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Big game build-up

Ferguson: Rooney’s ruled out

The next match in Bayern’s make-or-break spring programme is arguably the biggest of the lot, the Champions League quarter-final return away to Premier League giants Manchester United. FCB are in the box seat after winning the home leg 2-1, and need only a draw on Wednesday to make the semis for the first time since 2001, but a 1-0 home win would see United through. We report on the build-up from the Red Devils’ point of view.

Tuesday, 6 April:
Wayne Rooney has failed to take part in Manchester United’s final pre-match training session, reports from England at midday on Tuesday said. However, at that point in the day, there still appeared a remote chance that the striker might play some part in Wednesday evening’s meeting with Bayern. According to the Daily Mail, Rooney successfully came through a secret training session on Monday, during which the England star managed a first few laps jogging around the practice ground. The player might yet be named among the subs, the paper said.

However, Sir Alex Ferguson himself has put an end to the speculation regarding Rooney’s fitness. Addressing the obligatory pre-match news conference, the United boss said there was “no chance” of the club’s top scorer facing Bayern. Rooney had made great progress, Ferguson said, but it was still far too risky for him to play now. Sir Alex hinted that up-and-coming starlet Federico Macheda could start the match in Rooney’s place.

Monday, 5 April:
Wayne Rooney has been busy with aqua jogging and on the exercise bike – and despite gloomy reports to the contrary, he may sensationally return to footballing action on Wednesday night. The Red Devils’ top scorer sustained ankle ligament damage in Munich last week, but the English newspapers unanimously announce on Monday that the striker has made amazing progress towards a comeback. The Manchester United medical section is quoted as giving the 24-year-old a 40 percent chance of appearing against Bayern in midweek. According to the Daily Mail, if Rooney proves fit enough to train on Tuesday, he will be named in the squad for Wednesday night’s clash. United coach Sir Alex Ferguson is not expecting Rooney to be fit for action until 17 April.

United’s 2-1 defeat to new Premier League leaders Chelsea on Saturday merely served to emphasise Rooney’s importance to his side. “They're not the same team without him,” declared Chelsea boss Carlo Ancelotti, “it's not easy for United to maintain their character and momentum without Rooney.” Dimitar Berbatov is a different type of player, Ancelotti said: “Berbatov is good but Rooney is totally different. Rooney can sometimes come back to receive the ball and use it for all the team and then he can attack in any direction. He is an unbelievable player.”

Sunday, 4 April:
Wayne Rooney watches United’s demoralising defeat to new Premier League leaders Chelsea from an Old Trafford executive box on Saturday, but the Sunday papers bring conflicting news of the prolific striker’s recovery from the injury sustained in Munich at the tail-end of the Champions League clash with Bayern. If some sections of the press are to be believed, the England star could be back in action much sooner than previously reported.

In a story headlined “Rooney targets remarkable return against Bayern,” published online just before midnight on Saturday, the Mirror reports that the Red Devils’ centre-forward believes the intensive treatment he is currently receiving means he could still make the subs’ bench at the minimum for Wednesday’s quarter-final return at home to Munich. The player was already fit enough to jog on Saturday, the paper reports.

However, the Sunday Telegraph quotes United boss Sir Alex Ferguson as confirming 17 April as the likely comeback date for his leading scorer, when the champions square off with their bitter rivals from across town, Manchester City. “There will be time for him to still have a big impact on our season - hopefully if we get through against Bayern he would be available for the semi-finals,” the coaching legend is quoted as saying.

Saturday, 3 April:
United suffer a serious setback in their quest for a fourth successive Premier League crown. Sir Alex Ferguson’s men, visibly weary after their midweek exertions in Munich, fall 2-1 at home to Chelsea, as the London side leapfrog the champions to go top of the standings. A 75,217 full house at Old Trafford watches as Joe Cole backheels the Blues into a 20th-minute lead, before sub Didier Drogba strikes a controversial second after 79 minutes. Federico Macheda pulls one back just two minutes later, but Dimitar Berbatov misses a golden opportunity to equalise before the end and Chelsea take the points.

Four days prior to the Champions League return against Bayern, Sir Alex opts to rest Nani and Michael Carrick. Berbatov deputises for the injured Wayne Rooney, but he and his team-mates only get going in the second half. However, Drogba’s goal from a clearly offside position settles the issue – and in case United were minded to complain about refereeing injustice, Macheda handles in the build-up to his late strike. After 33 of 38 matches, the Red Devils are now second, two points behind Chelsea and just one ahead of Arsenal.

United line-up: Van der Saar - Neville, Ferdinand, Vidic, Evra - Fletcher (Gibson 86), Scholes (Nani 72), Giggs - Valencia, Park (Macheda 72) - Berbatov

Friday, 2 April:
Official confirmation that Manchester United will be without Wayne Rooney in the return against Bayern. United’s leading scorer will be sidelined for two to three weeks with the ankle ligament injury sustained in the dramatic closing seconds of the meeting in Munich. Sir Alex Ferguson announces the lay-off in his weekly news conference at United’s Carrington training ground.

A face highly familiar to FCB fans could yet appear when Utd take on Munich, Ferguson also declares. Owen Hargreaves, who last appeared for the Manchester giants a year and a half ago in September 2008, was finally fit enough after long-term knee problems to resume team training two weeks ago.