our game,” Rodgers said.

“But we’re getting key players back now, and that will help us.”

Mourinho forced to deny Terry rift again

Jose Mourinho has been forced to defend his relationship with John Terry again after dropping the Chelsea captain for the team’s midweek Champions League tie.

Terry played every minute in the Premier League as Chelsea won the title last season, but the centre-back is by no means assured of his place against Arsenal on Saturday.

Terry was substituted at half-time in the 3-0 loss at Manchester City last month and was an unused substitute in Wednesday’s 4-0 win over Maccabi Tel Aviv in the Champions League.

LA Galaxy midfielder Steven Gerrard, Terry’s former England team-mate, suggested relations between Mourinho and the defender were strained.

But Blues boss Mourinho rubbished that claim after the Maccabi match and on Friday again made it clear he will do what is best for the team and Terry understands that as much as anyone else.

“Last season he played every minute but two seasons ago he didn’t and three seasons ago even less. So what’s the problem?” Mourinho told reporters.

“He’s a player of my total confidence. I trust him as always and he’s one of my men. Because he’s on the bench one game or because I take him off at half-time, nothing changes.

“For John the situation with me hasn’t changed since 2004 (when Mourinho first became Chelsea boss). It is exactly the same.

“I play the player I think is the best for that game, for that moment and John has known that since 2004.

“I don’t care what you say, media, pundits. I don’t think about the consequences.”

Mourinho also said it was disrespectful of Gerrard to Terry to spark talk of dressing room unrest.

“I don’t think John deserves somebody to say he has a problem with me,” Mourinho added.

“I’m not even speaking about myself, I don’t care about myself.

“But I think a top professional like he is and the way he always behaves in this club with me, I don’t think he deserves any kind of doubt about what he is as a professional and as a captain in this club.”

Fixtures:

Saturday: Aston Villa v West Brom, Bournemouth v Sunderland, Chelsea v Arsenal, Manchester City v West Ham, Newcastle v Watford, Stoke v Leicester, Swansea v Everton

Sunday: Liverpool v Norwich, Southampton v Manchester United, Tottenham v Crystal Palace

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