Wayne Rooney has backed Javier Hernandez to score the winner in Saturday’s Champions League final.
Rooney, speaking exclusively to ManUtd.com, hailed the Mexican’s 20-goal debut season at Old Trafford as “incredible” and isn’t ruling out another magical moment when United and Barcelona go head-to-head at Wembley.
“I don’t think anybody expected this sort of season from him,” Rooney said. “But since he’s joined he’s worked hard and cemented his place in the side. He’s playing week in and week out and he’s scoring a lot of goals.
“It’s quite incredible and it wouldn’t surprise me if he ends up scoring the winning goal in the final to top it all off.”
Rooney and Hernandez developed a formidable partnership this term, particularly during the second half of the season. And it’s a pairing that looks poised to bear even more fruit, as Wayne reveals they often spend time together after training, honing their attacking skills.
“Chicha’s a nice lad and he works very hard in training,” he says. “We often stay out a bit longer and do a bit of finishing work together in order to try and improve. He’s always smiling and he wants to do well. He’s got a great future ahead of him.”
Should United boss Sir Alex Ferguson pick Hernandez in his starting XI – remember, nothing’s been confirmed yet, although the boss has hinted he will – Rooney says he’d relish the opportunity to play in the hole behind the Mexican.
“The position I’ve been playing of late has been working well for the team, just behind Chicharito. If I can play there in the final then I feel I could influence the game in the way I’d like to.”
Deploying Rooney in that fashion would also require the no.10 to drop deeper when Barcelona have possession, something that tends to happen quite a lot when the Spanish champions play. But that’s something Wayne says he’s more than happy to do.
“If I do play in that role then I’ll have a job to do, helping out defending when we don’t have the ball. But that’s not a problem for me – I’ve done it many times before and I certainly feel fit enough to get up and down the pitch all day.”
In Barcelona, United come up against formidable opponents. The Catalan side were the architects of the Reds’ defeat in the 2009 Champions League final and are now widely regarded as the best football team in the world. And yet Rooney remains confident about United’s chances at Wembley.
“We know Barcelona are a brilliant attacking team, but as with all attacking teams if you attack them as well then there are going to be spaces to exploit. I’m sure we’ll create opportunities.
“We’ve watched the video back of the Rome final and seen clips where we’ve done well and created chances. We certainly took both positives and negatives out of that game – we’ve tried to work on those negatives and put them right.
“We weren’t at our best in that game but we still created chances and had opportunities to score. We know that if we play well at Wembley then we’ll do the same this time.”
Possession is key to Barcelona’s success. The Spanish side keep the ball superbly and probe patiently for openings. It’s an approach that’s undone many sides this season, although Rooney says United are familiar with the tactic.
“It’s like that when we play Arsenal,” he said. “Arsenal like to keep the ball a lot. In those instances it’s about how you close the spaces down.
“If Barcelona have 70 per cent possession and most if it’s in their own half then that’s not going to worry us at all. In the last few years when we’ve played Arsenal they’ve probably ended games with more possession than us but we’ve won almost every match. In these situations it’s about creating chances and taking them, which is what we’re looking at doing.”
And when it comes to taking chances, there are few better at the moment than Chicharito. Perhaps Wayne’s hunch will prove correct…