There was a point not too long ago where we had every reason to worry about United’s depth and how far it’d be able to carry us this season.
It can still be said that our depth isn’t what we’d like it to be, or what it will hopefully be come the start of next season, but Saturday’s 2-0 win over Fulham certainly offered up plenty of reason to feel confident about how our squad can see us through to a successful stretch run.
Many front lines would be severely weakened when forced to be without a world-class forward, and you’d think that there’d be even more of a hit when you choose to sit the club’s second-leading scorer and opt for a 4-5-1 instead of a 4-4-2.
But when that 4-5-1 is led by the leading scorer of the best domestic league in the world, a man who hasn’t even been first-choice recently at that, and you’re able to wrap up the maximum points within the first 30-odd minutes, you’re not doing too poorly in the depth department.
Being that United were coming off of arguably the most important win of the season, and that Saturday’s home matchup with Fulham preceded the game that’d, if only briefly (the briefer, the better), assume the title of the most important game of the season, and that several key players would be rested with that in mind, the visit from the Cottagers could have proven to be a tricky tie.
But even with Edwin Van der Sar, Rio Ferdinand, Ryan Giggs, Michael Carrick, and recent regular starter Javier Hernandez all withheld from the starting lineup, Rafael (cue the chorus of ‘again?’) and several others, including Darren Fletcher, out due to injury, and Wayne Rooney out serving the first half of his two-match domestic suspension, United moved one step closer to the Premier League title with relative ease.
While the aforementioned names were out (minus Carrick’s cameo late, late, late in the second half), Fulham still had to deal with Berbatov, Nani, and Antonio Valencia, which is a mighty formidable trio on any day of the week. And that mighty formidable trio ensured that United could relax for an hour instead of having to try to hold on or grind out a result like Chelsea did at home against Wigan in their 1-0 win.
The first two factored heavily in the first goal, which, as was the case in the 2-2 draw at Craven Cottage in August, came after little more than 10 minutes. While we may not always produce moments of technical and tactical brilliance, we know how to string together a quality move at least once in a while. That was the case on Wednesday for Rooney’s goal, and it was also the case for our first goal, with Berbatov’s deft (and daft) flick to Nani, who successfully took on a few Fulham defenders before an excellent one-two with Anderson, then did what he’s done so many times this season and turned provider, slotting the ball to Berbatov, who did what he’s done so many times this season and blasted it home.
He wasn’t nearly as unselfish when he elected to go for goal 20 minutes later instead of pulling the ball back for Berba with Mark Schwarzer in no position to make a save, but it ended up working out in our favor thanks to the perfect deflection and Valencia’s head being in the right place at the right time. As well as Valencia’s seamlessly slotted back into the side since his return from injury, the goal was well deserved, even if it required a little good fortune to happen.
Game, set, match, easy as 1, 2, 3. So, we’ll be coming into tomorrow night with a decided advantage on the scoreboard, but we’ll also have an advantage in freshness when it comes to our expected starters, which bodes very well for our prospects of being able to hold on to and expand said advantage.
It was nice to have that ten-point advantage at the top of the Premier League table for a night, and there was reason to feel hopeful that it could be at least nine after the weekend, but Arsenal pulled it back to seven with their 3-1 win at Blackpool and still have a game in hand, so there’s definitely still work left to be done to secure #19.
But whether we’re starting a full-strength lineup or without regular starters by choice or by force, we’re on a roll right now, and heading into our most important match of the season to date, that’s just where you’d like to be.
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