Dimitar Berbatov has been a popular signing for Fulham from Manchester United but will miss the match
Manchester United travel to Craven Cottage to play Fulham for the 80th time in the clubs history. United recently beat Fulham 4-1 in the FA Cup and beat the London club 3-2 at Old Trafford earlier in the season, with Robin van Persie getting on the scoresheet for the first time. Fulham were quite poor against United last week and the 4-1 result didn’t reflect the level of dominance by the home side. Here, we look at a view from the opposition, availability and a potential United line up.
Apologies for the condensed match preview, however we have a cracking ‘view from the opposition’ today with Kristian Balkin who blogs for http://www.cottagersconfidential.com/ and you can follow Kristian on Twitter.
A view from the opposition
What did you make of Fulham’s performance in the FA Cup last weekend?
It was insipid and uninspiring and, in all honesty, a very accurate reflection of how poor Fulham have been playing of late. We didn’t seem to take the game to you guys and, in my opinion, that was the only way would have gotten something from the match. We failed to close you down and put you under any pressure at all. It was shameful, in many ways.
There were positives, though, even if few and far between. We had decent spells of possession, which isn’t easy at Old Trafford and pretty much matched you statistically in terms of ball retention. It’s no good if you do nothing with it, however.
How do you think Martin Jol has done so far?
I think he’s been really good for us, even if things haven’t gone his way of late. He’s struggling to implement a younger side at Fulham, something which he promised when he joined, but that’s not all down to him – the board and the Chief Executive have to take some of the slack for that. Jol encourages a nice style of play that, while still based on attractive, passing football, is a little more direct and I think that’s a good thing with our current crop of forwards.
On the other hand, he does have a knack of falling out with players. Clint Dempsey, Bobby Zamora, Andy Johnson, Dickson Etuhu, Bjorn Helge Riise and his brother John have all had spats with the manager and no matter how much you sugar-coat it, it’s not the sign of a man who’s easy to get on with. He’s making the right moves though, currently, to rectify our slump. He says the right things, is honest and in general, is just a solid, experienced manager who I’d love to see stay on for years to come.
Who has been your best player this season?
It’d be overly complimentary to say he’s been consistently our best player but Dimitar Berbatov has certainly had the biggest effect on us. I won’t go into too much detail – I’ll save it for later – but it us quite palpable, when you see him play, that he is a step ahead of many of our players and, for that matter, many players in the league.
And the worst?
A couple of weeks ago I would have been inclined to say your old lad Kieron Richardson but he’s picked up a little bit now he’s been moved to left back. But the man he’s replaced hasn’t gone up in my estimations, unfortunately, and that’s John Arne Riise. Firstly, I’d just like to say that he clearly isn’t a bad player. He knows the game well and has a lot of technical ability.
But defensively, this season, he’s looked appalling. He’s been out of place, off the pace, making mistake after mistake (I’m not trying to make a poem here, I promise) and he could easily be said to be at fault for a good five or six goals this season. The only saving grace is that, with Richardson injured at the moment, he actually put in a good shift in midweek against West Ham United. It’ll take a little more than that, however,
United thumped Fulham in the FA Cup in 2009 and then lost 2-0 in the league two weeks later. Are you hopeful history repeats itself?
Of course and, for argument’s sake, I think it is possible that it could happen again. We’re at home this time, which will make a difference to the way we approach the game and the way we’ll approach you as a team. We’ll be a little more offensive (I hope) and more resolute at the back.
We also have a new signing who, it’s thought, could go straight into the starting eleven – Urby Emanelson. He’s a good little player who Jol has – somewhat enthusiastically – compared to Moussa Dembele. If that’s the case, he could cause you similar problems to what the little Belgian did in August when, despite you beating use 3-2, we put up a very respectable fight.
Berbatov still splits united fans. What do you make of him?
He’s very much a premium player for us – he brings a touch of class and panache to what we do and I think it shows. He’s a very gifted player and his upper body strength goes unnoticed I feel but there are two sides of him.
If things aren’t going well – and this can be quite often – he does get lost a little in the game and gets frustrated with other players. This is all well and good in small doses but it’s happening quite regularly and it can’t have a good effect on his team mates. But, regardless, he’s such a big player for us. Without him, I think we’d be far more concerned about relegation than we currently are.
What have you made of United this season?
