Byline: CHRIS WHEELER
SIR ALEX FERGUSON has challenged Wayne Rooney to rediscover his goalscoring form after one of the striker's worst starts to a season.
Rooney has scored only three goals in 14 games for United, including a penalty. It is his poorest return at this stage of the campaign in his nine seasons at Old Trafford, except for two years ago when he was distracted by the contract crisis that almost saw him leave the club.
Indeed, by this time last year, Rooney had already racked up 12 goals -- the same amount Robin van Persie has scored so far in his first season at United. In fairness to Rooney, Van Persie's arrival has forced him to play a deeper role and the England striker has responded by contributing six assists in the Premier League. But Ferguson reminded him yesterday that he has to improve his goal return as well.
'I'm happy with that part of his game and he can contribute to the team's success, fine, but we would rather he scored more, obviously,' said the United boss. 'I think he's going through a period that all strikers do. He's not scoring and it will change once he starts to score regularly. Wayne is the type of player who can't miss games. He's missed bits of games and he was off with tonsillitis. With his frame and the type of person he is, he needs to play all the time.'
Ferguson revealed that Nani could be sidelined for up to five weeks with a hamstring injury. Antonio Valencia is also racing to be fit for next weekend's Manchester derby with the hip injury that will force him to miss today's trip to Reading.
There was better news for United as captain Nemanja Vidic returned to training this week, earlier than expected following knee surgery. Vidic could even play in Wednesday's final Champions League group game against CFR Cluj, although he is unlikely to be risked at the Etihad Stadium four days later.
'I wouldn't be afraid of playing him in the European game,' said Ferguson, who has also seen central defenders Chris Smalling and Phil Jones return from long injury layoffs. …