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Preview: United v Fulham

Ed February 8, 2014 Tags: , Matches 4 comments
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If Manchester United’s dismal performance in losing to Stoke City last weekend isn’t a season’s nadir then these indeed are desperate times. Fulham arrive at Old Trafford on Sunday as one of few sides actually in worse form than United; Rene Meulenstein suffering a disastrous run of results since taking over at Craven Cottage in early December. Yet, such is United’s campaign under new manager David Moyes that there is genuinely little confidence the Reds will dispatch Fulham at Old Trafford; at least not with the ease United fan’s used to enjoy. After all, Moyes’ side has lost four league games at home this season and five in all competitions since the turn of the year.

Rarely can a game against the Premier League’s bottom side have been so welcome over the past three decades. Injuries and ill luck have played their part in United’s poor form this season, but the confidence sapping nature of the Reds’ style under Moyes has contributed significantly. Percentage football that has focused on quickly delivering crosses was illustrated perfectly at the Britannia Stadium last weekend where United succeeded with just 13 of 47 long balls and just five of 33 crosses. It was ever thus under Moyes.

Still, if United cannot beat even the most limited opposition then every failure this season brings is surely of the club’s own making. Ahead the midweek fixture against Arsenal at the Emirates – Liverpool having beaten the Londoners this weekend – Moyes’ side simply must win on Sunday. Failure will only increase the volume of criticism being levelled against the Scot.

Moyes’ will benefit from few fresh injuries this weekend. The former Everton manager will be without defender Jonny Evans for the Cottagers’ visit, but Phil Jones is available after suffering concussion last weekend. The former Blackburn Rovers defender might revert to central defence with Chris Smalling clearly lacking confidence.

Meanwhile, Marouanne Fellaini is once again on the sidelines having picked up a fresh injury this week. The £27 million Belgian has recovered from wrist surgery only break down in training ahead of what would have been a return to action against Fulham. Nani is still out, while Rio Ferdinand is unlike to return this weekend.

However, captain Nemanja Vidic returns having completed a three-match suspension. The Serbian announced this week that he will leave Old Trafford after eight successful years at the club. United offered the 32-year-old a new contract in January, but the deal will forever remain un-inked in what Moyes called a ‘mutual agreement’. Some breaks are more mutual than others.

“I think it was the right decision for both the club and the player,” said Moyes on Friday.

“What I discussed with him will remain private but he has been a brilliant servant and captain for Manchester United. He is captain and will remain captain until the end of the season. He has been a great player for us and we will continue to play him.

“He’s a great leader for this club and served the club really well and I would expect that to continue right up until the end of the season. I think people know that I’ve got things in my mind that I want to do and things I wanted to change in time. I can’t do it all overnight. That wasn’t the reason for this. As I said, this was a decision that we mutually decided together. He felt it was the right time for him.

“People who know football will tell you centre-half is probably the toughest position. I even think it is harder to play centre-half than goalkeeper now. With the movement of the centre forwards and the quality of the centre forwards, playing a young centre-half is very difficult. To nurture one along and bring them into the team… we are trying to do that. We will give Smalling, Jones and Evans those opportunities to show what they are capable of.”

Manchester United v Fulham, Premier League, Old Trafford, 4pm, 9 February 2014Elsewhere, Moyes is challenged with getting the best out of new signing Juan Mata, who started on the right wing against Stoke, with Wayne Rooney deployed behind Robin van Persie in attack. The wide role is likely to cap the Spaniard’s influence, although with Adnan Januzaj also due to start, Moyes has the opportunity to evolve United’s tactics this season. Whether the Scot is minded to seek out a more flexible, fluid approach remains a doubt.

Meanwhile, Fulham coach Meulenstein returns to Old Trafford for the first time since departing in controversial circumstances last summer. Moyes’ explanation that the Dutchman chose to leave – eventually for Anzhi Makalaka – does not always chime with Meulenstein’s recollection. The former United coach is not thought to have been prepared to take the minor coaching role on offer in United’s backroom. Steve Round, Jimmy Lumsden and Chris Woods came with Moyes from Everton in the summer.

On the pitch Meulenstein could hand a debut to new Greek signing Kostas Mitroglou, while fellow transfer deadline day acquisition Johnny Heitinga is also expected to start as Fulham seek to arrest a run of form that has brought six defeats in the past 10 matches. The Cottagers lost to League One side Sheffield United in the FA Cup in midweek in what was a new low in a poor season.

“We have to pick ourselves up, brush ourselves off. That’s what we’ve done in the last couple of days and we have to make sure we’re in the best possible shape to travel to Old Trafford on Sunday,” said Meulenstein.

“After every poor performance you look for a response. My job is to make sure I manage that and make sure that response is going to happen. We need to grow; we need to grow as a team, we need to grow in strength. Sometimes bigger challenges can even result in bigger performances. People keep saying there’s pressure. I don’t see it as pressure – it’s a challenge, that’s what it is. You need to accept the challenge and rise up to the challenge.”

“Sir Alex Ferguson was the first man to reassure me and say ‘stick to your beliefs and know what you’re capable of’. It will be brilliant going back to Old Trafford. It has been such a special club for me and still is. I will enjoy every moment of it.”

United supporters can but hope that the former Old Trafford favourite doesn’t enjoy Sunday’s fixture too much. But after defeats to Tottenham Hotspur, West Bromwich Albion, Everton and Newcastle United in the league at Old Trafford there are few guarantees.

 

Manchester United v Fulham, Premier League, Old Trafford, 4pm, 9 February 2014

Possible Teams
United (4-4-1-1): De Gea; Rafael, Jones, Vidic, Evra; Januzaj, Carrick, Cleverley, Mata; Rooney; van Persie

Fulham (4-5-1): Stekelenburg; Riether, Hangelaand, Heitenga, Riise; Holtby, Parker, Kvist, Sidwell, Dejaga; Mitroglou

Substitutes
United: Lindegaard, Buttner, Smalling, Kagawa, Valencia, Giggs, Fletcher, Welbeck, Young, Hernández

Fulham: Stockdale, Richardson, Karagounis, Christensen, Zverotic, Burn, Amorebieta, Kasami, Rodallega, Kaciniklic, Dempsey, Duff, Bent

Head-to-head
United 81 Draw 49 Fulham 18

Officials
Referee: Kevin Friend
Assistants: P Kirkup, R West
Fourth Official: R East

Prediction
2-1

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Preview: Fulham v United

Ed November 2, 2013 Tags: , Matches 5 comments
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It is, perhaps, the first time this season that Manchester United enter the weekend’s fixture with spirits high after David Moyes’ men achieved three victories on the bounce as part of a six match unbeaten run. True, not all of United’s performances have been stellar since West Bromwich Albion beat the Reds 2-1 at Old Trafford in September, but momentum is momentum and Moyes’ outfit has at least a modicum of it going into Saturday’s fixture against Fulham in west London.

Craven Cottage has not always been a happy destination despite the picturesque nature of Fulham’s riverside home. Indeed, in the past five seasons the Cottagers have taken eight points off United, after successive victories in 2009, and a late draw secured a year later.

