Sky’s cameras take up familiar position at the Theatre of Dreams on Monday evening to see the latest offering from the Premier League’s title race. City, as I predicted here http://bit.ly/GMFTtl, dropped points at the Brittania and this game is the perfect opportuntity for United to shush their noisy neighbours a little more. This is an opportunity that’s presented itself because, as Ferguson confidently states, the squad has been “flogging away and perhaps wondering if they would ever catch up before we hit the finishing line.” He exhorts “we are in the right place, at the right time and, most importantly, with the right players,” casting fans’ back to mind games with Wenger, Keegan and Benitez.
Nani (ankle), Lindegaard (ankle) and perennial injury victims Vidic, Fletcher, Anderson and Owen are the only absentees from a squad that will be looking to go three points clear at the top. Smalling, Cleverley, Fabio, Pogba and Jones all came through a reserve outing on Thursday to give the boss many a selection quandry.
De Gea will, undoubtedly, start in goal and look to ensure that the the injured and onlooking Lindegaard is forced to begin choosing his nose-picking finger as the pube bearded Spaniard aims to be confirmed as United’s number one.
In front of him Evra will captain the side from his usual left back position whilst Evans, one would assume, will play in the middle. Rio would be favourite to partner him at the back but Ferguson may give the former England captain a break on Monday night as he plans for the arduous run in. Right back could be filled by one of the da Silva twins or, if not selected in the middle, Jones or Smalling. I’m tipping Smalling to be given a chance to play against his former club.
The midfield, according to some, may well smack of some desperation this Monday evening. Valencia will start out wide right and look to torment a Fulham defence that conceded five goals in the reverse fixture earlier in the season. We may see Giggs wide left as Nani is out or, more likely, Young could fill in there. Carrick and Scholes are odd on to start in the middle of the park and try to dictate the tempo of the game, allowing their wingers the freedom to go and express themselves.
Up front Old Trafford will firmly expect to be trodden upon by a certain Wayne Rooney and he’s likely to be partnered by goal machine, Hernandez. One thing that could happen is Ferguson’s new liking for getting the terrifying trio of Hernandez, Rooney and Welbeck on the pitch at the same time and start with Welbeck out wide left in place of Giggs or Young.
Whatever team is selected, they’ll be fully expected to beat Fulham at home and, ideally, get a scoreline close to the 5-0 victory in December.
United: (from) de Gea, Amos, Rafael, Fabio, Evra, Smalling, Jones, Ferdinand, Evans, Carrick, Cleverley, Scholes, Giggs, Park, Pogba, Young, Valencia, Rooney, Welbeck, Henandez, Berbatov.
Fulham: (from) Shwarzer, Stockdale, Somogyi, Kelly, J.Riise, Hangeland, Baird, Senderos, Hughes, Briggs, Halliche, Kasami, Murphy, Gecov, Duff, B.Riise, Etuhu, Frei, Davies, Dempsey, Pogrebnyak, Johnson, Ruiz, Dembele.
In forty nine years, Fulham have dodged the defeat bullet once only at Old Trafford. They’ve allowed fifteen goals into their net on their last five trips to Old Trafford so the form book looms large on the horizon for Fulham’s players and fans. Overall this will be the 77th meeting between the two clubs with United coming out victors 44 times, Fulham 14, with 18 draws. The last eight games between the two, at Old Trafford, have seen United win all eight whilst scoring a total of 22 goals. All this threat of goals is highlighted by the fact that United have 73 goals from 29 games, the most by any top-flight club at this stage of the season since Spurs in 63/64, and Wayne Rooney has ten goals in his last eight outings.
If Fulham score first, however, it could prove interesting as they are unbeaten in the ten games in which they’ve scored first this season. United are one of only two other clubs who can boast such a record. He who scores first, wins, it would appear!
It’s hard to argue against the bookmakers’ odds of United’s victory at 2/9 and Fulham at 14/1 but this is a title race and anything can happen. United should win and win well and will look to close the goal difference gap. A 3-0 victory would be very welcomed with open arms.