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Manchester United Fixtures

United Aim to Reclaim Top Spot against Cottagers

There’s nothing wrong with saying that it’d have been nice for Chelsea and Stoke City to hold a couple of important leads over the last several days, because the opportunity to take a seven-point lead with eight matches left would have been a fantastic one that would leave my soccer picks looking very healthy indeed.

But heading into the home stretch of a tight title race, any advantage is a helpful one, and with a win tonight over Fulham, Manchester United will be three points clear of City, who moved back to top spot with Saturday’s 1-1 draw at Stoke. And along with an advantage in points, United could also take an advantage in goal difference if they can crush the visiting Cottagers, who went down 5-0 to United at Craven Cottage in December.

Fulham have been one of the Premier League’s better home sides over the last few seasons, and after winning only one of their first six home games this season, they’re headed towards another solid home mark. But the same can’t be said for their away form, which is an issue yet again this season, as they’re only 2-5-7 away from home thus far. As it stands, they enter tonight 13th in the Premier League table, but they’re closer to seventh (Liverpool on 42) than the bottom three (QPR on 25).

The expectation is that tonight will go only one way, and that’s the expectation for good reason. Historically, United have thoroughly dominated Fulham, especially at Old Trafford. United have won seven in a row at home against Fulham since a 3-1 defeat in October 2003, and in those seven wins, United have outscored the Cottagers 20-3. Given that Fulham haven’t scored in their last four visits to Old Trafford and that they have scored only eight goals in 14 away matches this season, I imagine there are quite a few gambling folk out there who’ve confidently put down on a win to nil for United.

An in-form Clint Dempsey, who has 12 Premier League goals and 18 in all competitions this season, is sure to be a threat tonight, and so will January signee Pavel Pogrebnyak, who has five goals in five games since joining from VfB Stuttgart.

But United come in with 25 goals in their last nine league games, so there’s that. On to the lineups now, shall we?

Manchester United: De Gea; Rafael, Evans, Ferdinand, Evra; Valencia, Carrick, Giggs, Young; Rooney, Welbeck.

Subs: Amos, Jones, Berbatov, Smalling, Hernandez, Scholes, Cleverley.

Fulham: Schwarzer; Kelly, Hangeland, Hughes, Riise; Frei, Diarra, Dempsey, Dembele, Duff; Pogrebnyak.

Subs: Stockdale, Ruiz, Murphy, Senderos, Etuhu, Briggs, Trotta.