However, there is little doubt the Reds remain favourite to win in the capital, with Martin Jol’s side struggling for form this season. The Dutchman has been under pressure to turn Fulham’s campaign around following five defeats in the league to date, not least because a new owner normally brings a change in management. American Shad Khan, owner of the Jacksonville Jaguars NFL team, took control from Mohammed Al Fayed in the summer.

By contrast the pressure on Moyes has eased somewhat following victories over Stoke City, Real Sociedad and Norwich City in the past week. These have hardly been classic performances, but in a transitional period the new manager will take all he can get.

Indeed, this is a time that United must close the gap on rivals, says Moyes, with Arsenal eight points clear of the Reds, and Chelsea just two back from the Gunners.

“We’ll take one game at a time and try to start getting a bit closer to the top end,” said Moyes on Friday.

“It’s a gap we have to try to work to get closer to. That’s the plan but there’s a long way to go. We’ve started to put together one or two half decent results and hopefully that starts to build a bit of momentum.

“We’ve been a little bit up and down at the start of the season, winning one, losing one, so we’re hoping to get a bit more consistency and then our form follows with that.”

Victory over Norwich in the Capital One Cup was the third time Moyes’ outfit has struck four this season, although for the most part goals have been more troublesome than in previous years. Still, with Robin van Persie, Wayne Rooney and Javier Hernández all scoring goals in recent matches Moyes is hardly short of attacking options.

Fulham v Manchester United, Craven Cottage, Premier League, 2 November 2013, 3pmYet, the Scot faces key decisions about who and where to deploy his other forwards, with Shinji Kagawa and Adnan Januzaj performing well in recent weeks, while Ashley Young, Nani and Antonio Valencia have put in mixed performances.

In central defence Moyes must decided whether to stick with Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic, after the pair played against Norwich, or revert to two of a younger trio of central defenders at his disposal. Phil Jones and Jonny Evans are currently preferred in the league, suggesting the end of a glorious era is nigh.

Meanwhile, United could be eve. More threadbare in midfield than normal after Michael Carrick picked up an Achilles injury during the week. Marouanne Fellaini, Ryan Giggs and Tom Cleverley compete for two spots in central midfield.

Either way, Moyes is likely to rotate once against on Saturday, with United facing a testing match against Sociedad in Spain next week. Victory at Anoeta could secure Champions League group stage qualification after four rounds , although defeat in London might leave United 11 points behind the leaders.

Yet, the manager’s tendency to over-rotate suggests a ma not yet comfortable with his best team, nor one who has yet mastered the art of using his resources to maximum effect.

“We will make changes,” added Moyes. “They’re all first-team players in the squad and in their own right could all be playing every week.

“I think both (Vidic and Ferdinand) are very close to full fitness. They showed that in midweek when playing Premier League opposition. They both played for 90 minutes so I can’t see any reason why they wouldn’t be ready to be selected or involved.

“Van Persie has been fine. He’s trained well and worked quite well this week so hopefully he will be okay. Welbeck has had a bit of fluid on his knee. He’s trained for a few days this week, but won’t travel to Fulham this weekend.”

Meanwhile, Fulham manager Jol is without injured pair Hugo Rodallega and captain Brede Hangeland, although Sascha Riether, Scott Parker, Pajtim Kasami and former Red Dimitar Berbatov will all come back into the side after sitting out the west Londoners’ midweek cup defeat at Leicester City.

It was a desperate result for the Dutchman, following just three days after Fulham lost away at high-flying Southampton in the league. With Liverpool, Swansea City and West Ham United to follow there is little respite for Jol this side of Christmas. Jol isn’t showing the pressure just yet, althought defeat to United could leave the Londoners in the relegation zone on Sunday night.

“I don’t feel pressure because we’re not bottom of the league, there are six or seven other teams on similar points and lower,” said Jol, who was once offered the position of Sir Alex Ferguson’s assistant manager.

“If people tell me I’ve got pressure, then I’ve got pressure – but for me it’s no problem. There are a few teams on 10 and 11 points, so we have to come up with a surprise result.

“I think we can make Craven Cottage a fortress again. We can do that with the help of the supporters. It is a bit funny that we don’t get the results at home.”

Indeed, Fulham’s home may be compact – surrounded on three sides by residential housing and on the other by the Thames – but there has always been a vibrant atmosphere for United’s arrival. None more so with three good results secured by the home against United in recent seasons.

Repetition is a prospect that Moyes is unlikely countenance. Not after finally securing a little momentum this season.

 

Fulham v Manchester United, Premier League, Craven Cottage, 3pm, 2 November 2013

Teams
Fulham (4-4-2): Stekelenburg; Riether, Senderos, Amorebieta, Richardson; Ruiz, Sidwell, Parker, Kasami; Bent, Berbatov; Subs from: Kacaniklic, Stockdale, Karagounis, Duff, Hughes, Rodallega, Zverotic

United (4-4-1-1): De Gea; Rafael, Jones, Evans, Evra; Valencia, Cleverley, Fellaini, Januzaj; Rooney, van Persie. Subs from: Lindegaard, Fabio, Buttner, Smalling, Ferdinand, Vidic, Nani, Anderson, Young, Giggs, Kagawa, Hernández

Head-to-Head
Fulham 14 Draw 18 United 48

Officials
Referee: Lee Probert
Assistants: L Betts, R Ganfield
Fourth Official: A Taylor

Prediction
0-2

Matchday Forum discussion

Preview: Fulham v United

Ed February 2, 2013 Tags: , Matches 134 comments

Complacency. The amour-propre that comes so inevitably with easy success; the original sin of man. Yet, it it surely with conceit in mind that Sir Alex Ferguson dispatches his men south this Saturday – Manchester United seeking a 10 point lead in the Premier League and a second successive victory over Fulham.

After all, Sir Alex Ferguson’s men dispatched the Cottagers from the FA Cup last weekend with such ease that the lack of a double-figure score was not only disappointing, but criminally wasteful. And yet victory in west London will hand Ferguson’s side a 10 point lead ahead of Manchester City’s clash with Liverpool on Sunday.

It appears to be easy, so easy.

There is plenty of confidence in the Old Trafford camp, yes, but can Ferguson ensure that his side does not lapse into the dogmatic lethargy that enveloped the Reds’ against Southampton at Old Trafford in midweek?

While publicly the Scot blamed the pitch for United’s performance on Wednesday, there is little doubt that behind the scenes Ferguson will have impressed on his men the need for concentration with the title now in reach.

“Wednesday was important for us and we really dug in defensively,” said Sir Alex on Friday.

“We blocked shots and cleared headers. I was impressed with that but we were a bit lucky to win the game. The first half, we could have been five up at half-time, but a one-goal lead isn’t enough.

“We just make it hard for our fans and that’s the sadistic nature of our team. Some games this season we’ve got into comfortable positions and not driven nails into it. It is frustrating because they are capable of that.

“It could go to goal difference. That’s the issue and at the moment we’re only two goals better off than Manchester City and that can be overturned in one game and we’ve had opportunities to be better.”

Meanwhile, Martin Jol’s men have gained some confidence from victory over West Ham United in midweek despite the chastening experience at Old Trafford last Saturday. Three goals and an eight point margin over the bottom three leaves Jol’s side facing up, and not down, with 14 games to go.

