Friday, 8 April 2011

09/04/11 Fulham (h) - Match Preview

Fulham come to Old Trafford today for a game United should still see as a must-win.

Sandwiched between two Champions League quarter-final legs, only 76 hours before Chelsea aim to overturn a 1-0 deficit from the first leg at Stamford Bridge, this match won't be a formality.

No match at this stage of the season is a formality; it's squeaky bum time, remember?

The league is far from won. Arsenal will be expected to pick up all three points from Bloomfield Road on Sunday. The reds still have Chelsea to play and The Emirates to visit so slip up against Fulham and United's position at the top of the Premier League looks precarious again.

So what team should Sir Alex Ferguson pick?

I would confidently assume that Sir Alex will field a weakened side against the Cottagers, with perhaps more than just one eye on Tuesday's crucial Champions League encounter. I just hope that it's a 'weakened side' with the ability to comfortably beat Fulham, who are not to be taken lightly.

This is a team who have the ability to punish weakened United sides. Only last season the reds suffered a 3-0 defeat at Craven Cottage with a back three of Darren Fletcher, Michael Carrick, and young full-back Ritchie De Laet - and Michael Owen up front.

Fulham may come to Old Trafford today hoping for a draw at best, but they have they have players of opportunist breed capable of creating something out of nothing.

Bobby Zamora's opener against Blackpool on Sunday was evidence of this - the 30-year-old instinctively latched onto James Beattie's misplaced pass in midfield and carried the ball thirty yards before smashing an unstoppable right foot shot past Richard Kingson. The once-capped England striker looks to have hit the ground running after five months out injured, albeit against sluggish Blackpool.

Ever since his Liverpool days Danny Murphy has loved scoring against United - and had a canny knack of doing it. Clint Dempsey has been one of the league's best midfielders - the American is creative and is always a goalscoring threat. Damien Duff, like Murphy, has enjoyed the better of United on more than one occasion. Chris Baird may have only scored twice for his club but isn't afraid to shoot well from distance.

And then there's the manager.

Mark Hughes, who has beaten Fergie twice before as a manager, would love to banish the demons of Owen's last minute winner in United's 4-3 league victory over his Manchester City side last season - a game in which Hughes was left bitterly and unduly seething.

Hear me out, but here's something to consider(again): how long left do we have with Sir Alex watching over us?

He could go on managing United until there isn't a breath left in his body, and many suggest he will. Others suggest that he has one or two seasons left in him.

But what if his goal is to retire on a high? What are his motivations going into the business end of the 2010/11 season? Fergie has never kept quiet his desire to win three European Cups and equal Liverpool's Bob Paisley record as the only manager in history to do so. What if Fergie sees this season's competition as the best opportunity to do that, throw all his eggs in an Old Big Ears-shaped basket, and as a result allow our league run-in to suffer?

We have been far from our best at a consistent level in the league but our progression in Europe this season has been comprehensive; expert.

Then again, how does the cliche go? Playing badly but still winning is 'the hallmark of champions'.

Hopefully (and in all likelihood) I'm being paranoid, but if I see Darron Gibson's name in the starting XI later today I'll be worried.

So my team for the visit of Fulham, keeping in mind I am hopeful United can win league championship number 19 and to reach the Champions League final at Wembley, would be:


Kuszczak (played well against West Ham, Van Der Sar may need to rest his groin)

Evra (needs confidence after rickety display at Chelsea)
Smalling (with Rio sure to start against Chelsea, Smalling is ideal today)
Vidic (can handle the workload but should be replaced if we are cruising)
Fabio (his brother mustn't be rushed back and I would like to see Rafael start against Chelsea)

Scholes (to anchor midfield and give Carrick a rest to reproduce his display against Chelsea)
Anderson (to be given a creative role in a midfield looked-after by Scholes)
Park (Valencia shouldn't be given too much to deal with so soon after returning from a horrific long-term injury and should start against Chelsea)
Nani (has had a great season and although has looked off-pace on occasion, has never really looked tired)

Berbatov (I love Berbatov - he's had a great season in the league and long may it continue - but I would like to see Rooney/Hernandez against Chelsea)
Hernandez (because I expect him to score today and on Tuesday)

I would also like to note that no Michael Jackson or Grand National references were made in the making of this blog. I could have easily used the terms 'home stretch' or 'final furlong' in relation to the league run-in; and theorising about a Fergie swansong was screaming out for a mention of 'Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough'.

But I'm better than that.


1 comment:

  1. I've just realised that I spelled 'Kuszczak' correctly on the first attempt without looking it up.

    That's a first.