Old Trafford hosts its first Premier League game of the new season on Saturday, as Manchester United take on Fulham, looking to kick start their season.
The Red Devils will be hoping to record a maiden victory after slipping to a disappointing defeat at Goodison Park on Monday night, as a Marouane Fellaini inspired Everton left the reds reeling.
United, with midfielders at both centre and right back, looked disjointed, and the Belgian Fellaini caused all sorts of problems, and it was fitting that he proved the match winner, powering home a header from a Darron Gibson corner. New signing Robin van Persie was given 25 minutes, as Sir Alex Ferguson’s men looked to respond, but Everton defended with determination and belief, to start their campaign with a win.
Fulham will make the trip to the Theatre of Dreams full of confidence, after a very impressive 5-0 win over Norwich at Craven Cottage on Saturday. Martin Jol’s men were not fazed by Clint Dempsey’s absence and turned on the style, with new signing Mladen Petric scoring twice.
However if last season is anything to go by, Saturday should hold no fear for the reds. They put six goals past the Cottagers’ last season, conceding none in reply. The standout fixture came in West London, with a rampant United triumphing 5-0, as goals from Welbeck, Nani, Giggs, Rooney and Berbatov gave United a morale boosting win. A similar score line this time out would provide a timely confidence boost, considering the seemingly lifeless way in which United slumped to defeat at Everton.
Team Selection Thoughts
David de Gea will continue in goal after a very encouraging performance on Monday night. The young Spaniard made a string of superb saves in the first half, clawing away a Leighton Baines free kick and a palming low shot around the post, before reacting sharply to keep out a Leon Osman snapshot. Question marks still hovered over De Gea’s head before the season started, but his performance at Goodison Park should go some way to silence some of the critics. He is still adapting and learning, but if he performs like that, he will soon become a favourite at Old Trafford.
The defence however poses more problems for the reds. Michael Carrick had to start alongside Nemanja Vidic at Everton, not only denying the midfield of his calming influence, but creating a level of uncertainty along the back four. Chris Smalling and Phil Jones will definitely remain sidelined, although there is hope that both Rio Ferdinand and Jonny Evans could return to the squad. Just one of them returning would give United a huge boost, as it would allow Carrick to return to the midfield, which lacked for long periods a final killer ball on Monday.
The central midfield combination of Scholes, Cleverley and Kagawa dominated possession, with over 60% of the ball, however this superiority was not converted into goals. They played some nice football, linking up with Rooney and Nani, however on every occasion bar one or two incisive Kagawa through balls, penetration was lacking. One problem was that United, despite the potential wide play of Nani and Welbeck, lacked width, and with Valencia at right back, crosses were either poor or not delivered at all. Saturday could see the same midfield three starting again, although Cleverley or Scholes could drop to the bench to make way for Carrick, but only if Evans or Ferdinand are declared fit.
If Sir Alex opts to play Rafael at right back, who should have started on Monday, then the pacy and direct Valencia can return to his most effective position. The Ecuadorian, who created 14 goals last season, would have given United an outlet against Everton, and to make the most of van Persie and Rooney’s movement he should be deployed in his best position. Should Valencia get the nod on the right then Nani, Young and Welbeck will all be vying for a starting berth. Nani, who had a fantastic Euro 2012, was disappointing on Monday, but one bad game does not necessarily merit being dropped and he could be given a second chance to prove himself against Fulham. Welbeck was isolated at times, and didn’t look at his sharpest, so he could find himself among the substitutes.
United fans will undoubtedly be hoping Rooney and van Persie start together, and Saturday could be the beginning of a prolific partnership. The Dutchman needs time to settle in but the only way he will achieve this is through game time, with the same theory applying to the combination of van Persie and Rooney. The England International looked slightly off the pace against his former club, but that is nothing that minutes on the pitch won’t solve. Hernandez and Welbeck could be forgiven for questioning their first team chances, but van Persie and Rooney need to be given the chance to click.