“Fulham got a fantastic result midweek and we hope we can navigate this trip – every result is important,” said Ferguson.

“Fulham’s home record is very good and has been for a few years. They’re one of the few clubs that get full houses every year. I don’t think the pitch is as tight as people make out – the size is good but it’s the tightness around it that make it feel small. There’s always a good atmosphere and that’s important.”

Fulham v Manchester United - Premier League, Craven Cottage - 2 February 2013, 5.30pmFerguson’s squad travels south in good health, with defender Jonny Evans added to the match party after the Irishman recovered from injury. Only Ashley Young remains on the sidelines from Ferguson’s first team, with the former Aston Villa winger having featured just 16 times this season.

Meanwhile, defender Rio Ferdinand returns to the side. The veteran replaced Chris Smalling during a difficult second half against Southampton on Wednesday night as United struggled to a 2-1 victory.

“We’re quite healthy in terms of the players available,” Sir Alex adds.

“Young’s the one that’s still not available. Hopefully Jonny trains today, which would give us another defender. That’s good news. I’ll make one or two changes tomorrow. Rio Ferdinand will play. Definitely.”

Elsewhere, Ferguson is likely to recall Tom Cleverley alongside Michael Carrick in midfield, while Antonio Valencia, Shinji Kagawa and Nani fight it out for two places in the United midfield. Javier Hernández missed Wednesday’s match with a hip injury, but could make the bench on Saturday.

Ferguson will enjoy holding plenty of options against Jol’s side in London. After all, while Fulham proffered the meekest of opponents at Old Trafford a week ago, the Cottagers boast a strong home record in recent seasons.

“At home, Fulham are a different team,” said striker Wayne Rooney.

“It’s always a difficult game there. It’s a smaller pitch and a compact stadium. That suits them. They’ve got players who can take the ball between the lines because the pitch isn’t as big and then create chances. They are down near the bottom so they will be fighting to get one or three points. We will need to make sure we are at our best to beat them.”

Meanwhile, the hosts will be without ex-Reds Kieran Richardson and Dimitar Berbatov. The Bulgarian pulled a hamstring in midweek, while Simon Davies, Karim Frei and Mahamadou Diarra are also out. AC Milan loanee Urby Emanuelson could make his Fulham début.

And whatever the selection Fulham can hardly perform worse than at Old Trafford in the Cup, where luck and United’s poor judgement in front of goal saved Jol from a record defeat.

“It was still 1-0 at half-time so we were still in it, but we came out and they scored two early goals and the game was finished,” admits the Dutchman.

“Luckily enough, they only scored a fourth goal because it could have been one of those days when they scored six or seven. But it’s a one-off game. For us the most important thing is the league.”

Yet, history points United’s way – even if Fulham did beat an under-strength Reds at Craven Cottage in 2009. United has won six and drawn one of the past seven matches against Fulham in all competitions despite that loss, while the west London side has secured just one victory in the past 23 meetings between these sides.

And should the game run to form then that 10 point lead is United’s at least until Sunday. If complacency doesn’t kick in first that is.

Match details
Fulham v Manchester United – Premier League, Craven Cottage – 2 February 2013, 5.30pm

Possible teams
Fulham (4-5-1): Schwarzer; Riether, Senderos, Hangeland, Riise; Ruiz, Sidwell, Frimpong, Karagounis, Duff; Rodallega. Subs from: Etheridge, Baird, Hughes, Davies, Dejagah, Petric, Somogyi, Kasami, Kacaniklic, Emanuelson

United (4-2-3-1): De Gea; Rafael, Ferdinand, Vidić, Evra; Cleverley, Carrick; Valencia, Rooney, Kagawa; van Persie. Subs from: Lindegaard, Jones, Smalling, Büttner, Scholes, Giggs, Anderson, Nani, Welbeck, Hernández

Match officials
Referee: Kevin Friend
Assistants: S Ledger, S Burt
Fourth official: M Oliver

Form
Fulham: DDWLLW
United: DWWDWW

Head to Head
Last 10: United 8, Fulham 1, Draw 1
Overall: United 47, Fulham 14, Draw 18

Stats

  • Fulham celebrated a fine week, in which owner Mohammed Al Fayed wrote off the club’s debts and Martin Jol guided his team to victory over West Ham United ;
  • Former Red Dimitar Berbatov scored against the Hammers – his seventh goal in the Premier League this season from 48 shots with 58.3% on target;
  • Berbatov has completed a pass in the opposition half 492 times this season – the 17th highest overall in the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index and the second highest by a striker;
  • Hugo Rodallega has struggled for Premier League goals this season, with his strike against West Ham just his second from 39 efforts at goal;
  • At the other end of the pitch Mark Schwarzer has been the joint third busiest goalkeeper in the Premier League this season, making 126 saves, and averaging one every 16 minutes;
  • Wayne Rooney scored his sixth and seventh Premier League goals of the season against Southampton, which have come at a rate of one every seven shots – with 67.3 per cent of his shots on target;
  • Rooney has also contributed seven assists this season, and is the fifth-ranked striker in the Index for passes completed in the opposition half;
  • Patrice Evra is enjoying one of his finest season’s for United and he has completed 462 passes in the opposition half this season, with only Leighton Baines completing more among league’s defenders.

Prediction
1-2

Preview: United v Fulham

Ed January 26, 2013 Tags: , Matches 53 comments

Another FA Cup tie; another fixture on live TV. Such is the appeal of the world’s most popular club that it is the 37th occasion in a row that Sir Alex Ferguson’s men have been selected by the nation’s broadcasters to front Cup coverage – a run that dates back to January 2005.

Saturday evening brings Fulham to Old Trafford, and with Martin Jol’s team comes a former Red – striker Dimitar Berbatov. There will hardly be a dry eye in the house. Except, of course, for those Reds who didn’t take to the Bulgarian during four years in Manchester.

Jol’s side arrives under pressure in the Premier Leauge, although Berbatov has already become a popular figure at Craven Cottage, scoring seven goals in 20 appearances to date. Now just five points off the relegation zone, the Cup represents a distraction for the Londonders – welcome, or not. Indeed, Jol may make rotate his squad for the trip north; there are certainly greater priorities in west London.

The same could be said of Ferguson’s side too, of course, although there appears to be a renewed appetite to secure a 12th FA Cup this season after almost a decade without lifting the old trophy. Replay victory over West Ham United at Old Trafford in the third round has afforded the Reds another home tie and an excellent opportunity to progress.

That only Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes have secured the FA Cup among the current squad says much, not only for United’s priorities in the past decade, but a series of tough draws against Premier League opposition. The hat has been no kinder in the current season, then, but there is perhaps a renewed focus on the 150-year-old tournament.

“The boss has given a big message this season – he really wants to win the FA Cup,” defender Patrice Evra told United Review.

“He really wants it and so do we. It is the only trophy that I have not won at Manchester United. That seems impossible given that I am now in my seventh year here. The FA Cup means so much and, one day, I hope I will win it. Hopefully this year.”

Manchester United v Fulham - FA Cup, Old Trafford - 5.30pm 26 January 2013If Ferguson’s team is to progress it will do so without Jonny Evans and Ashley Young, but there is a healthy outlook to the squad after four days warm weather training in Qatar over the past week.

