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PUBLISHED : Saturday, 11 September, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 11 September, 2010, 12:00am
 

Wayne Rooney will run the gauntlet of abuse again at Goodison Park tonight when Manchester United face Everton in the early kick-off, and no doubt the volume and venom of the chants will be intensified by the claims surrounding the striker's private life.

At least Rooney will be buoyed by two impressive performances for England and a return to scoring form after the long drought that blighted his footballing summer. His early goal in the midweek win in Switzerland was his first from open play since March, having got back on the scoresheet for United before the international break when he netted from the penalty spot in the 3-0 win over West Ham.

Rooney was once revered by the Everton faithful, but now he is reviled and his fortunes at Goodison have been mixed since he swapped Everton blue for United red in the summer of 2004.

In six league and cup visits with United, Rooney has been on the winning side three times, with one draw and two defeats. United have had one other victory at Goodison in that period, without Rooney, so overall the results of recent meetings are tilted slightly in their favour. But Everton have had the better of the past two meetings, with a win and a draw.

Rooney has scored on two of his visits to Goodison and United won both times, emphasising again the importance of the mercurial striker's goals. United were heavily reliant on Rooney last season, when he notched his best-ever tally of 26 league goals. He scored in 18 individual matches and United won every time, whereas they won only nine when he didn't score.

It may be no coincidence that United's trophy challenge fell away when Rooney stopped scoring soon after their Carling Cup triumph and another telling factor in Rooney's record is that most of last season's goals (19 out of 26) were against bottom-half opposition, which suggests he needs to improve his scoring ratio against the better teams if United are to regain the title.

Last season United won only three out of nine away to top-half finishers (Rooney scored in two of the wins but in none of the other six games) and that makes them a risk against Everton, who have started slowly but are a solid top-eight team and lost only two out of nine at home to top-half teams last season.

In fact, until Rooney proves that he can score regularly in this type of fixture, United are a team to oppose on the road against high-class opposition. Everton on the handicap rate decent value and under 2.5 goals looks probable too, with only two of the past seven meetings at Goodison having gone over that mark.

West Ham v Chelsea is bottom versus top and it is difficult to envisage anything other than an away win, even if Tottenham's home defeat by Wigan showed the English Premier League still can produce upsets for the banker bets.

Chelsea showed some vulnerability at odds-on on several occasions in the middle of last season, but on recent form they should not slip up at West Ham. They have scored 14 goals without reply in three league games this season and are on a run of five wins in their past seven away games, going back to mid-February.

West Ham have started poorly, conceding three goals in each of their three defeats and scoring only once. Two of those matches were against teams from last season's top six - away to Manchester United and Aston Villa - and this is another that falls into that category, so that is a mitigating factor for Avram Grant's team.

Yet the way they fell apart in the 3-1 home defeat by Bolton was worrying and there is no sign that Grant has solved the twin problems of a leaky defence and a low-scoring attack.

The derby atmosphere may lift Grant's players tonight, but that won't be enough unless Chelsea under-perform. Back Chelsea on the handicap.

Arsenal are another banker bet at home to Bolton and they should win by at least two clear goals, as they did in 13 of their 15 home victories last season. They opened the new season at the Emirates with a 6-0 romp over Blackpool, which showed they are as potent as ever, and Bolton manager Owen Coyle's attacking philosophy is likely to leave his team exposed to Arsenal's incisive play.

The bet that stands out in the Premier League is Aston Villa away to Stoke on Monday night. Gerard Houllier might not turn out to be an inspired choice as manager in the long run, but he inherits a Villa side with an ingrained counter-attacking style and that is unlikely to change in the short term. Stoke are being handled more easily by the big teams and Villa rate a good bet.

Shortlist: Leicester, Derby, Fulham, Crystal Palace, Werder Bremen, Montpellier, Toulouse, Genoa, Bologna, Aston Villa.

Top five bets

1 Leicester on handicap

Goals are coming more easily than points but look set to kick-start their season

2 Crystal Palace on handicap

Closer in ability to hosts Reading than the odds suggest

3Werder Bremen on handicap

Undefeated on past four visits to Bayern Munich

4 Genoa home win

Started with a win and likely to continue last season's strong home form

5 Bologna on handicap

Hosts Lazio still look a team trading more on reputation than results

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