Wayne Rooney couldn't have timed his return to fitness and form at a more opportune moment.

With local rivals and fellow title challengers Manchester City up next for Manchester United, the Red Devils will need their star man on top of his game to secure maximum points at the Etihad Stadium.

Last season, in this exact fixture, Rooney proved the difference between the two sides.

Robin van Persie may have struck the memorable stoppage-time free-kick, but it was his teammate who scored twice in 13 first-half minutes to fire United into a 2-0 lead.

Rooney produced a superb performance that afternoon - and the importance of that 3-2 victory should not be underestimated. Even though it took place in December, it was a result which sent Sir Alex Ferguson's men six points clear at the top of the table and, it could be argued, went some way to deciding the eventual destination of the Premier League trophy.

This weekend's Manchester derby comes considerably earlier in the season, but with the level of competition in the Premier League significant higher this term, winning this early-season clash is just as important for both teams as it was last December.

Both City and United have only managed to pick up seven points from their opening four matches and currently find themselves outside of the top three - but if Rooney plays as well as he did against Bayer Leverkusen on Tuesday, expect United to leapfrog their neighbours into fourth spot at the very least come 6pm on Sunday.

The England international netted his 200th Manchester United goal against the Bundesliga outfit in mid-week and will be determined to shine in the Red Devils' biggest match of the season so far.

Rooney relishes playing in matches like this - he was born to play in matches like this - and United's big-game player will produce the goods at the Etihad Stadium for the second consecutive season.

Topics:
#Manchester United
#Manchester City
#Football
#Wayne Rooney
#Premier League