The Scot may still use the tie to rest key players, with the double-header against Real Madrid in the Champions League coming up next month, but Ferguson’s should be a strong side at Old Trafford on Saturday night.

“We had a good week training in Qatar and it was a great time to go there – we couldn’t have picked a better moment actually when you consider the weather we’ve had here,” said Ferguson.

“So it’s worked out very well for us and hopefully we get the benefit from that. It was always the plan at some stage to do that this January. It couldn’t have worked out better for us.

“Jonny Evans and Ashley Young are still not 100% fit. Ashley Young is not far away. He trained a bit in Qatar. Jonny is just taking a bit longer than we thought. But he did a bit of training in Qatar.  The bonus for us, of course, is that Phil Jones and Chris Smalling are both back.”

Ferguson may opt to rest 22-goal Robin van Persie, although Wayne Rooney, Shinji Kagawa, Javier Hernández and Nani could all do with minutes against the Cottagers. While veteran Rio Ferdinand is likely to be rested, with a match against Southampton in the Premier League on Wednesday evening.

Under-fire goalkeeper David de Gea may start despite Anders Lindegaard’s appearance in the third round replay against West Ham. On Friday Ferguson labelled critics of the young Spainiard “idiots,” with Alan Hansen and Gary Neville among a plethora of high-profile pundits to jump on a very public bandwagon.

Saturday’s will be a another test for the 22-year-old ‘keeper, who has grown in confidence this season, but – as evidenced against Tottenham Hotspur last weekend – can still struggle under the high ball. Fortunate, then, that Fulham’s is rarely a direct approach.

Yet, all eyes will be on Berbatov, who scored 56 goals in 149 appearances during four largely frustrating years in Manchester. Acquired for more than £30 million, Berbatov won many friends with a sublime first touch and moments of unrivalled skill, but drew ire for a seemingly complacent attitude and an inability to deliver on the biggest occasions.

Despite the perceived low return on United’s heavy investment Ferguson remains supportive of the 31-year-old Bulgarian, who moved south for around £2 million last summer.

“I don’t think Dimitar was a failure here,” said Ferguson. “Some people like to see players run through brick walls all the time. Dimitar is not that type of player, but he is very talented player and he had a decent goalscoring record here.

“The problem for him here was the way we wanted to play and the selections I had to make. When you have choices you hope to make the right one. Javier Hernández had a fantastic first season with us and as time went on he became a more regular player than Dimitar.”

Berabtov will start despite Fulham’s recent troubles in the Premier League, which ensure Wednesday’s fixture with West Ham remains a priority. Meanwhile, former Red Kieran Richardson misses the game against his old club with a calf injury, while winger Kerim Frei and midfielder Mahamadou Diarra did not travel.

The visitors predicament means that Ferguson’s side remains strong favourites for the tie. After all, United has beaten Fulham on 46 of the 78 occasions these two side have met, including a 3-2 victory in the Premier League last August. In eight previous FA Cup fixtures between the clubs, United has triumphed on seven occasions, including a 4-0 victory at Craven Cottage in 2009.

“We haven’t done as well in the FA Cup for a few years now,” admits Ferguson. “It’s a cup which has fantastic appeal given our record in it. We have benefit of the home draw. We’ll take that any time. It’s going to be a challenge for us but we would play anyone at the moment.”

That statement may be disingenuous given United’s tough draws over the past five years, but supporters will care little so long as United remains in the fifth round draw on Saturday evening.

Match Details
Manchester United v Fulham – FA Cup, Old Trafford – 5.30pm 26 January 2013

Possible teams
United (4-2-3-1): De Gea; Rafael, Jones, Smalling, Büttner; Anderson, Cleverley; Nani, Rooney, Kagawa; Hernández. Subs from: Lindegaard, Ferdinand, Vidić, Evra, Scholes, Carrick, Powell, Valencia, Giggs, Welbeck, van Persie

Fulham (4-5-1): Schwarzer; Riether, Hangeland, Hughes, Briggs; Dejagah, Ruiz, Sidwell, Karagounis, Duff; Berbatov. Subs from: Etheridge, Senderos, Baird, Kacaniklic, Petric, Rodallega

Officials
Referee: Mark Clattenburg
Assistant Referees: David Bryan, Peter Bankes
Fourth Official: Michael Jones

Form
United: WWDWWD
Fulham: LWDDWL

Head to Head
Last 10: United 7, Fulham 2, Draw 1
Overall: United 46, Fulham 14, Draw 18

Prediction
3-1

Preview: United v Fulham

Ed August 24, 2012 Tags: , Matches 73 comments

Less than a week into the season and already there’s pressure on United to win at Old Trafford this Saturday. With Fulham in town Sir Alex Ferguson’s men will smell the scent of victory, but after defeat to Everton on Monday few points will be counted until just after five this Saturday. There’s no doubt Ferguson’s team will be hurting from the loss at Goodison Park; the question now is whether United can get the balance right to beat an in-form Fulham at the ‘Theatre of Dreams’.

Surely it’ll be different during the opening home match of the season supporters will contend – no matter how well Martin Jol’s side played in hammering Norwich City last weekend. It has to be. After all, there are fine margins between winning and losing a Premier League title, as Ferguson and his players know to their grave cost. Three points behind after the opening game of the season, the emphasis is not only on a United victory this weekend, but a comfortable one at that.

Yet, Monday’s loss to Everton has posed plenty of questions, with a redistribution of some personnel likely in Ferguson’s team. Indeed, new signing Robin van Persie should make his full debut for the club after coming on as a late substitute at Goodison, while Ferguson has some tricky decisions to make in both midfield and defence.

The question of balance is a delicate one. Last Monday United struggled at the back – with two midfielders joining Nemanja Vidić and Patrice Evra in the back-four. The Reds also failed to turn possession into chances and opportunities into goals at the other end. For all United’s attacking resources, woeful performances by Wayne Rooney and Nani, in particular, did not help the cause in just the third defeat at Goodison Park in the past decade.

Despite this, few will expect anything other than a United victory during the opening home match of the season, no matter how well Martin Jol’s side played in hammering Norwich City last weekend.

This is an assertion that will be tested by United’s continuing problems in the back four, with Ferguson set to call on Michael Carrick in the heart of defence once again in the heart of defence, although the 70-year-old manager has suggested that left-back Patrice Evra is in the mix for the role. Rio Ferdinand, Phil Jones and Chris Smalling are all out, while Jonny Evans should make the bench.

Central defender Evans joins the match-day party after overcoming an ankle injury aggrevated during United’s 4-4 draw with Everton last season. Yet, with no pre-season behind the 24-year-old defender Ferguson will be taking a large gamble if he selects the Northern Irishman.

“I need to call Bruce and Pallister!” joked Ferguson at his regular Friday press conference.

“Phil Jones started training yesterday but tomorrow is too soon for him. It’s pretty much the same as Monday night injury-wise. Alex [Büttner] will be involved tomorrow because he gives that back-up. Evra could actually play centre-back. He has done in the past. But I don’t think Alex will start tomorrow, I think he’ll be on the bench.”

