After all the furore regarding an incident around racial remarks and the backlash that resulted from it’s consequences, the midweek clashes were a welcome diversion to get back to business in what looks to be a hectic winter schedule. Wednesday evening saw Manchester United make the trip South to London, where they would face Fulham at Craven Cottage.
Recent trips to Fulham have been a frustrating affair for United, and with Sir Alex Ferguson keen to maintain a challenge for the title over Christmas. With Rio Ferdinand missing, Phil Jones was switched back to a defensive position after recent outings in central midfield. Lindegaard was given a start with David De Gea dropping to the bench and Ryan Giggs was given a starting place alongside Michael Carrick. If there were worries as to whether Fulham would be difficult to breakdown, they were soon put to rest as Danny Welbeck opened the scoring within 5 minutes, after Nani was allowed to sprint 50 yards down the left, relatively unchallenged to put a pass into the box for Welbeck to finish smoothly. By 28 minutes, that lead was doubled, when a corner by Giggs was played short to Valencia, who played a short pass back to Giggs who then whipped in a cross which was well headed by Nani into the corner, after nearly taking another flick on from Rooney. Giggs got one for himself 2 minutes before half time, albeit with a bit of luck, as his shot took a deflection that allowed it to loop over the goalkeeper. With United in control it looked as though there was no way back for the home side, but after the break there was an improvement in their performance, but were unable to break through the United defense, with Lindegaard making a couple of good saves to deny the hosts. The game was put beyond all doubt when 2 minutes from time, Rooney struck a shot 30 yards from goal that swerved on it’s way to crashing on the inside of the post and giving his side a 4-0 lead. The best, however, was saved for last (arguably) as substitute Dimitar Berbatov made it 5 with an audacious back-heel from Valencia’s cross in the closing moments of the game. 3 points with an emphatic victory, much to be pleased about but with some concern for injuries. With that, here are five things that may be taken from the game.
1) Phil Jones – Brave
It ought to be noted first and foremost, that I do not believe anything malicious was intended when Jones got elbowed by Dempsey. The action did not appear intentional and it was more a coming together than any sort of violent conduct. However it did leave the young defender looking fairly dazed, even as he returned to action on the pitch. It was quite a measure of his spirit when he made a strong tackle in the box to deny a scoring opportunity only to get up from it and look as though he had done 12 rounds of boxing. Needless to say he was substituted not long after and one hopes that he does not have a serious injury, although it is believed he may be spending a few weeks out with a suspected fractured cheekbone.
2) Ryan Giggs – a goal in every Premier League season
A staggering record that highlights his longevity at the very top of English football as well as his quality for United for many seasons. Yes he may not be able to do quite as much as before, but one cannot deny the contribution he makes to the side, as he did against Fulham, assisting in Nani’s goal as well as getting one himself. A strong performance on the night that came as part of an all round excellent performance by the team, something that Sir Alex Ferguson will have been delighted with.
3) Berbatov – underused
It is a widely held belief that Dimitar Berbatov has been underused this season, regularly consigned to the bench with little meaningful playing time compounded by the fact he is likely short of confidence. However, his substitute appearance on Wednesday night should have given an argument to use him more often as his goal was the mark of someone oozing in confidence, not short of it. A sublime back heel in the final moments of the game was a sweet finish to an already successful outing. With injuries mounting it is important that the squad is used effectively, including up front, giving Berbatov more games. As impressive as Welbeck has been this season, Berbatov should also be given opportunities as his impact from the bench is often not as strong as if he is given a start. Regardless, one hopes that his goal against Fulham is a reminder to Ferguson that he is not to be forgotten.
4) Injuries mounting in defense, still looked solid
With the long term absence of Vidic and with Ferdinand missing for the trip to Craven Cottage, there may have been concerns as to the solidity of the back four. However, a good clean sheet was kept, with Lindegaard given little to do on the evening although making good saves when needed. When Jones went off injured, Smalling moved into a central position with Valencia moving effortlessly into right back and putting in a good showing for it. It was encouraging to see them gel together and look self assured in keeping the opposition at bay and may be called upon again as a combination if the injury list persists.
5) Emphatic victory, excellent all round
After recent weeks where, despite picking up victories, United have not appeared to hit top gear, it will have been pleasing for fans to see their side improve as they have done in the last 2 games, picking up strong victories and improving on the goal difference that has seen the league leaders Manchester City take up a strong position in recent weeks. All round was generally pleasing on the night, with Carrick and Giggs combining well in midfield, Nani providing a strong threat out wide and Welbeck causing many problems for the Fulham defense. Perhaps the only negatives on the night were the injuries to Ashley Young and Jones who look to be out for weeks. However, such a strong away win will have boosted confidence within the side and being just 2 points off the top, will have given the squad a renewed optimism in their pursuit of honours.