Rooney adulation to end at Everton

Although Wayne Rooney is now being feted as one of the greats of the game after his San Siro Champions League master class, the adulation will come to a shuddering halt at Goodison Park on Saturday.

Rooney's double in Manchester United's 3-2 win over AC Milan took his seasonal tally to a career-best 25 and had manager Alex Ferguson purring that he was now right up among the world's elite strikers.

NEWS: Rooney paying no attention to plaudits

England boss Fabio Capello also knows that the national team's World Cup prospects rely squarely on Rooney being fit and on form in South Africa.

When Rooney wears white in June even Everton fans will cheer him on but on Saturday, wearing red, the man who electrified Goodison Park as a 16-year-old will get a different kind of welcome when Everton host United in the Premier League.

It is almost six years since Rooney left Everton to join United but, judging by the pages of the Liverpool Echo in recent days, the scars left by his "betrayal" have yet to heal.

When the newspaper carried a column asking if it was time to forgive the former local hero it was swamped with replies, most offering an emphatic and colourful "no".

Many fans are still raging that Rooney kissed his United badge in front of them last season, celebrates goals against them with gusto and that he criticised David Moyes, the Everton manager who gave him his break, leading to the payment of libel damages from Rooney's autobiography publisher.

However, recent apologies and comments from the player that Everton remain a "big part of my and my family's life" may have softened some critics.

BIGGER PICTURE

While Rooney's role is central to Everton's fans, United are more interested in the bigger picture as they seek to close Chelsea's one-point Premier League lead.

They have lost to The Toffees in the league only once home or away in the last 15 years but will have to work for their points against an Everton side who did them a favour earlier this month by beating Chelsea 2-1.

Chelsea visit Wolverhampton Wanderers later on Saturday when a repeat of their 4-0 Stamford Bridge success in November would be very welcome return to winning ways.

Third-placed Arsenal, who conceded what skipper Cesc Fabregas called "two schoolboy goals" in their 2-1 Champions League defeat at Porto on Wednesday, cannot afford any similar slips if they are to maintain their slim title hopes and must avenge the 1-0 November defeat they suffered against Sunderland at the Emirates.

The battle for fourth remains tight with only three points separating Manchester City, Liverpool, Tottenham Hotspur and Aston Villa, all of whom play on Sunday.

City face Liverpool in Sunday's match of the day while Spurs are at Wigan Athletic, eager to avenge their 9-1 hammering at Spurs in Novermber, and Villa at home to Burnley.

City, who have a game in hand on Liverpool and Spurs, have inched their way into pole position for the fourth Champions League spot but have been far from the impressive side that their multi-millionaire owners would have hoped for.

Tuesday's scrambled 1-1 draw against 10-man Stoke City came after similarly insipid performances in defeats by Everton and Hull City.

Liverpool were on a great run until last week's defeat at Arsenal and they could probably do without the distraction of the Europa League as they fight for their traditional top-four finish.

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