Manchester United 3-2 Fulham: a tale of two halves and various individuals

Author: Doron

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Old Trafford hosted its first league game of the season as United played Fulham. The opening round of games had thrown up contrasting fortunes for the two teams with United losing at Everton and Fulham thumping Norwich 5-0. Once again Carrick would have to start at the back with Ferdinand, Evans, Jones and Smalling still out injured. Fans were treated to appearances by two United supporting Olympic champions – Usain Bolt pre-match and Greg Rutherford at half time.

Fergie shuffles the pack

After the disappointing nature of the defeat at Everton coupled with the toothlessness up front, changes to the team were hoped for rather than expected. Ferguson’s not always picked a starting team that reflects form or sense but on this occasion it was hard to argue with his team. Nani (had frustrated), Rooney (had looked unfit) and Welbeck (simply rotated) were replaced as the attacking spearhead to the team changed. Valencia moved back to the wing with Young on the other side and a first start for Van Persie. Scholes also dropped out the side. Interestingly, Nani failed to even make the substitutes bench, fuelling speculation he could be set to leave the club (ludicrous when you consider that’d only leave us with two wingers and that despite the fact he frustrates, he’s often so vital).

The omission of Rooney gained the most attention. It had been speculated during the week that he may be benched with a surprisingly large number of fans hoping that would be the case. Whilst games are great for match-sharpness, fitness work can be done away from the pitch. Rooney needs to be both fit and sharp but he can only be expected to be sharp once fit. More to the point, the acquisition of Van Persie makes Rooney no longer exempt from poor performances – he now has genuinely top quality competition. Whilst he may have once been undroppable, that no longer applies.

Home debutants both score

Van Persie spent pretty much all of his Arsenal career playing up front alone, supported by width and midfielders. Ferguson gave him his first start and chose to play him in this role. On the whole he appeared to be somewhat rusty and clearly lacked a good pre-season. However, his link-up play was mature and intelligent – he took up good positions and was great at bringing players into the game. United seem to already be benefiting from the fact he can also deliver a good set piece – the ball is at last beating the first man although we still need more heigh to be more of a threat from dead ball situations.

Getting a full game out of Van Persie was invaluable but so was his contribution in the tenth minute. His one shot of the game was as tricky to execute as any that a striker might try and take on during a match. The ball not only appeared to be ever so slightly behind him, but it bounced in front meaning that he had to take it earlier than he’d have liked. Getting across Hangeland, he met Evra’s cross on the half volley and caressed the ball into the far side of the goal. It was one of those strikes that appears to get better from every angle and was a moment of true class that set Old Trafford alight.

In true MOTD style, Kagawa should be lauded for his home debut goal and his quick reactions to prod the ball into the net. Whilst great for him and important for the team, it would be completely overlooking the fact that he was once again excellent for United. Occupying the space behind Van Persie, he drifted around the pitch and seemed to fit into the team with ease. The beauty of Kagawa is that he makes football look easy and does the tricky things very well. Quite simply, getting him on the ball makes magic happen – he’ll be key to United’s success this year, that much can already be deduced.

The best and worst of de Gea (and no luck)

Since the turn of the new year, David de Gea has been wonderful – saving United on various occasions. He was one of the few players who could hold their head high after the Everton game but against Fulham it was a mixed back. The bad was the second Fulham goal – he came for it, didn’t get near the cross and the ball ended up going in via Vidic. Arguably he was in fact blocked and fouled but there was minimal protest and it still doesn’t excuse the fact he failed to get close. Interestingly, it’s been something pretty much completely overlooked by those who are paid to analyse football.

Error aside, he ended up having to make crucial saves before half time and late on as Fulham pressed for an equaliser. He is somewhat unfairly targeted by opposition fans, pundits and the media every time he makes a mistake. The reality is of course that other goalkeepers simply don’t get the same level of overreaction – Pepe Reina at Liverpool made an equally sized howler against Man City and appears to have gotten off rather lightly for it. The highlight of de Gea’s performance though had to be this moment of skill under pressure on the edge of his six yard box – risky but entertaining.

Two returning Olympians impress

If there was one bonus of having players play at the Olympics it was that providing they played, they’d return to United fit and sharp. Cleverley was thrown in against Everton and did well, this week he was joined in the starting line up by Rafael. The pair were notably sharper than many of the other United players and both played an important part in the win.