Manchester United v Fulham, Old Trafford, Premier League, 25 August 2012Meanwhile, in attack Ferguson has a plethora of resources, with van Persie an option after the Reds failed to score on Monday despite dominating possession. On the night Rooney and Nani struggled to make any mark, although only the latter is likely to lose his place, with Ashley Young standing by to come into Ferguson’s side. Danny Welbeck may also be relegated to the bench after starting against Everton, although summer acqusition Shinji Kagawa should retain his place after impressing on his full debut for the club.

Indeed, midfielder-turned-defender Carrick says that a quartet of new signings this summer – van Persie, Kagawa, Nick Powell and Alexander Büttner – has boosted morale at Old Trafford despite the loss to Everton last week.

“When you see top players come through the door it gives everyone a big lift,” Carrick told United’s official website.

“It puts everyone in a positive mood because it means the team is moving forward, but you also know you’ve got to play well to stay in the team and that helps keep the standards high. It’s up to us to learn the strengths of the new players and for them to fit in to our system and I’m sure we’ll get better as the season goes on.

“At this stage though it’s about picking up points and we need to start doing that. Monday night was a bit of a setback, but since then we’ve just tried to stay focused and concentrate on the next game. We knew it was going to be a hard match, that wasn’t something that surprised us. It’s [defeat] happened early on in the season, a lot earlier than we hoped for and expected, so it’s important we now get a run of wins together and build up some momentum.”

Building that momentum will be no easy task against Martin Jol’s Fulham, with the Cottagers beating Norwich City 5-0 on the opening day of the season. Confidence is high in the camp despite star forward Clint Dempsey being excluded from the match-day party.

Fulham has made an official complaint to the FA about Liverpool’s intervention in Dempsey’s future, with the American believed to have asked for a move north despite no official bid having been made by the Merseysiders. It is a saga that has disrupted Fulham’s preparations for the new campaign, with Dempsey a key part of a side that finished ninth in the Premier League last season.

Jol will also be without injured trio Kerim Frei, Phillipe Senderos, and Simon Davies for the trip north. Zdenek Grygera returns to the west Londoners’ squad.

“It is not only about the Norwich’s of this world, it is also about Chelsea and Manchester United” insists Jol.

“Clint always played a good part in those games. He was always on the end of things. There are always players in football who want to move. But they keep quiet. I always hope for players to keep a low profile and wait for what will happen. This was different.

“For us it would have been better if Liverpool had followed up with a formal bid. But they didn’t, and as of now there is no formal bid on the table. It has made the situation very difficult for us. Clint’s head was turned, that is the problem. In the next couple of weeks, if it stays like now, the status quo, hopefully he will change his thoughts about us.”

Ferguson, though, will be wary of Fulham’s firepower despite Dempsey’s absence this weekend. After all, new Croatian signing Mladen Petrić scored twice against Norwich, while Damien Duff, Bryan Ruiz and Moussa Dembélé could provide goals from midfield.

“I went to see Fulham on Saturday, they played very well,” adds Ferguson

“The club has grown tremendously since Roy [Hodgson] got them to the Europa League final. The place is buzzing, full house every week, good atmosphere, their home record is terrific and they’ve got a lot of experienced players – six players over 30. It won’t be an easy game, we’re at home, we have to make an impact quickly after losing Monday night and we expect that.”

Yet, few expect anything other than a United victory, especially at Old Trafford. Ferguson’s side hasn’t lost an opening home game since Everton score three in 1992, while United has won the last nine league and cup games against Fulham at Old Trafford, scoring 23 goals in the process. The Cottagers, meanwhile, have taken the points just once in 50 years – a 3-1 victory in 2003.

Despite Fulham’s comfortable win over the Canaries, and the Reds’ loss to Everton on match-day one, Old Trafford’s faithful demand nothing less than the full three points. As it always is with the Reds.

Match Details
Manchester United v Fulham – Premier League, Old Trafford – Saturday 25 August 2012, 3pm

Possible Teams
United (4-2-3-1): De Gea; Rafael, Carrick, Vidic, Evra; Cleverley, Scholes; Young, Rooney, Kagawa; Van Persie. Subs from: Lindegaard, Wooton, Büttner, Powell, Nani, Giggs, Anderson, Valencia, Welbeck, Berbatov, Macheda, Hernández

Fulham: (4-5-1): Schwartzer; Riether, Hangeland, Hughes, Riise; Duff, Dembele, Sidwell, Diarra, Ruiz; Petrić. Subs from: Etheridge, Somogyi, Stockdale, Baird, Kelly, Briggs, Grygera, Kacaniklic, Halliche, Kasami, Bangna, Rodallega, Trotta

Officials
Referee: K Friend
Assistants: M Mullarkey, J Flynn
Fourth Official: P Gibbs

Form
United: L
Fulham: W

Head-to-Head
Last 10: United – 7 | Fulham – 2 | Draw – 1
Overall: United – 45 | Fulham – 13 | Draw – 16

Stats

  • Despite United’s loss to Everton on Monday there were some bright points from the game, with David de Gea putting in a great performance with seven saves in total;
  • Paul Scholes and new signing Shiji Kagawa also shone in midfield – each appears in the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index’s top five for passes completed in the opponent’s half from the first round of games with 56 and 50 passes respectively;
  • Kagawa also covered more ground than any other player for United with 6.11 miles, ahead of the evergreen Paul Scholes with 5.68 miles;
  • Overall United completed 324 passes in Everton’s half during the game, a number bettered only by neighbours Manchester City in the opening fixtures;
  • Passing didn’t translate into goals though, with the Reds making ha 18 shots at goal – the second highest of any team in the opening weekend;
  • Fulham fans will be delighted with a 5-0 win against Norwich in the first match of the season, with new signing Petrić contributing a brace and Alex Kacaniklic also getting on the scoresheet;
  • Fulham boss Jol has completed some inspired business in the transfer market – Kacaniklic covered the most ground for the Cottagers with 6.2 miles and put in the third highest registered top speed in the Premier League with 23.05 miles per hour;
  • Fulham also covered the fourth highest amount of ground in the EA Index as team en route to 61.73 miles in total.

Prediction
3-0

Reds primed for Cottagers visit

Ed March 25, 2012 Tags: , Matches 155 comments

Sir Alex Ferguson will turn to two generations of Pauls, Pogba and Scholes, as Manchester United host Fulham at Old Trafford on Monday night. The United manager, fresh from ratcheting up a war of words with rivals Manchester City this week, will use the pair, young and old, as the Reds look to kick on in the Premier League title race.

Scholes, who has been instrumental in United’s outstanding recent domestic form, is likely to start against Martin Jol’s mid-table visitors. Pogba, meanwhile, is set to take part in yet another fixture as Ferguson continues his recent quest to ensure the young Frenchman stays at Old Trafford beyond the summer.

After City’s draw at Stoke City on Saturday, United, with a game in hand on Roberto Mancini’s outfit, can regain the Premier League lead with a result on Monday night. But Ferguson will want far more from the home tie – the opportunity to stretch United’s lead to three points and erode City’s goal difference advantage is on the horizon.

