Rooney taunts 'unsettled' Chelsea

November 27, 2006

Wayne Rooney has claimed Chelsea's massive squad could prove to be a hindrance rather than a help in the latter stages of the Barclays Premiership title race.

As the dust settled on yesterday's showdown at Old Trafford, it has been suggested in many quarters the size of Manchester United's present squad is too small to maintain a title quest throughout the winter.

The problem is obvious because with Louis Saha and Cristiano Ronaldo both doubtful for Wednesday's clash with Everton, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Park Ji-sung definitely out and Alan Smith badly lacking fitness, Rooney could be the only orthodox forward available to Sir Alex Ferguson.

In contrast, Chelsea were able to bring on Joe Cole and Arjen Robben in yesterday's draw, while £21million winger Shaun Wright-Phillips did not even make the bench.

Yet Rooney does not buy into the theory that Chelsea have a big advantage purely because of the number of players available to Jose Mourinho.

'The only real difference between the two clubs is that they have spent millions on players and some of those are sitting on the bench, whereas we haven't quite spent the amounts they have,' said the 21-year-old.

'We said before the season having those players on the sidelines could unsettle them a little bit.

'We have young players on the bench, we are gelling together well and that can only be good for us.'

In signing his massive new six-year contract, Rooney has stated his intention to land his first Premiership title with the Red Devils this season.

However, while United retain a three-point lead and a better goal difference over their only realistic challengers, it has not gone unnoticed at Stamford Bridge that Ferguson's men still have to visit all their traditional rivals.

Not that Rooney is too concerned at that. In his view, big games at any venue are the ones that need to be won if ultimate glory is to be achieved next May.

'If you want to take the Premiership, you have to do well in those matches,' said the England star.

'If we can do that we will leave ourselves in a good position for the end of the season.

'They will be tough games but this club has shown we can lift ourselves for the big matches so we will be looking to do that again.'

Even before they head to Arsenal, Liverpool and then Chelsea on April 14, there are plenty of major tests facing the Red Devils.

They failed to beat Everton or Manchester City at home last season and were humiliated at Middlesbrough, so, as that trio comprise United's next three opponents, it is understandable no-one inside the Old Trafford camp is getting too carried away with what has been achieved so far.

'Who knows whether it will go to the wire,' reflected Rio Ferdinand. 'As I say every season, the difference between the teams that win things and those that come second, third and fourth is consistency.'

Although Mourinho has attempted to make capital out of United's failure to retain the lead Saha gave them, Ferdinand never thought the outcome of yesterday's game would prove pivotal.

However, the England defender was frustrated that after keeping Chelsea out for most of the contest, they allowed Ricardo Carvalho to score from Frank Lampard's corner.

'The league was not going to be won by one game,' he said.

'It was important we did not get beaten yesterday but there are mixed feelings about the result because I didn't feel Chelsea were ever going to break us down in open play.'

Aside from proof United can match Chelsea, the other major positive for the hosts came through Saha's performance.

Five days after missing the last-minute spot-kick against Celtic which prompted Neil Lennon to claim he had been informed by Gary Neville the striker's `head had gone', Saha showed no lingering mental scars with an excellent personal display which he capped by putting the Red Devils ahead with his ninth goal of the campaign.

'There have been a lot of things said about Louis in the last few days but the lads really appreciate him,' said Ferdinand.

'He is a fantastic player. Touch wood, he is staying clear of injuries and he is proving what a vital player he is for us.'