Manchester United will be aiming to return to the top four for the first time since the first day of the season when they take on Fulham at Craven Cottage.

Premier League football continues this weekend with Gameweek 26. The first match of the latest Matchday will see two sides from the opposite spectrum of top-flight football locking horns, as Fulham play hosts to Manchester United at Craven Cottage in Saturday’s lunch-time kick-off, hoping to record back-to-back home wins for the first time this season.

Fulham have been embroiled in the relegation battle for pretty much the entire season. In fact, the Cottagers have their worst record after 25 matches of a league season: W4, D5, L16. But, fifteen of their 17 points this season have been earned at Craven Cottage, with the hosts winning two of their last three games at home – fine form, considering their position on the table.

Manchester United, on the other hand, are only going from strength under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, having won nine of their ten games under the Norwegian, who is now reportedly being seriously considered for the full-time job. But, having been run close in each of their last three league games, Solskjaer will be eager to get the goals flowing again .

The reverse fixture, played at Old Trafford in December, saw Manchester United coast to a 4-1 win, in what was one of Jose Mourinho’s final games in-charge of the club. Ahead of the latest meeting between the two sides, The Hard Tackle takes a closer look at the encounter.

Team News & Tactics

Fulham

Fulham need Mitrovic at his best to even harbour hopes of a shock win. (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)

Fulham need Mitrovic at his best to even harbour hopes of a shock win. (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)

Claudio Ranieri does not have many pressing injury concerns hampering his preparations for the visit of Manchester United. On Saturday, the Fulham boss is likely to be without just three first-team players due to fitness issues, while Timothy Fosu-Mensah is ineligible to play against his parent club Manchester United as part of the terms of his loan deal.

Marcus Bettinelli (knock) and Alfie Mawson (knee) are on the treatment table due to their respective injuries, while Havard Nordtveit will miss out due to a lack of match fitness. Nordtveit though, should be available in the next league games in two weeks to make his Fulham debut.

Fellow January arrival, Lazar Markovic has improved his match fitness and is in contention to make his Fulham bow, although Ranieri has suggested that the former Liverpool winger is only likely to make an appearance off the bench. Meanwhile, Cyrus Christie and Andre Schurrle have shrugged off their respective knocks, and are likely to start.

Schurrle should replace club captain Tom Cairney on the right side of the Fulham attack, meaning Aleksandar Mitrovic will be donning the armband against Manchester United. Ryan Babel is expected to complete the Fulham attack, and his performance will be key, as far as Mitrovic’s returns are concerned.

In midfield, Jean-Michael Seri will have Calum Chambers as his partner. The Arsenal loanee will be tasked with keeping Paul Pogba quiet on Saturday, while Seri will be aiming to drive the hosts forward from the middle of the park. Christie and Joe Bryan should be the full-backs, who will need to be clinical with their end product in the final third.

At the back, Tim Ream, Maxime Le Marchand and Denis Odoi should man the three-man defensive unit, while Sergio Rico will likely be a busy man in the Fulham goal.

Probable Lineup (3-4-3): Rico; Odoi, Le Marchand, Ream; Christie, Chambers, Seri, Bryan; Schurrle, Mitrovic, Babel

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Manchester United

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has a couple of fresh injury problems to deal with ahead of the trip to the capital. But, neither of the absentees present a pressing concern, with bit-part defenders Antonio Valencia and Matteo Darmian struggling with knocks.

Meanwhile, Marcos Rojo has trained this entire week after finally putting his injury troubles behind him, although the Argentine is still some way off being fully match-fit. Chris Smalling is now available, and should return to the starting lineup against Fulham.

Giving him company at the heart of the Manchester United defence, should be Phil Jones, who will be bouyed by the announcement of his contract extension. Meanwhile, Ashley Young, like Victor Lindelof is likely to be rested, keeping the UEFA Champions League game against PSG in mind. Diogo Dalot should thus, be the right-back, with Luke Shaw lining up on the opposite flank.

In midfield, Fred would have hoped to get a rare start, with Ander Herrera likely being preserved for the midweek tie. But, the Brazilian has not travelled to the capital for Saturday’s clash, meaning Herrera should partner Nemanja Matic in the midfield double pivot. Paul Pogba should keep his place too as the attacking midfielder.

Up ahead in attack, Marcus Rashford is in line for a rest, with Solskjaer unlikely to risk him immediately after shrugging off a dead leg. In Rashford’s stead, Romelu Lukaku should lead the line for Manchester United, with the Fulham game being crucial for the Belgian to convince Solskjaer of his value in the squad.

The two wide slots are likely to be taken up by Anthony Martial, who is now fully fit, and Alexis Sanchez, who will be playing for his place against PSG.

Probable Lineup (4-2-3-1): de Gea; Dalot, Smalling, Jones, Shaw; Herrera, Matic; Sanchez, Pogba, Martial; Lukaku

Manchester United

Betting Odds

Favourable Bets

1. Manchester United to win @ 1.61

2. Over 2.5 Match Goals @ 1.61

3. Romelu Lukaku to score anytime @ 2.05

Underdog Bets

1. Romelu Lukaku to score 2 or more @ 6.00

Key Stats

  • Manchester United are unbeaten in their last 11 Premier League meetings with Fulham, winning nine of those matches and drawing two.
  • Fulham are aiming to win back-to-back Premier League home matches for the first time since April 2013.
  • Manchester United are looking to win a sixth consecutive away match in all competitions for the first time since May 2009.
  • Fulham have lost 22 of their last 23 Premier League meetings against the ‘Big Six’ sides, with the only exception being a 2-2 draw at Manchester United five years ago.
  • Aleksandar Mitrovic’s 10 goals account for 40% of Fulham’s total in this season’s Premier League – the highest proportion of a team’s goals by any player in the top flight.

Player to Watch

Ryan Babel

Can Babel condemn the Red Devils to their first defeat under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. (Photo by Marc Atkins/Getty images)

Can Babel condemn the Red Devils to their first defeat under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. (Photo by Marc Atkins/Getty images)

Ryan Babel’s addition to the Fulham squad has proven to be a positive thus far, even though the Cottagers have lost two of the three games he has played. A closer inspection points towards the increased potency of Aleksandar Mitrovic, who is quite easily the most important player in Claudio Ranieri’s squad.

Babel’s performance on Saturday will, therefore, be crucial if Fulham are to harbour any hopes of stopping the Manchester United juggernaut. In the process, the Dutchman will also have the added motivation of hurting the bitter rivals of former club Liverpool, which only spices things up. An intriguing performance beckons.

Prediction

Fulham 1-4 Manchester United

Manchester United have seen their momentum slow down to an extent, although last week’s 1-0 win over Leicester City showed that they are also learning how to grind out the result under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. But, Fulham’s style of play should aid their cause, even though the interim boss is likely to shuffle his side somewhat.

Indeed, bottom-of-the-table Huddersfield are the only side to fail to score at Craven Cottage in this season’s Premier League. So, it will hardly be surprising if Manchester United find the back of the net on Saturday. But, the Cottagers are unlikely to concede the match without putting up a fight.

Claudio Ranieri’s side should score at least one goal, but expect Manchester United to be largely comfortable on the day. The Hard Tackle predicts a 4-1 win for Solskjaer’s men, which should see them return to the top four ahead of Chelsea’s game against Premier League champions Manchester City on Sunday.

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