The Blues’ draw at Stoke, where the hosts’ physical approach rattled Mancini’s side, has increased the pressure at Eastlands – a fact Ferguson is sure to exploit in the coming weeks. Indeed, Ferguson’s decision to ponder aloud, Friday, whether bringing Carlos Tevez back into the light blue fold is a sign of “desperation” says much. Just as his side has eroded City’s confidence on the pitch, so the 70-year-old Scot has spotted more than a little weakness in his managerial rival.

Ferguson will have an almost fully fit squad for a tie that United almost always wins, although it is the Reds’ form at Old Trafford – both domestic and European – that has been patchy this season. Only Nani is still absent of the more recent injury concerns, while Chris Smalling, Phil Jones, Tom Cleverley and Fabio da Silva took part in United reserves’ 3-1 victory over Aston Villa on Wednesday night. Pogba played an hour of that tie, and the quintet is likely to play some part in the matchday squad.

Manchester United v Fulham, Premier League, Old Trafford, 26 March 2012, 8pm“We took Paul off as he will be involved on Monday,” Ferguson confirmed of the 19-year-old French midfielder, who is yet to sign a new contract with the club.

“We want him to stay because we think he’s going to be a fantastic Manchester United player. We hope that’s the case. Jones and Smalling have been in and out with injuries and illness. Cleverley, Pogba and Fabio had bits of games. We’re only waiting on Nani and Michael Owen now and expect both to start training with us next week.”

Long-term injury absentees Anderson, Darren Fletcher and Nemanja Vidić are not expected to return to Ferguson’s squad before the season’s end. But it is to Scholes that Ferguson has turned during the second half the season, with Anderson and Cleverley missing most of the campaign. The 37-year-old midfielder’s partnership with Michael Carrick has ensured not only that United kept in touch with City at the head of the Premier League, but surpassed the Blues in the past week.

While Carrick has played more than 19 domestic matches without a break, it is Scholes who has underpinned United’s central midfield creativity at a time when the Reds looks particularly weak in that area.

“He can dictate the tempo of games very well and the rhythm of our game,” added Ferguson of Scholes, with the flame-haired midfielder likely to stay at Old Trafford for at least another season.

“He has the experience which helps him do that. He has a terrific football brain. The reason he wanted to retire was because he wanted to play 50 games, not 25, he didn’t think that was enough. I said to him at the time he would play 25 games for me no problem, but he didn’t want that. Maybe he felt that was maybe me not giving him enough appreciation.

“What I was trying to do was look at it in a sensible way and think what do you get out of a 37-year-old? How many games can you get out of him? The way we control Ryan Giggs [in terms of games he plays] – he’s different from the rest and we’re treating Paul Scholes exactly the same now. There will be games where we maybe leave him out, but we also know the games he can play in.”

Meanwhile, Fulham arrive having been thumped by Swansea City last weekend, but lie a comfortable 13 points clear of the relegation zone under Jol’s stewardship. Orlando Sa, Steve Sidwell and Zdenek Grygera will not be involved at Old Trafford, but Jol has no further injury concerns for a tie that the west Londoners have not won since 2003. Indeed, Fulham has avoided defeat at Old Trafford just once in the past 49 years.

Jol has built a side with plenty of attacking options: Russian Pavel Pogrebnyak has excelled since joining the Cottagers in January, scoring five in as many games, while Clint Dempsey, Bryan Ruiz and Moussa Dembélé offer firepower from midfield. It is an attacking outfit that will concern United’s back-four, but has struggled to keep clean sheets in recent weeks.

And Jol has no regrets about not joining United eight years ago, when Ferguson mulled appointing the Dutchman as his assistant, before turning to Carlos Quiroz for a second time.

“At that time I met him only to have a conversation with him about everything,” added Jol.

“We talked football – they played Real Madrid with the “big” Ronaldo – so it was nice. Later he said about the assistant manager post, but I remember his assistant Carlos Queiroz went to Spain to Real Madrid. He was sacked so there was always a possibility for him to take him back and that is what he did. I think that was good because I don’t think I am the best assistant in the world.”

Ferguson’s side won 5-0 at Craven Cottage in December, a result that mirrors recent games between the two sides. Fulham has conceded 15 goals over the last three fixtures at Old Trafford, and while three points is the first priority, the opportunity to eliminate City’s potential goal-difference advantage will not be lost on United’s players.

“Every game is must-win now,” concluded Ferguson. “That is no issue for me. I have been used to that for years. Hopefully we can keep the momentum going.”

Match details
Manchester United versus Fulham, Premier League, Old Trafford , 26 March 2012, 8pm.

Potential Line-ups
United (4-4-1-1): de Gea; Rafael, Ferdinand, Evans, Evra; Valencia, Scholes, Carrick, Young; Rooney; Welbeck. Subs from: Amos, Fabio, Smalling, Jones, Giggs, Park, Cleverley, Pogba, Hernández, Berbatov.

Fulham (4-5-1): Schwarzer; Kelly, Hangeland, Senderos, JA Riise; Ruiz, Diarra, Dembele, Dempsey; Pogrebniak, Johnson. subs from: Stockdale, Baird, Hughes, Murphy, Duff, Etuhu, Frei.

Form
United: LWLWLW
Fulham: LWWWLL

Officials
Referee: Michael Oliver (Northumberland)
Assistants: P Kirkup, M Mullarkey
Fourth Official: H Webb

Reds face tricky Fulham tie

Ed December 21, 2011 Tags: , Matches 89 comments

Manchester United faces a stern test at Craven Cottage on Wednesday night, but this time it is a midfielder that Sir Alex Ferguson is lacking. Two seasons ago United’s December fixture at Fulham ended in a disastrous 3-0 defeat after Michael Carrick and Darren Fletcher were forced into emergency roles in United’s back four. There is no such task facing Carrick and co. on Wednesday, but Ferguson is instead without a plethora of key central midfield players for the trip south.

In the second of a London double-header this week, United aims to keep pace with rivals Manchester City at the head of the Premier League. Ferguson’s side briefly led the title race on Sunday and will return to first place in the unlikely event that the Blues slip to defeat against Stoke City, and United win at Craven Cottage. And while Ferguson will include fit-again Javier Hernández and Dimitar Berbatov in his squad, key players Anderson, Fletcher, Tom Cleverley and Nemanja Vidić miss the trip.

United won comfortably at Loftus Road on Saturday, and with Fulham’s form mixed in recent week’s Ferguson’s men will be confident of securing a first Premier League victory at the Cottage since March 2008. Indeed, Ferguson may well select an unchanged side for the fixture. But it is the heavy defeat two years ago, in which Wayne Rooney saw red and United shipped three, that Carrick remembers vividly.

“I remember the game two years ago, though not that well!” says the Geordie midfielder, who has returned to form in recent weeks.

“It was just one of those situations: we had no defenders left so me and Fletch played at centre-half. “I’d played there for two or three matches before that and we’d won, but that was probably one game too many. It wasn’t a great day for us.

“Fulham have had an up-and-down time this season, but they beat QPR 6-0 at their place and have had some other good results. We know they’re a strong team: they’re well organised and Craven Cottage is a tough place to visit, but it’s a good, old-fashioned football ground and we look forward to going there.”

