Old Trafford, Manchester
Saturday, August 25, 14:00 GMT
Old Trafford prepares for United’s first home game of the season with the visit of Martin Jol’s exciting Fulham side. The two teams couldn’t have had a more contrasting start to their campaign; while the Red Devils lost at Goodison Park, the Cottagers were rampant in a five goal thrashing of Norwich City. Nevertheless, expect normalcy to return to proceedings as Sir Alex Ferguson and United will look to impose themselves on their high flying opponents at the Theatre of Dreams.
Over the years, Fulham have found it extremely tough, bordering on the impossible, to get anything at Old Trafford but that’s the case with most visiting sides. Fulham should take heart from their last outing where Jol’s side was peerless. Definitely adding to their joy would be United’s injury ravaged defense which was time and again put under pressure by the tall and imposing Marouane Fellaini. Everton’s brutal physical game that worked so well against the Red Devils could act as the blue print for Martin Jol, although one feels Fulham’s natural game points to the contrary. The games is tantalizingly poised and could prove to be a real humdinger. Will United’s new signings finally bed in and lift the roof at the Theatre of Dreams, or will Fulham break their OT hoodoo?
Team News & Tactical Brief
United’s injury problems at the back came to the fore at the Goodison Park as a makeshift central defensive pairing of Michael Carrick and half-fit Nemanja Vidic was completely outclassed by Marouane Fellaini. Although the Belgian would have terrorized even the best defenders on that day, his job was made a lot easier by the second string United defence. Sir Alex must have left Merseyside a worried man and it won’t be surprising if he brings back Jonny Evans ahead of schedule. The Irishman was a like a rock at the back in the latter half of last season in the absence of Vidic and he will be expected to fill the void left by Ferdinand who has joined fellow center-backs Chris Smalling and Phil Jones on the injury list. Apart from the defenders, only Darren Fletcher is not available for selection but the manager will be pleased from the recovery shown by the midfielder who played the full 90 minutes in the U-21 league last weekend.
The return of Jonny Evans will mean a lot stable defence for the home team. His return to the central defensive position alongside Vidic will lend the much needed cover for De Gea which was clearly lacking against Everton. Rafael, who was left out in the opening game due to lack of height, is also expected to return to the starting line-up making it a back four consisting of all regular defenders. Evra will continue to keep his place at left-back despite the arrival of new signing Alexander Buttner.
The return of Evans will also enable Carrick to play in his familiar role in central midfield. His absence was one of the crucial factors in the number of chances created by Everton as the Cleverley-Scholes partnership was struggling to provide cover for the back-four. Carrick should be partnered by Tom Cleverley, who had a commendable game on Monday. The youngster was involved in the thick of things against Moyes’ men and should continue to keep his place in the starting line-up. While Carrick is expected to be involved as a deep lying playmaker, Cleverley will be looking to be involved in the passing routines further up the pitch. However, if Evans is not available, Carrick will move to central defence with Anderson or Scholes playing in midfield.
Up-front, Robin van Persie is set to make his first start for his new club and is expected to lead the line after Ferguson’s remarks the other day about him not being properly used by his team-mates. The former Arsenal man will be looking to play on the shoulder of the last defender, occasionally drifting out wide to pose different problems for the Fulham defence. He will be ably supported by Rooney, Kagawa and Valencia who will be part of the attacking quartet. Kagawa, who had an excellent debut at Everton, will be playing in the free role behind van Persie while Rooney is expected to start in the left. However, Rooney and Kagawa will be seen switching positions from time to time. Valencia, who had a good stint at right-back in the last game, should replace Nani on the right wing providing width to the United setup.
Probable Starting Line-up (4-2-3-1): De Gea; Rafael, Evans, Vidic, Evra; Carrick, Cleverley; Valencia, Kagawa, Rooney; RvP
Martin Jol, contrary to his counterpart, has almost no injury worries at the start of the season. While Senderos, Frei and Davies will be missing the game, as they did against Norwich, none of them was expected to start for the Cottagers who outclassed the Canaries on the opening day. However, one man who will be missing and would have surely been in the starting line-up is Clint Dempsey. The American has been making the headlines due to his transfer request to Liverpool, and was not included in the opening matchday squad. Yet, without Dempsey, the Cottagers’ performance was nothing short of brilliant against an ordinary Norwich side and would have given the players great confidence going into this game at Old Trafford.
Jol is expected to name an unchanged line-up for the game against last season’s runners-up; however, he might opt to be a little more defensive in his approach at the Theatre of Dreams. Bryan Ruiz, who was playing just behind new arrival Petric, is expected to play in a much deeper role, alongside Dembele. Those two will be responsible for creating Fulham’s openings while Diarra will be given the responsibility of protecting the back four from the attacking prowess of United.
Petric will be leading the line once again and will be looking to continue with his good form shown on the opening day. He will be aided from the wings by Damien Duff and Kacaniklic. While the striker earned a lot of praise for the Noriwch annihilation, the wingers were equally responsible for the attacking display from the Cottagers. A lot of Fulham’s attacks were from the wide position and it is expected to be much the same against United as Ruiz and Dembele will be looking to pass the ball out wide on every opportunity.
At the back, Hangeland and Hughes will be taking up the responsibility in central defence while Riether and John Arne Riise will be the full-backs for the visitors. Schwarzer, as always, will be the guarding the goal. The full-backs are not expected to go too much forward in this game, but the center-backs will be a handful for Jol’s side in set piece situations.
Probable Starting Line-up (4-1-4-1): Schwarzer; Riether, Hughes, Hangeland, Riise; Diarra; Duff, Ruiz, Dembele, Kacaniklic; Petric
- Manchester United have not conceded a goal in Fulham’s last five trips to Old Trafford.
- Martin Jol has drawn 2 and lost 6 out of his eight games against Fergie’s men in the Premier League.
- The Cottagers have scored just 9 goals in their last 14 away games.
Statistics courtesy uk.yahoo.eurosport
Player To Watch Out For
The Dutchman is expected to make his first start for the Red Devils and all eyes will be on him after his move from the Emirates stadium. Van Persie is expected to add a new dimension to the United attack and his partnership with Wayne Rooney is a mouthwatering prospect for fans around the globe. Last season’s ‘Footballer of the year’ will be looking to justify the faith of his new manager and if he is able to match his last season’s form, Martin Jol’s side will be in a lot of trouble.
Manchester United 3-1 Fulham
It will be attacking game with both team’s creating ample opportunities to score. Although Fulham are clear second favorites going into the game, they will create problems for the home side with the talent present in their ranks. However, United’s quality will prove a bridge too far for Fulham to cross as new signings Kagawa and van Persie will be in the mood to dazzle the fans at their new home.
Blast From The Past