Premier League | Old Trafford | Sun 9 Feb | 4pm
A nailed-on win even by Manchester United standards.
It’s about time Man United’s rivals were given something to chuckle about. Five titles in the last seven seasons under Sir Alex Ferguson was getting a bit silly after all, despite rival fans’ regular sighs that the champions were still doing it without having to be all that.
MAN UNITED FORM
- Stoke 2-1 Man Utd (Prem)
- Man Utd 2–0 Cardiff (Prem)
- Man Utd 2–1p S'land (LC)
- Chelsea 3–1 Man Utd (Prem)
- Man Utd 2–0 Swansea (Prem)
- Fulham 0-1e Sheffield Utd (FAC)
- Fulham 0-3 So'ton (Prem
- Swansea 2–0 Fulham (Prem)
- Sheffield Utd 1–1 Fulham (FAC)
- Arsenal 2–0 Fulham (Prem)
This season a combination of things have made life utterly miserable for David Moyes in his first campaign in charge. Sure, his side have fallen apart on the pitch, but a transitional year with a team that needed work was inevitable. The injuries and plain old bad luck so uncommon under Ferguson have been genuine issues.
Mostly, though, it’s because the Old Trafford side’s rivals have finally woken up. Manchester City are making up for last season’s half-arsed title defence, while Chelsea finally look capable of a genuine challenge.
Arsenal fans would have laughed in your face with knowledge of a league lead and 15-point advantage over their beleaguered rivals in July. Last season none of them were viable candidates.
Defeat at Stoke last weekend epitomised the champions’ campaign so far: though Moyes was able to start 'Juan van Rooney' for the first time, Phil Jones and Jonny Evans were both injured and the Potters’ opening goal came via an agonising deflection off Michael Carrick.
With 14 games remaining it’s now all about chasing down the seven-point gap behind fourth-placed Liverpool. The Europa League simply won’t do for Manchester United.
Still, though, could it be worse? Normally things can’t decline too badly for a team propping up the rest – but for Fulham, they can.
The Cottagers’ woes are piling up on a weekly basis, and, aside from the useful-looking signing of Olympiakos’s Kostas Mitroglou, this last month has been utterly dreadful for Rene Meulensteen’s side.
Since New Year’s Day they’ve lost four league games in a row, two of which were against sides struggling for form in the bottom half.
Last weekend they were spanked 3-0 at home by Southampton and to compound their misery, the west Londoners were embarrassingly dumped out of the FA Cup by third-tier Sheffield United.
If you’re to believe the papers, Meulensteen could be out of a job after just two months in charge (which, to his credit, would be an improvement on the 16-day reign at Anzhi Makhachkala – baby steps, Rene). So with this trip to Old Trafford followed by Wednesday’s visit of Liverpool, Fulham fans should probably ignore football for at least another week. Surely, surely, even United can’t fluff this one.
Jones (concussion) and Evans (hamstring) should return to contention after being forced off at Stoke, while Rio Ferdinand’s knee shouldn’t keep him out much longer. Marouane Fellaini (wrist *snigger*) is back, but Nani (hamstring, but who cares?) is still sidelined.
Fulham are sweating on the fitness of new boy Mitroglou, and will hope full-backs Sascha Riether (calf) and Kieran Richardson (ankle) are fit. John Arne Riise (hamstring) isn’t too far off after a three-game absence.
Player to watch: Ashley Young (Man United)
The much-maligned winger is still to convince United fans of his worth, but in Moyes’ wide game the England man is a crucial element. A goal-and-assist display against Cardiff earned him a start at the Britannia Stadium, but in Staffordshire Young saw much less of the ball. That reduced his link-up with his team-mates, and forced him into crossing earlier and more often – in the end only 1 of his 9 efforts found a United shirt. Rather than cutting inside to influence play centrally (a strategy which earned him his goal against the Bluebirds), the former Aston Villa man played with chalk on his boots. If selected he should find more joy against weaker opposition.
LAST FIVE MEETINGS
- Fulham 1-3 Man Utd (PL, Nov 13)
- Fulham 0-1 Man Utd (PL, Feb 13)
- Man Utd 4-1 Fulham (FAC, Jan 13)
- Man Utd 3-2 Fulham (PL, Aug 12)
- Man Utd 1-0 Fulham (PL, Mar 12)
Meulensteen was one of Ferguson’s most trusted aides in two spells spanning 11 years at United. But the Dutchman’s time at Old Trafford was up when Moyes made the manager’s office his own last summer.
Now times are troubled for the man who replaced Martin Jol, but the 49-year-old was defiant about his future after Tuesday’s dismal FA Cup exit: “I just keep doing my job as best as I can,” he said. “I have no worries at all.”
TIPS & TRENDS
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Facts and figures
- Man United have won 11 of 12 Premier League meetings with Fulham at Old Trafford.
- Since 2008/09 Man United have won 29 of 30 home games against bottom-six sides with 21 of the last 24 wins coming having been ahead at half-time.
- Fulham have lost 9 of 11 away matches with 8 defeats to nil and losses by more than 1 goal.
- 7 of Fulham’s last 9 matches have seen more goals in the second half than the first.
- Man United have failed to score more than once in 7 of 12 home games this season.
More FFT Stats Zone facts
Much-needed respite for Moyes – and a big boost ahead of Wednesday’s trip to Arsenal. 2-0.