Manchester United vs. Fulham: Tactical Preview


By Sleepy

10th placed Fulham visit Old Trafford tomorrow afternoon for what could prove a stern test for Sir Alex’s men. Mark Hughes has done a steady job with the Cottagers since taking over despite an uninspiring start to the season. Fast becoming known as ‘draw specialists’ the resoluteness of the team is a credit to Hughes nonetheless. Both teams come off the back of good results in the league, Fulham turning over an entertaining Blackpool side, with Manchester United coming from two goals down to beat West Ham 4-2, the devil incarnate Wayne Rooney grabbing a hat-trick.


Probable starting line-ups (4-4-1-1 v 4-2-3-1)

Credit: This11

Fergie will surely have one eye on Tuesday’s Champions League clash with Chelsea, as well as the F.A. Cup semi-final a week tomorrow against City; and though he rarely likes to  meddle with the core of the (Van der Sar, Evra, Vidic, Carrick and Rooney), he is left with little option against Fulham. Van der Sar is still struggling with a groin injury, and one or two of Carrick, Evra and Vidic will surely be given much needed recovery time ahead of the crucial run-in (Ferdinand is likely to be rested too after a sterling return from injury at Stamford Bridge). With Rooney banned for two games, opportunities arise for Berbatov and indeed Michael Owen, both of whom have been fantastically patient in recent weeks as Rooney and Hernandez have initiated a lively and penetrating forward partnership.

Hernandez is likely to start again versus Chelsea in the second leg, and this could pave the way for Owen to come in and partner Berbatov, with the Mexican’s pace a potential asset for use late on in the game. If so, Berbatov will thus be asked to sit slightly deeper than Owen (though alternating freely throughout presumably), getting on the ball as he did versus West Ham at the weekend and allowing runners to get beyond. The chalkboard below indicates his fantastic movement around the pitch and ability to create from deep.

Berbatov passes vs. Blackpool

Berbatov dropping deep v Blackpool (click to enlarge)

Credit: Guardian Chalkboards

In midfield, Carrick who was once again fantastic in the centre of the park (arguably three man of the match awards in his last four outings), should be given a rest after his energetic performance on Wednesday. With Fletcher still struggling to gain match-fitness, we could see an unlikely central midfield partnership of Scholes and Anderson (used only 3 times this season). Anderson made a scoring return to action in the reserves midweek, whilst Scholes’ ability to hit the wings as early as possible will be a key strength in this particular game (see chalkboard for number of passes played to wide areas); if both Valencia and Nani start in a likely 4-4-2, and considering the opposition system of 4-2-3-1, it will be the veteran’s ability to switch the play from deep – and on the counter –  which could elicit success, as both wingers will seek to exploit the space out wide. John O’Shea and Wes Brown are very close to match fitness, which is a timely boost considering Rafael’s latest injury scare (who should return for Tuesday).

Paul Scholes passes vs. Manchester City

Scholes passing variation v City (click to enlarge)

Credit: Guardian Chalkboards

Given the legacy of Roy Hodgson, Fulham are well drilled defensively and Hughes has used this asset wisely, keeping the space tight between the two banks of four, getting men behind the ball and keeping narrow out of possession. There does however seem to be a greater emphasis on fullback contribution under Hughes, and his acquisition of Salcido was an astute one given the fact many ‘big’ clubs were rumoured to be in for the attacking fullback. Both he and Baird like to get forward at every opportunity and seek to link the play in the middle third, as well as aim to hit the by-line and provide crosses from wide.

C Saicido passes vs Manchester City

Salcido – 53 passes attempted v City (click to enlarge)

Credit: Guardian Chalkboards

Here we see Salcido’s movement and pass completion against City at Eastlands in somewhat of a 4-2-3-1 formation; this formation (likely to be used tomorrow) relies heavily on advancing fullbacks for width, especially as both Dempsey and Duff (doubtful) have often been used as inverted wingers this season, asked to come inside on their stronger foot allowing for the overlap. Salcido’s link-play with either Dempsey or Davies will thus provide a real threat to Man United, as will his penetrating runs and his ability to hit powerful shots from distance. In midfield, the United pairing will have to be aware of Murphy’s astute passing as always, but also Etuhu’s ability to break up the play across the pitch. Against Blackpool at the weekend he was successful in 7/9 tackles, not allowing the likes of Adam and Varney any space on the ball (see chalkboard). Zamora’s return has been a huge bonus for Hughes, and his aerial ability as well as the ability to hold up the ball very well outside the opposition penalty area will be key. Indeed, Smalling will have to be wary of both Zamora’s and Dembele’s inclination to come very deep for the ball, meaning communication with the midfielders in front, and the right fullback is essential.

D Etuhu tackles vs. Blackpool

Euthu attempting 9 tackles v Blackpool (click to enlarge)

Credit: Guardian Chalkboards

In Summary

United are entering their favourite stage of the season, and with wins versus Bolton and West Ham, as well as Chelsea in the Champions League, there is a momentum to the side which must be very pleasing to Fergie and his coaching staff as they endeavour to prosper in all 3 major competitions. Fulham will be a tough test and are very well organised defensively, led by the terrific Hangeland. But if United can get the ball out to wide areas quickly, and ensure they hit the box in numbers, they should have too much for Hughes’ side at home with Fergie’s men undoubtedly stirred by the perceived injustice of F.A. punishment this week.

Referee: Mike Jones – up and coming referee, not afraid to use the yellow card.

Prediction: 2-0, Owen and Nani.

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