Fulham versus Manchester United, Premier League, Craven Cottage, Wednesday 21 December 2011, 8pm.Carrick will again provide the fulcrum around which Ferguson will build his central midfield. The Geordie has suffered intermittent form over the past two years, including two traumatising losses to Barcelona in the Champions League. But the 30-year-old’s revival in recent weeks has provided some confidence at a time of severely depleted midfield resources.

While United is slowly coming through the rash of injuries in recent weeks, Ferguson has once again included youngsters Larnell Cole, Ezikiel Fryers and Ben Amos in the party. Federico Macheda also traveled south with the squad, although is still likely to leave on loan after the Christmas programme. Paul Pogba was seemingly left in Manchester despite encouraging words this week about the Frenchman’s future at Old Trafford.

Patrice Evra will again captain United, having been vindicated late Tuesday night, when the Football Association handed down at eight-match ban to Luis Suarez for using abusive and racist language in United’s fixture with Liverpool in September. With the weight now off his shoulders United fans will hope for better performances from the 30-year-old, whose form has dipped in recent months.

Meanwhile, former Fulham player Chris Smalling, who has impressed since a £12 million transfer to Old Trafford in 2010, returns to his old stomping ground, grateful for the break received in professional football. Four years ago Smalling was with semi-pro Mainstone United in the Isthmian League, before transferring to Fulham.

“I see my time there as a big two years,” Smalling told ManUtd.com.

“My first year was about finding my feet and the second was about showcasing what I can do. Without Roy Hodgson giving me my chance there I wouldn’t be here so it’s a time I look upon fondly. It’ll be nice to go back and see a few of the players and play back at the Cottage.

“The players always look forward to this time of year with plenty of games. We’re used to the demands and it’s a big opportunity to pick up a lot of points – we want to get maximum points. Christmas can be a hindrance on some and can sometimes make or break you in terms of kicking on, but this is a period where we really need to kick on and show everybody we mean business.”

Meanwhile, Fulham manager Martin Jol welcomes back Bobby Zamora after the striker missed the win over Bolton Wanderers last weekend with injury. However, former Red Simon Davies will miss the game, as will Steve Sidwell, Zdenek Grygera and goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer. Jol’s side has scored just 18 goals in 16 league matches this season – six in one match – highlighting the Zamora’s importance.

Despite dropping out of the Champions League, and the Reds intermittent form since defeat to City in September, United’s 39 points from 16 matches is five better that at the same point last season. Ferguson’s side has won three additional games and scored more goals to boot. Few will bet against United adding to the tally on Wednesday.

Match Facts
Fulham versus Manchester United, Premier League, Craven Cottage, Wednesday 21 December 2011, 8pm.

Likely Line-ups
Fulham (4-4-2): Stockdale; Baird, Hangeland, Senderos, JA Riise; Dempsey, Murphy, Etuhu, Dembele; Zamora, Ruiz. Subs from: Etheridge, Kelly, Hughes, Gecov, Duff, Frei, Sa, Johnson, Briggs, Somogyi, Kasami.

United (4-4-1-1): De Gea; Smalling, Ferdinand, Evans, Evra; Nani, Jones, Carrick, Young; Rooney; Welbeck. Subs from: Lindegaard, Fryers, Park, Pogba, Valencia, Cole, Diouf, Giggs, Macheda, Berbatov.

Form
Fulham: DLWLDW
United: DLWLWW

Performance stats

  • Rooney and Carrick were on target as United beat QPR 2-0 on Sunday at Loftus Road. Rooney’s strike was his 12th goal of the season, a return from 66 efforts at goal;
  • Meanwhile, Carrick’s goal was his first of the Premier League season, and came from an all-action performance in which the midfielder covered more ground than any other United player with 5.78 miles;
  • Despite United’s upturn in results, Ferguson’s side now has only two two players in the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index‘ top twenty – Rooney and Nani;
  • Despite criticisms that he is no longer the player he once was, Rio Ferdinand has done more than any other United player defensively with 57 across tackles, blocks, interceptions and clearances. That’s one every 17 minutes 59 seconds;
  • Carrick is the next United player in the ranks for most frequent defensive contributions with one every 18 minutes 38 seconds;
  • Clint Dempsey and Bryan Ruiz scored within two minutes of each other to seal a 2-0 win over Bolton in Fulham’s last Premier League outing;
  • Fulham out-ran Bolton with 62.18 miles to 61.48 in the game, with striker Bryain Ruiz covering the most ground with 6.4 miles followed by fellow scorer Demsey with 6.24 miles;
  • The pair were rewarded for a goal and an assist each in that game by moving up in the Index. Ruiz climbed 47 places and Dempsey 30;
  • Dempsey’s goal was his fifth in the Premier League from 59 shots at goal, the fourth highest shots total of any player at one every 29 minutes 12 seconds.

Officials
Referee: Mark Halsey (Welwyn Garden City)
Assistants: R Ganfield, D C Richards
Fourth Official: P Walton

Reds win but with little panache

Ed April 10, 2011 Tags: , Matches 10 comments

It says something for the recent upturn in Manchester United’s performances that securing a 10 point Premier League lead in beating Fulham at Old Trafford on Saturday came with its disappointments. United beat Mark Hughes’ mid-table Londoners but there was little convincing about the Reds’ 15th home victory of the season. Yet, with Arsenal not in action until Sunday, United take a commanding lead into the last six matches of the Premier League campaign.

Goals from Dimitar Berbatov and Antonio Valencia sealed the win but Fulham can feel unfortunate not to have taken something out of the match. Indeed, the Londoners started brightly and will point to the minor details, which changed a game that rarely shone as bright as the unseasonal Manchester weather. Berbatov benefited from whatever doubt there may have been in being ruled onside on 12 minutes and then a deflection on Nani’s cross enabled Valencia to nod home just the second goal of an injury hit season.

“It was a result but I wouldn’t say it was a job well done at all,” said manager Sir Alex Ferguson.

“We were a bit casual and lackadaisical. In the first half we played some very good football and could have scored a couple more, but we became wasteful with our possession in the second and might have suffered for that.”

Berbatov’s goal was the 22nd of a fruitful if sometimes frustrating season and a beautifully worked team strike at that. Yet the Bulgarian rarely sparkled as he had done in United’s second-half comeback at West Ham United last week. If the striker was often subdued, then his colleagues often followed suit, prompted perhaps by the eight changes made by Ferguson.

“You trust the squad. It wasn’t a risk when you know the players. I picked the right team,” added Ferguson.

Ferguson’s use of his full squad was never in doubt and the absent Wayne Rooney, banned for two matches this week by the Football Association for use of foul language, would probably have started on the bench. Still, with Javier Hernández, Rio Ferdinand, Rafael da Silva and Edwin van der Sar all rested, United’s performance was understandably disjointed at times.

United has dropped only two points at home in the league this season and with Chelsea at Old Trafford on Tuesday Ferguson will be pleased to chalk off another three points.

Yet Fulham could easily have taken the lead before Berbatov’s controversial early strike. Recalled Pole Tomasz Kuszczak, who confirmed yesterday he will leave United in the summer, saved long-range efforts from Gael Kakuta and Moussa Dembele, while Bobby Zamora wasted a good early chance by firing high and wide.

