After a comfortable win over Newcastle on the opening day of the season, Manchester United face a much tougher task in West-London as they visit Craven Cottage to play Fulham side under the tutelage of United legend Mark Hughes.
Going into the match Sir Alex Ferguson will be well aware of his dismal recent record at Craven Cottage as United have lost their last two matches at the venue – 2-0 and 3-0 respectively. Something Sir Alex is all to aware of,
“We’ve had a bit of a topsy-turvy time at Craven Cottage the last couple of years,” Sir Alex concedes. “We ended up with nine men two years ago, and then last season we’d gone too far with the players we were using at the back.”
United are still without long-term knee victims Rio Ferdinand, Anderson and Owen Hargreaves, while Patrice Evra should be fit after a clash with the advertising boards in the dying stages of the Newcastle win.
The back five should remain unchanged but it will be interesting to see if Ferguson starts will Paul Scholes, who is clearly in top form but age has caught up with the ginger ninja, so he may be used sparingly by the manager. Nani and Antonio Valencia both impressed last week, but Ji-Sung Park may get his first league start of the season.
Wayne Rooney is likely to miss the match with a stomach bug thus leaving a starting place up front alongside Dimitar Berbatov. Will Javier ‘Chicharito’ Hernandez get the not, or will Sir Alex go win an older head in Michael Owen?
One point to note is that Fergie has never lost a game to a club managed by one of his former protégés, adding weight to Sunderland boss Steve Bruce’s suggestion that Ferguson tries even harder in such fixtures. Something Fulham boss Mark Hughes agrees with,
“Invariably he seems to pick his strongest team against me, but I take that as a sign of the respect he has for the teams I’m involved with, because he knows I set up my teams to give his a hard time,” agreed Hughes.
“He likes to make sure we know our place, and rightly so! He’s always competitive, and, obviously, going up against guys he’s previously worked with, he’s always supportive of us, but he always likes to beat you. That doesn’t change.” Hughes concluded.
Goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer and defender Paul Konchesky, who both missed the match against Bolton last week, are rated doubtful for the game. Though Konchesky will have a late fitness test. Diomansy Kamara, Andrew Johnson and new signing Philippe Senderos are long-term absentees, but Belgium international Moussa Dembele could be thrown straight into action after only signing this week.
United though will have to keep striker Bobby Zamora quiet, he was Fulham’s top scorer last year with 19 goals and scored in the 3-0 victory over United last December. Clint Dempsey is another who can get amongst the goals especially when arriving late into the box from midfield.
Comfort though can be taken from the fact that United have won 10 of their last 12 games against Fulham in all competitions.
Prediction: 2-0 United
Probable Line Up: van der Sar, O’Shea, Evans, Vidic, Evra; Valencia, Fletcher, Scholes, Nani; Berbatov, Hernandez
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