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Football: Fergie's injured back at exactly the right time; red EYE.

Byline: MICKEY T

ALL roads lead to Rome next week for the Champions League qualifier against Roma - a game that on the face of it does not mean much as both sides have already ensured their progress to the knockout stage of the competition.

But United boss Sir Alex Ferguson has already made it clear he wants to put down a marker for the stiffer challenges ahead and, despite the temptation to give some of his experienced players a rest, will be keen to maintain his side's 100% record in the group.

The gossip at Old Trafford is that defender Gary Neville might make his first start of the season in Rome following his recovery from injury, which is good news for United.

If they can also get Paul Scholes back on board early in the New Year, Sir Alex will be a lot happier going into the next phase of the competition when United will need to field their strongest team for every game.

In that respect, the return of Wayne Rooney for Monday night's Premiership win against Fulham was timely and, though the England striker did not get among the goals, I'm sure it won't be long.

He's coming back at just the right time, with another game - against Derby County at Old Trafford on Saturday - before the visit to an as yet unbeaten Liverpool.

Although it was not the most convincing of performances, United needed the three points to maintain the status quo.

In Rooney's absence, Cristiano Ronaldo has assumed responsibility for scoring goals and his double against the Londoners took his total for the season to 13.

It's a tally made even more remarkable by the fact that he plays in a wide position.

The only blemish on Ronaldo's performance the other night was the booking he received from referee Rob Styles for allegedly diving under a challenge from Fulham keeper Antti Niemi.

But from where I was sitting and in the view of the majority of those in the press box it should have been a penalty and a hat-trick for the man-of-the-match, who is beginning to hit the sort of form that made him a candidate for Uefa's Ballon D'Or at the weekend.

In the event Ronaldo was pipped by Brazilian midfielder Kaka, who got the nod I suspect because of his role in helping AC

Milan lift the Champions League trophy in May. But it's no disgrace finishing second.

On a completely different tack I can reveal that my time as one of Century FM's Legends is coming to an end. After seven years on the popular radio phone-in show I've decided it's time for a change and I'll be saying farewell on December 21.

I'm hoping to indulge my passion for watching Wrexham more often than has been possible in recent years, but I will still be commenting on United's matches as well as contributing to MUTV on a regular basis.

And hopefully a few other media opportunities will also come my way to keep me out of mischief.

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The rumour is that Gary Neville is expected back next week; Is Kaka better than Ron?
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:Daily Post (Liverpool, England)
Date:Dec 7, 2007
Words:525
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