Fulham have been one of our toughest opponents in recent seasons, especially at Craven Cottage. In United’s last two visits, Fulham came out victorious. Now, United will have to break the trend to continue their winning start to the season. Former Red Devil Mark Hughes has taken over in the hot seat at Fulham. While it always adds a bit of intrigue to compete against former-players-turned-manager, Hughes stint at rivals City could make this match up even more heated.
Fulham started off the season with a goalless draw against Bolton, while United kick started their season with a 3-0 win over Newcastle. Regardless of results, Craven Cottage has been a tough fixture in recent seasons. I think Fulham is still hurting from the departure of Roy Hodgson, which could play into United’s favor. There is no doubt that Fulham is a strong team though. They’re fresh off a trip to the Europa League final last season, and new manager aside, they have a good squad.
Fulham’s success at home last season could be contributed to United’s defensive injury crisis at that time. Barring Rio Ferdinand and Owen Hargreaves, United should head to London with a full squad.
I can’t see Sir Alex straying far from the winning formula he put together against Newcastle last week. With that said, I think Paul Scholes and John O’Shea will be the changes in the squad. Scholes can no longer play every match and I think Sir Alex will use this one to get him some rest. My exclusion of O’Shea has a lot to do with my love of Rafael. In most cases I think Sir Alex would tend to go more conservative away from home and use a more defense-oriented back like O’Shea, but I also think he’ll want to give the Brazilian a chance to finally stake his claim in the right back position.
I’d love nothing more than to see Wayne Rooney and Chicharito start up top, but I think Dimitar Berbatov will be rewarded another start for his performance against Newcastle. Sir Alex spoke Friday about Rooney’s lack of match fitness, so I wouldn’t be shocked to see Chicharito come on to replace him again at Craven Cottage. Though, Owen is also in need of some games, so he may see some action against Fulham as well.
Meanwhile, Nani and Valencia seem to have secured their places as the starting wingers and I don’t think Sir Alex will mess with that pairing against a team as strong as Fulham, especially taking into consideration our recent history against them. And as long as Vidic and Evra are fit and available, it’s hard to bit against Sir Alex not selecting them.
The two key players for Fulham will be Brede Hangeland and Bobby Zamora. Hangeland has attracted attention from Europe’s top clubs the past few transfer windows and may be able to quiet United’s attack; while Zamora scored 19 goals last season as he lead the club in scoring. As an American, I’m also going to throw Clint Dempsey’s name into the mix. The midfielder is wonderfully talented and may provide the spark Fulham need in midfield to unlock United’s defense.
Strong squad and top players aside, my gut is telling me United are going to snap their two match losing streak at Craven Cottage and continue their strong start to the season. My money is on Berbatov to continue his goal scoring start to the season, while I think Chicharito will finally grab is Premier League debut goal.
Prediction: United 2, Fulham 0
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