However, in width United possessed the game’s two most dangerous figures. Nani on the left and Valencia on the opposite flank consistently create openings for the hosts. Nani’s mazy run, and exchange of passes with the returning Anderson, created the opening for Berbatov’s strike. The Portuguese then set up Valencia for the second ten minutes later, beating Mark Schwartzer to a loose ball before crossing with the aid of a deflection.

The two assists takes the former Sporting player to 18 for the season and nine goals, although incredibly not on to the PFA Player of the Year shortlist. The much-lauded Gareth Bale, by contrast, has seven goals and one assist in the Premier League to his name.

The early goals enabled United to take a degree of control in an Old Trafford atmosphere that will surely be more lively in Gary Neville’s recently announced testimonial, which will take place in mid-May.

Anderson, not for the first time, should have scored but screwed his shot wide, and then Chris Smalling headed just wide against his former club. Further chances were wasted by Anderson and Darron Gibson could have increased United’s lead in the second half, although the visitors again gave as good as they got.

“They could win everything,” added Hughes, whose relationship with the United manager has never been anything less that spikey.

“They are ticking games off and when you get to this stage of the season, they have been here, understand what needs to happen and what it takes. It is a big ask. Sir Alex would say himself it is very difficult to do, but trust me, it is something they will try and achieve. Good luck to them.”

Indeed, with United one up in the Champions League quarter-final against Chelsea, 10 points ahead of Arsenal in the Premier League and facing inconsistent Manchester City in the FA Cup semi final, Untied supporters have every right to dream.

In Europe the path to a third final in four years is open, with United likely to meet mid-table German side Schalke in the semi-finals should Ferguson’s side overcome Chelsea on Tuesday night. Meanwhile, winnable games against Everton and Newcastle United come before the Reds face Arsenal and Chelsea in early may.

It is indeed a remarkable season. In many ways United’s side without “stardust” is seemingly the worst at Old Trafford for five years. Yet nothing supersedes the results, which now point to another historic season.

Match Facts
United – 451 – Kuszczak; O’Shea, Smalling, Vidic, Evra; Valencia (Owen 73), Gibson, Scholes, Anderson (Fabio Da Silva 76), Nani (Carrick 87); Berbatov

Fulham – 442 – Schwarzer; Hughes, Hangeland, Baird, Salcido; Dempsey, Murphy (Greening 82), Etuhu (Gera 67), Kakuta; Zamora, Dembele (Gudjohnsen 55)

Attendance – 75,339
Man of the Match – Nani

Possession: United 54% – 46% Fulham
Attempts: 16 – 12
On Target: 12 – 5
Corners: 8 – 3
Fouls: 12 – 8

Fergie circles United wagons ahead of Fulham tie

Ed April 9, 2011 Tags: , Matches 59 comments

Sir Alex Ferguson has accused the Football Association of victimizing his Manchester United team, with the 69-year-old Scot claiming that it is now “an obvious trend” within the governing body. The FA has handed out a five-match touchline ban to the United manager and a two-match playing ban to striker Wayne Rooney in the past month, with the Reds’ management vigorously contesting each sanction.

Indeed Ferguson, whose side meets 10th placed Fulham at Old Trafford on Saturday, accused the FA of pressuring referee Lee Mason to alter his post-match report after United’s victory at the Boleyn Ground last weekend.

“He was put under pressure [by the FA], there is no doubt about that. He’s now put himself in the spotlight and if he doesn’t send a player off for swearing the question will be: has he got double standards? It’s a very difficult position. I don’t know how his career is going to go now.”

And asked if he believed the two-match ban imposed by the FA, was fair, Ferguson said: “I don’t know if you can use that word ‘fair’ any longer.”

“But we can use it. The support will be fantastic now. You watch it. It will be absolutely magnificent. And the players are absolutely brilliant.”

But if off-the-field events have dominated this week’s headlines then Ferguson is at least boosted by an almost fully fit squad for the Londoners’ visit. While Brazilian youngster Rafael da Silva will miss the game with a dead leg, fellow defenders Wes Brown and John O’Shea return following injury, although Jonny Evans is suspended.

Ferguson will also welcome back midfielder Anderson, who scored twice in United reserves’ 2-1 victory over Manchester City this week. The 22-year-old Brazilian has missed two months with a knee injury but could make the bench, with Paul Scholes also in line for a return to United’s midfield. Nani is likely to be given another rest, with the Portuguese winger looking jaded in recent weeks.

Manchester United v Fulham, Old Trafford, 9 April 2011Indeed, Ferguson may be tempted to protect key players ahead of United’s crunch Champions League quarter-final second leg with Chelsea on Tuesday night. While Rio Ferdinand came through the tie at Stamford Bridge without reaction, Ferguson could turn to Chris Smalling in defence. Meanwhile, with Rooney suspended Javier Hernandez and Dimitar Berbatov will start in attack.

Yet, Ferguson chose to focus on outside pressures, saying that recent events will strengthen United’s resolve to win a record 19th domestic title in May.

“I want us to make it clear that we can rise above recent problems and that we are a club who can overcome all difficulties and attempts to knock us off our perch,” Ferguson wrote in his programme notes for United Review.

“We have done it before, and we can do it again if we pull together at this vital stage of the season as we go from one major fixture to another. This is the fighting spirit that makes Manchester United such a great club, and which has helped us over the line to success so many times in the past.”

Meanwhile, former United favourite Mark Hughes is could be without winger Damien Duff, who is suffering from a sore Achilles but may make the bench. Defender Aaron Hughes is available after recovering from a head injury.

The west London club hasn’t won at Old Trafford since 2003 but boasts just one loss to United in the last four meetings between the sides. United must also guard against complacency with the Reds having taken 49 points from a possible 51 in their last 17 Premier League games at Old Trafford.

“Every game is difficult now,” midfielder Scholes added in United Review.

“Bolton at home proves it – that was a game we were expected to get three points from and we almost didn’t. The games aren’t turning out as people think they will. Bolton were very organised and had chances to win the game themselves. We know Fulham are a similar team. They like to get the ball down and play. They’ve got dangerous players and a manager who’s hungry for them to do well.

“It’s going to be difficult but, being at home, we’d like to think we can win it.”

With league games against Newcastle United and Everton coming after the cup double-header in this week, victory will be another huge step towards regaining the Premier League title. Indeed, should United win each of the next three the title will surely be heading to Old Trafford. And with Arsenal not in action until Sunday, United will move 10 points clear of the Gunners with victory today.

Opposition

Fulham – 4411 – Schwarzer; Baird, Hughes, Hangeland, Salcido; Davies, Etuhu, Murphy, Sidwell; Dempsey; Zamora. Subs from: Johnson, Dembele, Stockdale, Kelly, Gudjohnsen, Kakuta, Duff, Greening.

United
United – 442 – van der Sar; O’Shea, Vidic, Smalling, Evra; Valencia, Carrick, Scholes, Park; Berbatov, Hernandez. Subs from: Kuszczak, Owen, Bébé, Fabio, Obertan, Gibson, Nani, Anderson, Ferdinand, Giggs.

Officials
Referee: Mark Jones
Assistant referees: Stuart Burt & Scott Ledger
Fourth official: Michael Oliver

Form
United – DWWWWW
Fulham – DLDWLW