Coming after arguably our biggest win of the season and before our biggest game of the season, Saturday’s visit from Fulham could well be a troublesome match, but even without our player of the moment, there shouldn’t be any letdown from a United side that’s as high on confidence as it’s been all season.
United welcome Mark Hughes back to his old haunts off the heels of Wednesday night’s 1-0 Champions League quarterfinal win at Chelsea, their first win at Stamford Bridge in almost nine years.
With the second leg of the Chelsea tie coming on Tuesday, you would have to expect some key names to sit on Saturday. That could include Rio Ferdinand, who made his return and played the full 90 minutes against Chelsea after it was initially feared that he was lost for the season. Given that his presence is far more important for Tuesday than it is for Saturday, it would appear likely that Chris Smalling will slot into the starting lineup to face his former side.
One player won’t definitely won’t be on the pitch against Fulham is Wayne Rooney, whose two-match suspension for swearing in front of the TV cameras after sealing his hat trick against West Ham was upheld. With Rooney in fine form at the moment, it’ll be one less worry for the visitors, but there’s a good chance that he would have been rested on Saturday even if he wasn’t suspended. Not only is there the quick turnaround to consider, but Dimitar Berbatov deserves an extended runout after being used primarily as a substitute recently.
A win would put United 10 points clear of Arsenal at the top of the Premier League, and with the struggling Gunners visiting Blackpool on Sunday, there could well be an opportunity to come out of this weekend even closer to #19, even with Arsene Wenger’s side still possessing a game in hand.
The chances are high for United to do their part, as we’ve won six in a row at home against Fulham since a 3-1 loss in October of 2003. In those six wins, we’ve outscored the Cottagers 18-3, and we’ve held them scoreless in each of their last three trips to Old Trafford.
There’s no indication that things will be any different this time around. Fulham have posted only one win away from home this season, which is why they’re 10th instead of making a serious run at challenging Liverpool for sixth.
We let a win slip away against this same side in August in a 2-2 draw, the first of United’s many rollercoaster away trips this season. United took a late lead through a Brede Hangeland own goal, and shortly thereafter, Nani missed a penalty that would’ve all but salted the game away. That proved to be costly, as Hangeland atoned for his mistake by heading home the equalizer.
Those dropped points and all of the others that were dropped in similar positions haven’t come back to be as hurtful as it was once thought they could be, but with that said, it sure would’ve been nice to be even closer to the title than we are right now, wouldn’t it?
With Clint Dempsey having his best Premier League season and Bobby Zamora back and firing in the goals after being out of action for more than five months, Fulham have the firepower to cause a few problems a side that won’t be at full strength. But even without Rooney, United certainly have more than enough firepower and quality of their own to score a seventh straight home win over the Cottagers.
Prediction: Manchester United 2-0 Fulham
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