Manchester United travel to Fulham on Wednesday evening, looking for a vital three points which will keep the pressure on league leaders Manchester City.
United were in West London as recently as Sunday, when they saw off Queens Park Rangers thanks to goals from Wayne Rooney and Michael Carrick. It was one of the best attacking displays from the Reds for some time, and if United can maintain the fluidity and tempo that they played with on Sunday, then three points is within their reach.
The success at Loftus Road kept Man United’s unbeaten away record intact with six wins from a possible eight. Draws at Stoke and Liverpool are the only blemishes on an impressive record, with the Red Devils only conceding three goals on their travels.
United take on Martin Jol’s men in superb league form, having won six out of a possible seven games since derby day, with Newcastle being the only side to avoid defeat against the champions. Even then though, they were extremely fortunate to take anything from the game, after being awarded an extremely dubious penalty which Demba Ba converted.
Fulham head into Wednesday’s encounter on the back of a routine home win over Bolton, with goals from Clint Dempsey and Bryan Ruiz securing a 2-0 victory. Prior to that, they had only lost once in four, with notable results against Arsenal and Liverpool, including a memorable 1-0 victory over the red half of Merseyside. American international Dempsey pounced on a Pepe Reina mistake to earn the Cottagers a shock win.
The Reds have endured some difficult times at Craven Cottage in recent seasons. Indeed, on their last three visits to West London, they have lost twice and drawn once, with a desperate 3-0 defeat the lowest point. Last season, United looked set return from the Cottage with all three points as Nani stood over a penalty in the 86th minute with the Reds 2-1 up. However, it was saved and in the 90th minute Brede Hangeland powered in a header to earn Fulham a 2-2 draw.
Team Selection Thoughts
Sir Alex Ferguson named an unchanged side on Sunday for the game at QPR, and it will be interesting to see whether he sticks with a winning formula or decides to freshen things up, bearing in mind the amount of games in the coming weeks.
David De Gea has looked more assured and settled between the sticks recently, although Anders Lindegaard could be handed a start for rotational purposes.
The back four is likely to be the same as Sunday, with Rio Ferdinand and Jonny Evans in the centre of defence. Ferdinand was in brilliant form against the R’s, stepping out of the defence with the ball, and making perfectly timed interceptions. With Nemanja Vidic out, Ferdinand’s fitness will be central to any success United have this season. Chris Smalling, making a return to Craven Cottage should start at right back with Patrice Evra at left back. The Frenchman was out of sorts in the first half, but looked more assured in the second, as the Reds eased to victory.
In midfield, the pairing of Carrick and Jones looks more and more dynamic every time they play together, culminating in a dominant display at the weekend. Carrick’s positional sense discipline allows Jones to maraud forward, and the former Blackburn star would have scored had it not been for the post and Radek Cerny. Carrick netted for the first time in 70 games and has improved no end this season, going some way to quell cries for a new midfielder in January.
On the wings, Nani and Antonio Valencia should keep starting berths, after the pair terrorised QPR’s fullbacks all game long. Valencia is starting to return to the form which saw him and Wayne Rooney strike up a devastating partnership in his first season, and the Ecuadorian added another assist to the three he provided against Wolves, clipping in a perfect cross for Rooney to glance home.
The Red Devils have been boosted by the return of Dimitar Berbatov and Javier Hernandez, giving United’s attack a much more potent look. Wayne Rooney played magnificently on Sunday and the question is who will partner him. Danny Welbeck’s movement caused problems for the opposition at the weekend and Ferguson may opt to go with him again on Wednesday night, safe in the knowledge that Berbatov and Hernandez can step off the bench if things aren’t going to plan.
Here, at Stretford End Arising we spoke to members of Friends Of Fulham and asked their thoughts on the upcoming game and more:
Man United have taken one point at Fulham in the last three seasons. I think that we will take a point on Wednesday. Although Jol likes his 4-2-3-1 and Johnson led it beautifully Saturday, I think he may bring Zamora in, since the matchups favour us with our big guy in there. I would love it if he played a 4-2-2 with Johnson and Zamora. The last time he did we put six past QPR. I think Jol will be looking to exploit the fact that you have England’s centre back pairing for the next 5-8 years playing at right back and centre mid. United are weakened at centre back with injuries, but I appreciate that your other choices at centre midfield and right back are not as good.