Here, at Stretford End Arising we spoke to members of Friends Of Fulham and asked their thoughts on the upcoming game and more:
Saturday’s game will obviously be difficult for us, especially away from home. Despite the media coverage and the constant references to a poor Norwich side we did actually play very well last week. The key will be the opening 15 minutes. We’ll either come out all guns blazing and take the game to United or get found out very early and then its backs to the wall. However I’m feeling pretty positive about the season, and can see us taking a point.
The starting line up will most likely be: (4-2-3-1) Schwarzer; Reiter, Hughes, Hangeland, Riise; Diarra, Dembele; Duff, Ruiz, Kacaniklic; Petric
Weaknesses Martin Jol will look to exploit? Depends who is fit for Man United, especially at the back. I hear Jonny Evans might be fit for the game. The current back four do not look like the red wall of previous seasons but we don’t have a bulldozing centre forward so if we can thread passes through keyholes that will be the only way we will score. Ferguson suggested Evra may start as a CB; if that happens, we’ll be looking for something from Hangeland et al. on set pieces.
8th place, on 55 points. A trip to Wembley, but no cups. (That’s actually a hope, not a bona fide expectation.)
Tentatively happy, but expecting several moves in the final week. Wish we could just do our business and be done with it like you lot. Clint Dempsey situation has over shadowed the good signings that have come in. We have replaced older players with younger more talented players in.
Dembele is a fantastic player to watch. Very skilful, and glides past players regularly. His only weakness comes in the final third. His end product is disappointing on the whole, which is why Jol moving him back into a centre midfield role has worked well. For a striker turned midfielder, his transformation really has been outstanding. Defensively he is excellent – he has proved to be an excellent tackler and dribbler making him an ideal box to box player. Ball retention and his under rated defensive work are his strengths.
Let’s just say he is a good enough to play for you guys and be a star.
Frei, Kacaniklic and Mesca are the main ones coming through. All are tricky wingers. Kacaniklic looks the most complete out of the 3, and played well and scored last weekend. He has thrived since making his professional debut on loan at Watford last season. He should start on Satruday and it wouldn’t surprise me if he brought out the worst in Rafael, he’s such a talent. Frei and Kacaniklic were both called up by their national sides last week. Briggs and Trotta could do with a season on loan. Trotta had a great loan at Wycombe last season scoring 8 in 8, but then went to Watford and received mixed reviews.
Three Key Battles
Mladen Petric vs. Nemanja Vidic
Petric opened his Fulham account on Saturday with two well taken goals, and he could pose the Red Devils problems. Vidic is back and fit, but he will be lacking full match sharpness. It is important that the captain can subdue Petric, allowing United to concentrate on scoring goals rather than preventing them.
Wayne Rooney vs. Brede Hangeland
Rooney scored 27 league goals last season, his highest tally ever in the Premier League, and he will want to open his account sooner rather than later. Hangeland is fantastic in the air, but will struggle with clever slide rule passes into the channels. Players like Kagawa and Scholes can provide these passes, and coupled with dangerous deliveries by Valencia, Rooney will have the ammunition to fire the Red Devils to victory.
Shinji Kagawa vs. Mahamadou Diarra
The signing from Borussia Dortmund was excellent on Monday. He passed and moved with ease, effortlessly linking the play, and unselfishly provided Tom Cleverley with United’s best chance of the game. Diarra, who holds for Fulham may be tasked with marking him, but if Kagawa can find space Fulham could be in trouble. Kagawa makes clever runs and has the ability to thread the eye of a needle, and if he is allowed time and space he will hurt Fulham.
After an opening day defeat, only victory will do against Fulham, and I fully expect United to emerge with three points. They moved the ball well against Everton without a killer instinct, but at Old Trafford, they should find some form. Kagawa will continue to improve and if Valencia is deployed on the right wing, United will find more balance and dynamism in the final third. Fulham will be full of confidence but the Reds should have too much firepower for them.
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