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There was much intrigue about United’s trip to Fulham – United’s form has been slowly improving whilst Fulham’s has been rather less good which therefore had all the ingredients for a United-style upset. Carrick and Welbeck missed out through injury as Vidic returned in the league and Jones partnered Cleverley in the middle. We welcome comments from both sets of supporters.
A hint of United of old
Stupidly, I turned round to the person stood behind me as the game kicked off and muttered that we’d go behind within the opening ten minutes. When United play away from home, our opponents so often find that extra something given that they’re playing us and fast starts are common for the home team. Instead, I was very wrong and very happy about being wrong.
United have often been at their best to watch when counter-attacking, breaking at speed and scoring goals that involve players being on the move rather than jostling for space with small movements. Fulham had decided to try and press a bit higher than they usually would which maybe wasn’t all that silly when you consider that neither Rooney nor van Persie are lightning quick – however, they managed to get their backline wrong on a few occasions and all three goals came from this (although one was marginally offside).
Both Rooney and van Persie found joy moving into the channels and it was a case of when not if they would set up a goal. The speed of United’s play and the incisiveness particularly by Cleverley on the third goal to spot and execute the right pass through was classic United. The decision making once through on goal was perfect – Rooney picking out Valencia; van Persie finishing emphatically; and van Persie then setting up Rooney. The third goal in particular had much to admire – the timing of van Persie’s run; the weight and delicacy of Cleverley’s pass; and some classic striker’s play by Rooney to deceive Senderos – making a run towards the near post before a quick body swerve saw him run behind Senderos who hadn’t a clue where he was in the end. There were more goals to be had in the game and maybe the only disappointing thing was that it was only three at the break.
Subs and injuries
A triple half time sub is usually reserved for outstanding or the very worst first half performances. United’s fell into neither category and so when Fellaini, Smalling and Kagawa (or Kawaga as the Fulham announcer chose to call him) lined up to come on at the start of the second half there were a more than a few confused United fans.
As it turns out, the reason for the triple sub was probably the worst case scenario – injuries. Rafael went over on his ankle; Evans’ back seized up; Cleverley had double vision; and that’s without accounting for Evra’s whack on what looked like his calf shortly before half time. Evans had been mountainous again in the opening half, winning headers and snuffing out attacks in such an assured manner. His form has been brilliant recently and it’s becoming a case of who partners him at the back. Hopefully none of the injuries are serious but with Carrick and van Persie seemingly fragile, we could do without losing more important players ahead of Arsenal – and include Cleverley in that. Some fans still question whether he’s good enough but his inclusion yet again showed what he’s good for: energy, linking play and the odd telling pass. We’re generally, not always, better when he plays.
Second half positions
With the enforced half time changes there were a plethora of options available for Moyes in terms of where to put everyone but what he ended up doing maybe was the least predictable route. Smalling partnered Vidic leaving the right back slot available seemingly for Jones except Valencia went there from right wing. Jones stayed in the middle with Fellaini and so it seemed logical that Januzaj would go to the right and Kagawa to the left but instead Januzaj played in the ‘10’ behind van Persie and Rooney of all people went to the right. I’m not sure if there’s anything to be read into the fact that Januzaj went behind van Persie rather than Kagawa who excels there.
Either way, there’s little doubt that the subs impacted United’s second half. The football became disjointed at times and with Valencia pushing so high up, there were gaps appearing in our defence. That there was sometimes so little cohesion was little surprise though when you consider that new partnerships were being formed throughout the entire core of the team: Smalling-Vidic; Jones-Fellaini; and Januzaj-van Persie. Fulham also improved although they couldn’t have played much worse and ultimately they probably deserved their goal even if it came via a fortunate deflection. Plenty of fans might moan about how the second half panned out but the good work had already been done and if a few players had taken shots when they had the chance to in the half then United may have scored again.
He is unbelievable. I always warn against hype when it comes to young players but there’s no point trying to be cautious with him anymore, he’s going to be a star. Every single game he seems to get better – the decision making; the timing and weight of the passes; the willingness to take the ball and run at players, holding off men far more experienced and stronger than him; and the boldness to shoot when others would pass.
Yet again he got things right and it was the 50 yard runs carrying the ball whilst more than one player pursued him and tugged his shirt that impressed the most. He has a fearlessness that can only exist in players so young and joyfully naïve. Fulham certainly either targeted him or got frustrated with him – even before the late stamp he’d been scythed down on more than one occasion (and admirably got straight back up again). Riether’s cowardliness late on was ridiculous. The game was nearly done and United were merely trying to see time out in the corner. He went for Januzaj’s leg once, missed, and went again, making contact the second time with a stamp seen by all the players and none of the officials. It would have been a red card offence and instead Fulham ended up coming away with possession as they were somehow awarded a free kick. Still, it was worth it to see Fellaini’s mad side come out – you don’t want to mess with that nutter!
Seven games unbeaten. SEVEN. Who knew that we’d be so happy about saying that? Still, it was a good win with many positives moments. Valencia’s performance was another step closer to his old-self and players showed their adaptability and discipline to play in some unnatural roles at times. The speed of play and desire to attack when in possession was refreshing and hopefully it’s a sign that Moyes is starting to be bolder in how we’re setting up. As for Fulham – well, Jol is in trouble and it could be a long, hard season for them.
Concern should flip to the injured players given that we’ve Sociedad away midweek and Arsenal at home next weekend. The last thing we need now is tinkering with the settled partnerships and being creative with selection due to who isn’t available. It’s a big week ahead as Sociedad won convincingly at the weekend and Arsenal are flying in the league right now. With all the disappointment that’s come in our season so far, surely this can be a seven days that goes right for us?!