I think Fulham have underperformed — especially in front of goal. A few weeks ago, I would have turned cartwheels if promised 16th or 17th, but things are looking up. We have to take care of business better at the Cottage, and I’m looking for that to start on Wednesday. When we were 15th, Jol said we should finish in the top 10. After we beat Bolton, he said we could finish in the top SIX. I guess if we beat you guys on Wednesday, he’ll be saying we can win SerieA and LaLiga at the same time. Me, I’ll be happy with 10th and a trip to Wembley.
I like Jol. He says what he means and often has a little joke (see. I hope Bobby likes me now). He is definitely the right manager for Fulham, but is currently having a bit of a power battle with certain players. He is the future, and the senior players are not, so no doubt he will come out on top. As for his brand of football – he is Dutch and likes to get the ball down. A more attacking version of Hodgson’s style, which is gradually coming together.
Like any new foreign player, it has taken time for him to adapt to the Premier League, but slowly the performances are improving, there is no doubt that given the opportunity, he can finish and I think he will continue to improve, but feel we may have to wait a while longer to see his full ability. As to living up to expectation, I was not sure what to expect, but £10.5m IS a lot for us to spend on one player, so hopefully he becomes the player Jol believes he is and does not turn out to be another Marlet, which on current form is most unlikely.
Unfortunately Fulham will struggle to keep hold of Dembele. He will be gone in the summer, probably to spurs where he will become one of the best players in the league. I would love to get him to sign a contract extension, but with him making eyes at Spurs, we have no chance. Hopefully we will get £10m+ for him, because he is really worth it.
Kerim Frei is very talented and ready to step into Dembele’s shoes when he goes. That he has overtaken Duff in terms of preference speaks volumes about his ability. Briggs at left back is also a prospect, although his defending could do with some work. We have quite a few youngsters who are looking good below the first team so will be interesting to see if they break through.
Michael Jackson Statue
The initial reaction to the statue was bit like a bereavement. At first, disbelief. Then anger. Then resignation.
But even with the statue, our Chairman has been brilliant for this club, and if he wants a weird action figure in a corner of the ground, why not? We label our funny-peculiar, believe-it-or-not history “Fulhamish”. The statue isn’t Fulham, but it is very Fulhamish.
Three Key Battles
Brede Hangeland vs. Wayne Rooney
Since Rooney scored his first goal for eight games against Wolves, he has looked more threatening, purposeful and energetic. The striker was involved in everything against QPR and caused their defence problems all game. On Wednesday night, Hangeland will have his work cut out to stop Rooney, as he often drops deep and creates the problem of whether to follow him or not. If Rooney can get on the ball and create openings then United can expect goals.
Clint Dempsey vs. Phil Jones
Dempsey is Fulham’s highest scorer this season, and like Rooney, he will drop off into space and look to thread balls through for the likes of Johnson and Ruiz. Jones will have to be wary of this threat and although he likes to drive forward, neglecting his defensive duties, will allow Fulham to pose problems. Dempsey is also great in the air, so Ferdinand and Evans will have to watch his runs from deep.
Antonio Valencia vs. John Arne Riise
Valencia carried on his good form on Sunday after making three goals against Wolves, and if selected, will be key in the Red Devils creating chances. His pace and directness will ensure Riise can’t get forward and leave the wing exposed, otherwise Valencia will profit. Should United get the ball wide early, then Valencia can take Riise on and whip dangerous balls in for Rooney and others, who will be benefit from the Ecuadorian’s quality.
Fulham at Craven Cottage has always proved a tricky fixture down the years and I expect Wednesday night to be no different. The pitch is cramped and the fans are right on top of the players, creating a unique atmosphere. However, United have been playing with freedom and pace recently, and I expect them to win, albeit narrowly.
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