Wayne Rooney plans to make amends for the worst season of his life by firing Manchester United to a crucial victory against fading champions Chelsea on Tuesday.
By his own admission Rooney has been well below his best as he struggles to cope with a distracting combination of issues in his private life, recurring injuries and the fall-out from a contract row that nearly brought a premature end to his time at Old Trafford. In recent weeks, Rooney has finally shown glimpses of the form that made him Europe's most feared striker for much of last season, but even then he hasn't been able to avoid negative headlines.
Although Rooney was on the scoresheet in Saturday's 4-0 win at Wigan, his contribution was overshadowed by his elbow on James McCarthy which led Latics boss Roberto Martinez to claim the England star should have been sent off. However, Rooney is determined not to let that controversy affect his performances as United head into a season-defining week which features trips to Stamford Bridge and then Liverpool.
"I have to say it's been a difficult season for me - probably the worst I've ever had," he told the News of the World. "That week when I asked for a transfer was something I wouldn't want to go through ever again. Then I picked up a few niggles and missed a few games, so I didn't really feel like I was playing a part. The good thing is that I feel fresh. I really want to kick on from here and have a big impact on the most important matches of the season."
United could do with a resurgent Rooney over the last three months of a season which could end with Sir Alex Ferguson's side winning another treble of Premier League, UEFA Champions League and FA Cup. Victory at Wigan allowed United to open up a four-point lead over second placed Arsenal and that gap will increase to seven points if the leaders can claim a rare win at Chelsea.
It is 13 matches since Ferguson's team last triumphed at Stamford Bridge way back in April 2002. United have produced too many lacklustre performances on their travels this season, but Rooney believes his side are in the right frame of mind to end their Chelsea jinx and, in the process, deliver another blow to the Blues' hopes of finishing in the top four.
"We've got a really terrible record at Stamford Bridge - in fact, I don't think I have ever won there in my entire career," Rooney said. "But it won't play on our minds. If anything, it will make us even more determined to go there and win. It's a really massive game and Chelsea need to win it more than we do. Hopefully the pressure will tell on them."
United's task isn't quite as daunting as it might have been in previous years as Chelsea's season is spiralling out of control. From the moment assistant manager Ray Wilkins was sacked by owner Roman Abramovich last year, Chelsea have been in self-destruct mode.
The latest moment of madness came on Sunday with the bizarre revelation that Ashley Cole accidentally shot a member of the sport science department with an air-rifle at the club's training ground. Reports that Didier Drogba, twice left on the bench since the arrival of Fernando Torres from Liverpool, is ready to demand a transfer if he doesn't start the United match only add to the air of chaos at the Bridge.
Chelsea's title defence is already in tatters and the unthinkable prospect of missing out on next season's Champions League would look ever more realistic if United win on Tuesday. Carlo Ancelotti's side are two points behind fourth placed Tottenham and the United match represents their game in hand on the north Londoners.
Blues captain John Terry knows the fixture is vital to Chelsea's future and he said: "It's just a case of winning the game. I don't care how that comes about. We just have to be up for it. It is a must-win game for us. If we can win, who knows, it could put a little bit of pressure on the teams around us."