Rafael seems to have a good understanding with Valencia and when attacking, they team up well. Somewhat surprisingly, he not only scored his first goal of the season, but could have had three or four had it not been for a correct offside decision and some good goalkeeping. He still has to learn about his defensive positioning but there have been signs of improvements there. At 22 he remains a young footballer who has no natural competition to his position. He’s an exciting player who when next to a natural centre back should excel further.

It says much about Cleverley that he not only kept his place in the team when others were replaced but he played the full game. There’s been something metronomic about him these past two games, something reliable. It’s been like watching Carrick almost – he doesn’t have the range of Michael but he has the accuracy. He’s fast become the out-ball and has been very good at changing the point of attack. Not only has Tom sat deep but he’s also gotten forward and had efforts on goal. As the game against Fulham went on he did seem to try too hard and a few errors crept in but with more playing time they’ll be eradicated. Still, if there remains one question, it’s who best to partner him with, particular so the defence is protected more.

Rooney’s injury

He may not have deserved a start but in order to help steady the ship, Rooney was brought on with about 25 minutes to play. His contribution was minimal but deep into injury time he was somewhat innocuously injured – having blocked a shot, Rooney was on the floor when Hugo Rodallega landed, fully-weighted on Rooney’s thigh. TV cameras immediately picked up a huge cut on Rooney’s upper leg and it took a few minutes for the physios to bandage it and carry him off the pitch. This large wound will clearly take some time to heal and Rooney’s now likely to miss the next four United games with a potential return on the 29th September against Spurs. There will now be more pressure and opportunities for the other strikers to gel with van Persie whilst Rooney’s own fitness will not be improved any time soon.

Opposition watch: Dembele

One of the many players linked with United this summer is Moussa Demebele. Having started out as a striker, he’s moved back into central midfield over the past 12 months. A big, physically imposing player, he caused United problems when he picked up the ball and ran directly at the defence. I can see the attraction of him – not only is he strong and commanding but he’s more than capable at beating his man time and time again.

What he proved though is that as a central midfielder, he remains a rough diamond. As a former striker, his natural instinct is not to protect those behind him and as such he can leave gaps. Even at the other end, his end product is questionable – too often a shot goes wide or he just doesn’t see the right pass. At the right price (low) he could be a sound squad addition but my gut say that not snaring him wouldn’t be such a terrible thing.


Much like the start of last season, United won playing exciting attacking football but still managed to leave gaping holes to be exposed. This may all change when centre backs return to partner Vidic and Carrick can again become a central midfielder but until then, teams will continue to feel like they have a chance of scoring against us. Fulham can be disappointed they only tested United at the start and end of the first half – the period in the middle of it cost them the game.

Whilst the attacking options are numerous, the loss of Rooney will put more pressure on new signing van Persie to deliver. Whether he once again plays with Kagawa behind him or whether Ferguson tries him with a partner ermains to be seen. For now, United can look ahead to the trip at Southampton relieved that they have a win to build on after the loss at Everton.

15 Comments on Manchester United 3-2 Fulham: a tale of two halves and various individuals

  1. I would love to see van Persie with Welbeck, perhaps against Southampton. I think they could link up well, and at least one of them is a deadly finisher hah.

    That being said, Kagawa looks like a true gem. When City got Silva, I’d seen Silva perform for Valencia, and I knew they’d get a truly great player if he could adjust to the league. Now it seems Silva in fact hasn’t adjusted to the league. Last season he played extremely well for the first 6 months or so, then disappeared. Have he been overplayed, or “out tackled”? Something’s obviously gone wrong, because he’s always had the ability to rip the league apart, but for so long he’s looked average at best.

    Anyhow, I digress. The thing with Kagawa is I’d never seen him play before pre-season. He wasn’t too expensive and being a small weakling from Japan, I never thought he would be able to cope with the physique let alone the tempo.

    It’s been such a pleasant surprise having him in the team. Can’t wait for him, van Persie, Rooney, Nani and Valencia to be in form all at the same time 😉 But first, perhaps, let’s get them all fit at the same time *sigh*…

  2. While I agree with most of what you said I would like to say i thought Anderson was our best player against fulham he was always asking for the ball and controlled most of the match it was no coincidence that when he went of fulham started to dominate the game.

  3. @ E

    Anderson was really tired towards the end. Therefore, while I agree with you that he was very good, I think the sub was needed as Anderson started to leave gaps.

    When Anderson can stand 90 minutes without problems, we got ourselves an exciting midfield. Cleverley is looking sharp, Anderson is showing some of his quality and we all know what Carrick and Scholes can produce.

