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Chelsea take on Manchester United in a potentially epic encounter.

| 26.08.2013

One of the most important questions of the Premier League season will be answered on Monday night when Manchester United entertain Chelsea even before a ball has been kicked. Will Wayne Rooney play?

This is big news because if David Moyes does pick him, even as a substitute, it will send out a huge statement of intent from Old Trafford to Stamford Bridge. It will be a message in capital letters: “WE WEREN’T KIDDING WHEN WE SAID WE WOULDN’T SELL YOU ROONEY. FORGET IT!” If, on the other hand, the unsettled striker is left out altogether, perhaps with a diplomatic niggle, then we can all think again.

Chelsea may make United an offer they find difficult to refuse next week, but that scenario would seem less likely if Rooney kicks them where it hurts on Monday – Coral go 4/9 he is still in United’s red after the summer transfer window closes on September 2nd.

In a season as tight at the top as this, it is quite conceivable that a Rooney goal or assist against one of United’s chief rivals will have a crucial bearing on where the title ends up. Coral go 5/1 that he scores first or last for the home side, 5/4 that he nets at any time and 11/4 that he is credited with an assist during the 90 minutes.

That last price is well worth a second look. Rooney set up both second half goals for United when he came off the bench at Swansea. And though his refusal to celebrate spoke volumes, nobody who also noticed him busting a gut on a decoy run to help create the space for Robin Van Persie’s thunderbolt could possibly doubt his commitment. If he plays, we can be certain he will put a shift in.

Van Persie, as sharp as ever, is 4/1 favourite with Coral to score first or last (evens to net at any time), while strike partner Danny Welbeck is 6/1 (7/4) after his two goals at Swansea. The Dutchman is 20/1 to notch a hat-trick, but this does not have the look of a goal-fest.

You can see why Jose Mourinho is so keen to land Rooney or, if Plan A fails, another quality striker before the transfer window slams shut. His midfield may be overflowing with talent (further enhanced it seems by the late snatch of the Brazilian Willian), but even with Romelu Lukaku returning from his loan spell at West Brom to support Fernando Torres, there is not the same depth up front.

One suspects that both Moyes and Mourinho would privately settle for a draw (21/10 with Coral) on Monday – hardly a disaster for either team at this stage of the campaign – and 1-1 (11/2) has a bit of a ring to it.

Written by Jon Freeman

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Ben Woodward