Paul Parker

Rooney under the microscope

Paul Parker

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Match of the weekend: Everton v Manchester United

Wayne Rooney always gets a hard time when he goes back to Merseyside, but he will be in for an especially rough ride at Goodison Park this weekend. It's a fantastic ground to play at because the fans are right on top of you, the atmosphere is so loud and intense. Even when I went there with United the crowd were always up for it, but since Rooney left them for Old Trafford the fixture has taken on extra significance.

Everyone will be waiting for him to slip up, to lash out or to lose his cool. Even if he has a below-par game, people will be speculating about the reasons why, regardless of how good his two recent performances for England were.

But Rooney has to remember that tomorrow is not about him proving a point to the Everton fans or to the people who have been revelling in him being on the front pages all week. It's about doing the job for his team.

To that end, United will still have last season's 3-1 defeat there fresh in their minds. After Chelsea had lost at the same ground in the previous game, a win may well have helped seal the title.

Everton are notoriously poor starters, but this season has been worse than normal. They are really struggling for goals, as the performance against Aston Villa showed. They really should have come away with something. With Louis Saha injured and Yakubu out of shape, they may have to look to Jermaine Beckford to play up front. The striker may have made his name after scoring against United for Leeds, but so far he has not shown many signs that he can make the leap up two divisions.

But when a manager of David Moyes's quality sends out a team at home, you know they've always got a chance.

Upset of the weekend: Birmingham City v Liverpool

It's to Alex McLeish's great credit that perhaps it wouldn't be the biggest shock if his team grabbed a home win this weekend. To the casual observer, Liverpool losing at St Andrew's may look like a result from out of the blue, because of their status.

However, McLeish has built a side that are extremely tough to beat - they only lost twice at home in the league last season, and drew with Liverpool home and away.

With Roy Hodgson presiding over a transitional period at Liverpool, and given the style of play that brought him success at Fulham, he will also be looking to field a solid outfit. Despite his claims that his squad is "over-staffed", he has a dire lack of creative personnel.

With both bosses setting this match up to be a tight encounter, this is a match that could go either way, which speaks volumes for the relative conditions of the two clubs.

Under pressure: Avram Grant - West Ham United v Chelsea

This is a reunion between the West Ham manager and the team he took to a Champions League final, but the way the Hammers are playing at the moment you have trouble believing it's the same man.

They are playing with no fight, no passion, and no creativity. There must be many fans at Upton Park who are already resigned to the fate that they only narrowly avoided last season, because the way they have started this season has been abysmal.

Another former Chelsea man is Scott Parker, and if there is any hope for the Hammers it lies with him. The fact he signed a new contract this week is a rare ray of light for the club. He really should be somewhere better, but he will do his best to drag West Ham out of the mess they are in... unfortunately the way he plays means he will spend parts of the season out through injury and suspension.

Grant may be given more time by the owners because he is their man, but how long they will wait to see things turned around is anyone's guess.

Player to watch: Marouane Chamakh - Arsenal v Bolton Wanderers

With Robin van Persie, Theo Walcott and Nicklas Bendtner all out injured, there is suddenly a lot of pressure heaped on the shoulders of Arsenal's recent arrival.

Arsene Wenger will not have wanted it to pan out this way for him this early, but now we will see if the Moroccan is merely a decent addition to the team or whether he has the talent and will to be a leader from the front.

Under Owen Coyle, playing Bolton may not quite be what it used to, but as a tall forward he will be expected to compete aerially with Gary Cahill and Zat Knight. We will see just how big and brave he really is.

Of course, Arsenal thrive on playing football on the deck and their goals generally come from a number of different players. If Chamakh can fit into that style quickly and enable his team-mates to surge forward then Wenger and the fans can relax a little more about the responsibility he will have to carry for the next few weeks at least.

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