    I’m really looking forward to this season. I think we’ve done the best summer signings in a very very long time and at the same time some old signings are coming through (Anderson, Rafael). Can’t remember the last time I was this excited at the start of a season. If we can find some of that comfortable defense we used to have a few seasons back, we’re not only going to be hard to beat, but we’re going to be very consistent as well.

  4. Anderson was our Second best Player in that Game and i cant wait to See hin Play injury Free . Did you See his Long Balls? One Word, accurate 10/10 scholes passes

  5. can’t agree more, although i really wanted to see rooney pair up with rvp but um really pleased with that formation………..the gaps in midfield was closed by cleverly and anderson who were great and kagawa was great gettin in deep, i just wanna see chicha berba welbeck and powell get more chances and can’t wait for rio to get back……but i DON’T wanna see carrick in mid cuz he’s really slow and can’t keep up with fast and young players

  6. I do feel that we’re not making as much use of Cleverley and Kagawa as we should. I’m sure it’ll come, but the temptation to hit the ball wide (especially when Valencia and Young are playing) still appears to be too great. We need to trust those two little maestros with the ball down the middle, because wing play can be predictable at times.

    I also wrote about the Rooney situation, if anybody fancies a look? Agree with Doron that he’s no longer undroppable, purely because we now have guys that can do BOTH of his jobs (number 9 and 10).

  7. @ Bisho

    About Carrick, you’re right that he’s no sprinter, but arguing that you don’t want to see him play in midfield because of that – compared to young and fast players – is pointless in my opinion.

    Carrick wasn’t fast when he was a young player, nor does he need to be. His positioning is great and so is his awareness. He reads the game superbly, he’s a flawless passer of the ball and he’s a very intelligent player. He sees when to keep the ball safely in the team, he knows when to take risky “Hollywood” passes, he communicates well with nearby team mates and he’s really a superb midfield general.

    His passing, reading of the game, defensive positioning and smartness is deeply underrated, and he’s very important in our midfield.

  8. @ Lars

    totally agree with your comments about carrick probably the best english midfielder in past 18 months.

  9. Carrick & Cleverley would be my preferred midfield combo. Could also release Cleverley’s attacking instincts a bit more. Against Everton he seemed a bit reserved (although his passing was excellent). I think that was because he was concerned about leaving Scholesy exposed.

  10. i know carrick is an awesome midfielder but i wanted to see cleverly pair permanently with anderson or someone else to make one-twos and hold the midfield together………but may be i’d prefer carrick and kagawa together to see rooney and rvp upfront, it seems a little crazy but would be a good try 😀

  11. @ Bishop

    Then we agree 😉

    It seems to me that you have a “simple look” (in lack of a better description) at football. It’s nothing wrong with that at all. Or I might misunderstand what you mean.

    Anyway, pairing Anderson and Cleverley in the midfield won’t necessarily result in more one-twos. A midfield duo doesn’t even mean that the two players will play together. It simply means that the two players – together – will balance attack and defense as their manager instruct them to. With Carrick in that duo, the other player will receive more freedom to attack as Carrick is very disciplined. Without Carrick, there’s a bigger defensively risk, but you gain some attacking unpredictability.

    With Cleverley or Anderson as Carrick’s partner, one of them can join the attack often and then play one-twos with Kagawa, Rooney, Nani or whoever our attacking players are.

    I hope I don’t come of as a know it all or anything like that. I truly am not, and as I said, I might be the one who’s wrong here!

  12. u’re totally right and yeah it seems u may have better experience and a different prospective but yeah we agree 🙂

  13. kagawa is the key. Rvp will get the early season headlines, but for me Kagawa is a gem, a really significant find. Carrick isn’t a centre back and we will see the best of him when he returns to midfield. No criticism, he’s answering the call in a crisis. Cleverley is still raw and needs time. We should all remember he missed a large chunk of last year to injury. With a young new player you are going to get inconsistency. I think we all just need to be patient.

    Concern is our inability to grab hold of the game in midfield when things aren’t exactly going our way. Not so much of a problem at home, but will be an issue, (again this year), away from home on the evidence of the first two games.

  14. Thanks for saying Dembele is not worth signing.

    Now, please forward this on to everyone else you know at Man U and Spurs.

    Kind regards,
    A Fulham Fan

    PS – Thought Rafael and Kagawa played well on Sat. Good goal from RVP of course too.

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