You’ve obviously been very good – consistent, potent and you still have that ability to win games without ever really dominating (Southampton during the week). As many people say, though, I think that’s a sign of a top club and, with Robin van Persie helping you along you’re looking somewhat unstoppable right now.
Defensively you look a bit weak sometimes and you seem to concede early sometimes – two things I hope we exploit on Saturday – but you seem to make up for it with sheer attacking proficiency. Tighten up your back line and this season could well be a breeze.
Who’s is the greatest Fulham player if all time?
Johnny Haynes. He was with us for 18 years and, as his nickname suggests, he was very much ‘the maestro’. A great passer of the ball, he stayed with Fulham for his whole professional career and, by some distance, was the most talented, influential individual to ever grace the Craven Cottage turf. And that’s quite a feat, considering George Best had a pretty decent spell here.
If you could take one United player, who would it be?
I’m sure you get it a lot but it’d have to be Robin van Persie. Having him in the team means you know that, at any moment, you could pretty much get a goal out of nothing, and that must be invaluable. I think we’ve really missed Clint Dempsey this season and he played a similar kind of role – though to a much lesser extent – in that he could just grab a goal against the run of play and change the game in an instant. Having van Persie would bring that threat back to us and then multiply it tenfold.
Give us a fact about Fulham that many fans wouldn’t know? Also, what’s the Michael Jackson statue about?
We’re the oldest professional football team in London and, yet, have never won a major trophy. What a morbid fact. Anyway, basically, Mohammed Al Fayed was a good friend of Jacko and, as anybody does when they have a good friend, immortalised him, poorly, with a statue outside a football ground. Makes perfect sense, doesn’t it?
Potential Manchester United lineup
Following Wayne Rooney’s brace against Southampton on Wednesday, United’s number ten will surely partner Rob van Persie up top. It is unlikely Rooney will be used wide left, as Danny Welbeck was against Spurs two weeks ago, so Kagawa should operate on the left, drifting infield to allow Evra to push on from left back. Nani hasn’t had much football recently, and was a substitute on Wednesday, so will welcome a start against the Cottagers to take on Riise. Carrick and Cleverley should start in the centre of midfield with Rafael, Ferdinand, Vidic and Evra in front of David De Gea:
Do you think United will lineup like this?
Injury news and match prediction
Ashley Young is still missing due to a knee injury, whilst Darren Fletcher is a long term injury casualty. Javier Hernandez, who scored twice in the FA Cup tie, will face a late fitness test. Fulham have a number of injury concerns, with Dimitar Berbatov set to miss the tie with a hamstring injury, which he picked up in the 3-1 victory over West Ham. Both centre midfielders Steve Sidwell and long term injury concern Mahamadou Diarra will miss the match with knee injuries. Ex ReD Kieran Richardson will also miss the clash with a calf problem. Urby Emanuelson, who is on loan from AC Milan, could make his debut against the league leaders, having signed on transfer deadline day.
Fulham will be desperately trying to avenge the 4-1 defeat in the FA Cup last weekend after performing poorly. The west Londoners will be hoping that history repeats itself. In 2009, United hammered Fulham 4-0 in the FA Cup, but in the league clash two weeks later, Fulham won 2-0 with goals from Danny Murphy and Zoltan Gera. United had Paul Scholes and Wayne Rooney sent off, but were second best all afternoon. United also lost 3-0 in the December 2009 clash after suffering a defensive injury crisis. Ferguson had to field three centre halves, which included Darren Fletcher, Michael Carrick and reserve player Ritchie de Laet. It is a tough place to go, although United notched up a fantastic 5-0 victory last season
If Fulham line up the way they did at Old Trafford (4-2-3-1), then expect United to field two up top. With Berbatov out, Hugo Rodalega will play up top with Bryan Ruiz just off him. Anderson and Carrick didn’t have many issues with the Costa Rican dropping deep at Old Trafford, but with Rodalega playing off the shoulder of the centre half, Ruiz will have greater opportunities to play through balls. As we know from watching Berbotv for years, he rarely runs in behind and will drop deep to pick up the ball and try to influence play. This was a problem in the tie last week as Fulham were far too deep and rarely threaten the United goal, especially through central positions. Jones and Smalling cleaned up everything, winning header after header and demonstrating their growing maturity with a number of excellent interceptions, especially Smalling.
Prediction: Fulham will not be anywhere near as poor as they were last week, whilst Ferguson will be expecting a reaction from as poor show against Southampton in the week. United to win the tie 3-1.