Roo puts title thoughts on hold
Wayne Rooney insists Manchester United must not think about winning the Premier League title until the last four or five games of the season.
United have a built up a formidable nine-point lead over Manchester City and moved 16 clear of Chelsea with their win at Fulham last weekend.
Had it not been for their dramatic collapse last term, when they managed to blow an eight-point advantage in the space of just four games to hand the initiative to City, most observers would now be writing United up as champions already.
But Rooney has no intention of falling into that trap.
And with an Old Trafford encounter with his former club Everton on Sunday, whose fightback in the corresponding fixture last season blew the door open for City, the 27-year-old is adopting a blinkered approach to the situation.
"Results are the most important thing now," he said.
"Look at Manchester City against QPR. They should have got the win, had a lot of chances but ended up dropping two points.
"That could quite easily have happened to us against Southampton the following night.
"It proves we have to keep picking up the points when we can.
"Once it comes down to the last four or five games, then we will see what position we are in and work out what we have to do."
This is the moment City have been waiting for, though.
United must fight against the distraction of Wednesday's trip to Madrid - and that mouth-watering reunion with Cristiano Ronaldo - in order to maintain their present position.
It means that even more emphasis than usual will be placed on Sir Alex Ferguson's injury bulletin.
The bout of shingles that prevented Phil Jones joining up for England Under-21 duty this week is an obvious cause for concern, while Danny Welbeck was spotted with a minor limp as he left Wembley on Wednesday night.
There will also be an assessment of the condition of Shinji Kagawa following his return from Japan's friendly with Latvia and Javier Hernandez, who was on duty in Mexico, to determine what part they will play in next week's drama.
The fact Ferguson gave the green light to Rooney completing the full 90 minutes of England's victory over Brazil suggests he may be spared further exertion this weekend, although, as the forward pointed out, he is not the only one at United who gets their hands dirty when the graft has to be done.
"We don't have anyone who doesn't want to do the work," he said.
"We all look at the statistics after the game to see how much running we have done and are well aware of everything we do.
"There is no hiding place with all the technology and stuff."
Ferguson has still not forgotten how his side twice established a two-goal cushion against Everton last season and were unable to close out the contest.
It has been a similar story this term, only United have generally found a way to squeeze out a succession of unconvincing victories.
Rooney has no answer to a conundrum Ferguson has grown increasingly sick of trying to find a solution to.
However, while he, Robin van Persie and Hernandez in particular continue to find the net on a regular basis, the damage should not be too extensive.
"I can't put my finger on why we are not killing teams off," said Rooney.
"We have scored plenty of goals. It is the most number we have scored at this stage of the season.
"We have conceded too many and have done throughout the season.
"But that is the way we have been set up to play. We have to just keep our scoring going."