Manchester United face Fulham at Craven Cottage on Sunday and are looking to avenge their recent poor record. Before 2009, Man United had gone 45 years without defeat at Craven Cottage, where unfortunately we lost twice in the space of nine months.
The first of those two defeats came on the back of a defeat to Liverpool, which threw the 2008/09 title race wide open. Paul Scholes received an early red card for deliberately handling the ball on his own goal line – Fulham scored the resultant penalty. Wayne Rooney was later sent off for a second bookable offence, as his frustration boiled over at the prospect of two consecutive defeats. United eventually lost the game 2-0.
The second defeat came during the mist of our injury crisis. Patrice Evra and Ritchie De Laet were the only two recognised defenders on the team sheet with Michael Carrick and Darren Fletcher played centre back and right back respectively. Not only was our defence weakened but the loss of Fletcher and Carrick from midfield dented the rhythm and therefore the attacking play of our team. The result left me flat; I hadn’t felt so low after the game in a long long time.
For the umpteenth time right back remains a discussion point in my match preview articles. Against Newcastle United I was of the opinion Rafael should start. John O’Shea was preferred, perhaps to add height when defending set pieces as Newcastle have a big team. I thought O’Shea’s performance was iffy – he probably is still finding his feet after a long term injury. With that in mind I’d be inclined to start Rafael, who will add a greater attacking threat and links well with Valencia. Valencia is more effective when he plays alongside an overlapping full-back dragging away an opposition defender as he normally is double marked.
The remaining defensive positions virtually pick themselves. After a bruising encounter against Andy Carroll, Evans and Vidic will start at central defence. Slight concerns surrounded Patrice Evra after he was clattered by Newcastle’s James Perch, but Sir Alex has since allayed fears.
Nani and Antonio Valencia will start on the wings. After the Newcastle game Sir Alex indicated Valencia is lacking game time. This perhaps reflected in his performance against the Geordies as he struggled against a combative opponent in Jose Enrique. However, his work rate and accustom endeavour was still present – illustrated in the part he played for Dimitar Berbatov to open the scoring.
Fletcher and Scholes are my preferred central midfield partnership. Scholes was sublime against Newcastle, a virtually flawless performance. We all know he is unlikely to play week in week out, but while he is in such good form I’d be inclined to include him in the starting line up. Following the West Ham game on Saturday 28th August there is a two week International break, which will allow Scholes a rest.
Wayne Rooney has apparently been ruled out with a stomach bug. I’m disappointed at hearing this news, as Rooney is in desperate need of football. His form is offish and is lacking in match fitness & confidence. Before the news of Rooney’s absence there was a thought a spell away from the limelight will benefit him – not sure I subscribe to this theory in his situation. What he requires more than anything is that all elusive goal. I have no doubt once he finds the back of the net he will go on his usually goal scoring run. With Rooney unavailable, Javier Hernandez is likely to make his first start for United.
After his superb performance against Newcastle, Berbatov is a certainty to start. He scored one and should have added to his goal. All strikers miss chances though. One of his criticisms last season was he played too deep, which limited his attempts on goal. You’d rather see a striker miss opportunities than have none at all. He still played from deep positions, pulling the strings (alongside Scholes) but also found himself inside Newcastle’s penalty area. If not for the excellent Scholes, he would have been named “Man of the Match”.
Prediction: 2-0 for United, with goals from Berbatov and Hernandez.
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