Wayne Rooney scored the only goal for Manchester United against Fulham
Manchester United continued their pursuit of a twentieth league championship with a 1-0 victory over Fulham, with Wayne Rooney getting the vital winner. Rooney latched onto to a long punt forward from Jonny Evans and slotted the ball past the helpless Mark Schwarzer. Fulham were far better than they were in the FA Cup match a week ago, and were unlucky in the first half not to take the lead through a Bryan Ruiz left footed shot. Here we take a look at the game’s talking points and welcome comments from both sets of fans.
Wayne Rooney saves United again
There was a time when United fans feared the worst when Wayne Rooney was not in the starting eleven, like Roy Keane and Bryan Robson before him. That burden has some what lifted with the purchase of Robin van Persie, but there is still no doubting his brilliance and importance to United. Over the years his goals have sometimes been the difference between winning and drawing a match and you sense his influence is starting to grow again.
Still only 27, it is hard to believe that he has led the Manchester United attack for eight and a half years. He has now scored United’s last three league goals, with a brace against Southampton earlier in the week, and he has notched up eleven goals against Fulham including five goals in his last five league appearances. His tally is now 13 goals, with ten in the league. Slowly, he is creeping up the goalscorer chart.
Against Fulham he operated, in the first half, just off Robin van Persie. He had a acrobatic kick cleared off the line and was unlucky not to open the scoring with a right footed curling shot that beat Schwarzer and slammed against the post. His selfless attitude saw him defending well from corners and then with the introduction of Javier Hernandez, Ferguson moved Rooney to the left hand side. The move would be critical, as Rooney was the only player to react from a long ball up the field from Evans. Hugging the left touchline, he anticipated that the ball would bounce and he read the play superbly. His finish was smart as he tucked it away in the far corner, with ten minutes left to play. He was shockingly poor in the 1-1 draw with Swansea City in December and picked up a few injuries over the Christmas period, so the break may have done him well as we enter the last four months of the season.
Fulham much improved from FA Cup
We mentioned in our match preview how poor Fulham had been in the FA Cup match against United last weekend, however yesterday saw a much improved performance from the West London side. The FA Cup fixture saw Fulham play so deep, the United goal was rarely threatened, with Carrick and Anderson driving forward with little pressure from Baird or Sidwell. Fulham were much better yesterday and had first half opportunities to take the lead.
John Arne Riise struck a brilliant left footed shot, which brought back thoughts of that unbelievable freekick he scored for Liverpool against United over years ago, which brought out a superb save from David De Gea. Bryan Ruiz, playing off of Hugo Rodallega, came even closer, striking De Gea’s left post. Martin Jol was without the mercurial talents of ex-Red Dimitar Berbatov, who picked up a hamstring injury against West Ham. However, the forced selection of Rodallega meant there was more of an outlet than there had been at Old Trafford. Berbatov likes to drop deep and rarely runs in behind, whereas the Colombian will make those runs, which allows Ruiz to threat some passes. Fulham had fifteen shots compared to nine the week before. A definite improvement from the week previous.
De Gea, Evans and Rio Ferdinand
With the England manager watching having read a few hours earlier that Rio Ferdinand prefers playing for United over England, it would be a monumental oversight if he thought that United’s number five could not do a job for the national side. He may have lost some pace and have had a number of injury concerns, but his reading of the game is still first class and his influence alongside the likes of Evans, Smalling and Jones will no doubt continue to improve their development. Ferdinand has more appearances in the league than Wayne Rooney, Nemanja Vidic and Tom Cleverley, which makes a mockery of those who question whether he is good enough to compete at the highest level still.
The England situation still baffles me and although it is to United’s gain, Ferdinand has always been very vocal about his desire to play International football. I spoke about his exclusion being down to the involvement of John Terry, which was met (in the comments) by a barrage of abuse. If you remove the spelling mistakes, obscenities and juvenile remarks, the general consensus was that he was over the hill. As his football has shown this season, both Roy Hodgson and those commentators have been proved quite wrong. To put a slight slant on the old football cliche about players being too young, if you’re good enough – you’re young enough.
Jonny Evans last played in the league for Manchester United against Wigan Athletic in the 4-0 victory over The Latics, before picking up in injury. His return against Fulham saw something in common with the 4-0 win, a clean sheet. United hadn’t kept a clean sheet in the league since that victory on New Year’s day, which speaks volumes for how Evans has developed into United’s top performing centre half at times. United host Everton on Sunday and then travel to Madrid for the first leg of their Champions League and there is a great chance Evans will step out alongside Rio Ferdinand at the Bernabeu. Back in 2010, an inexperienced Evans looked extremely nervy in the San Siro against Ronaldinho and co. Three years later, Ronaldo and co will face a much better, more assured player.
Lastly, David De Gea pulled off a string a great saves to keep a clean sheet. His acrobatic save to deny Riise’s dipping shot was superb. The young Spaniard is still developing and learning his trade in England and I still believe, despite reports, that he will be United’s keeper for many years to come. To simplify, he still has work to do with the physicality of the game and deal with crosses better. However, he has something you simply cannot teach and in the 3-0 victory over Newcastle United, he demonstrated both in the space of three seconds. Ferguson continues to stand by De Gea, which is no surprise considering his stubbornness and history with these matters. He knows when a player needs to be dropped and when he should play.
Lights out – for the 2nd time this season
A floodlight failure doesn’t happen very often, but United have had the fortune of TWO games being disrupted this season due to the lights going out. United were away in Braga earlier in the season, when the flood lights failed causing a lengthy delay to the fixture. The last time, before this season, United were involved in a game being disrupted (and in this case abandoned) was at the start of the 2004/05 season in the ‘Vodafone Cup’ against Urawa Red Diamonds. Football has come along way since United first played under floodlights at Old Trafford, against Bolton Wanderers in the 1956/57 season. Fixtures were rearranged in the 1970s so that matches would be played in the daylight rather than at night due to energy saving measures!
Manchester United’s 1-0 victory over Fulham was a well earned determined performance, which sparked memories of Ronaldo’s late winner at Craven Cottage in 2006/07. United then needed someone to step up and yesterday was no different. Rooney’s anticipation of the bouncing ball was the difference in the goal. Other players stood and watched the ball fly into the night sky, assuming it would be dealt with. Rooney gambled and it paid off. One other point that should have been raised was that the game warranted a scoreline greater than 1-0, due to the chances that fell to both sides. The woodwork was struck on multiple occasions, whilst Rafael and the extremely versatile Robin van Persie cleared off the line to deny Fulham. United dominated the possession, but the West Londoners had more chances. Ultimately, it was Rooney who provided that little bit extra.
Fulham boss Martin Jol believes United will go on to win the league, a statement bolstered by Manchester City dropping points at home to Liverpool on Sunday. Titles are won in May, not February, however there is no denying United’s position. Ferguson wouldn’t have dreamt United would have a nine point lead over their titles rivals by this stage of the season, but if there ever was a reminder of how you can lose a comfortable looking lead, it comes in the form of United’s next fixture. United host Everton next Sunday and thoughts will no doubt return to the incredible 4-4 draw, which saw United squander a two goal lead in the space of eight minutes. Ferguson will surely remind the players if this and will hope United put in a performance as determined as the one at Craven Cottage.