After a powerful performance that saw off Chelsea in the first leg of the Champions League Quarter Final on Wednesday, Manchester United will be looking to move ten points clear of Arsenal by defeating Fulham on Saturday at Old Trafford.
With the return leg on Tuesday, I would expect a few changes now that the squad is starting to get back to full strength. The likes of Owen, Fabio, Gibson, Smalling, Kuszczak could all start as the boss aims to balance the need for three points with keeping players fresh for the second leg.
Once more, United will play before Arsenal and another three point haul will see the pressure mount on the mentally fragile Gunners who take on Blackpool on Sunday afternoon. Wenger's men know that another drop of points would almost certainly mean the end of the title challenge especially as they have a tough set of fixtures upcoming. Chelsea take on Wigan at Stamford Bridge on Saturday afternoon and many observers feel they are just too far back to sustain their bid. What is certain is that they need maximum points between now and when they face United at Old Trafford in early May to have any realistic chance. However, if the Reds keep winning then a Chelsea charge will mean nothing.
- Currently in 10th place with 38 points from 31 games
- Poor away record with just one victory all season versus Stoke at the end of December
- Only won one away game last season too.
- Drawn three and lost two of last five games away
- Dempsey top scorer with eleven
- Have fifth best defence in the league
- Have fourth worst attack
- Only won one game against the top half all season
- Have much better record in second half of games
Head to Head
- United have won the last six versus Fulham at home
- United have scored 18 goals in these games and conceded just three
- Fulham won at Old Trafford in October 2003 by three goals to one
- In 61 league games between the sides, United have won 35 and Fulham have won 12
Above is my team selection for tomorrow. Ahead of next Tuesday, I expect Van Der Sar and Evra to be rested from the first team. The veteran keeper was in majestic form on Wednesday and late on looked like he may have strained his calf again so I would expect him to rest. Evra's form all season has not been great and he has looked nervous and ponderous in the last couple of games so I expect him to be given a chance to get things right for Tuesday by having the day off. With Rio Ferdinand returning so successfully in midweek, I would expect that maybe two games in quick succession would be best avoided so Chris Smalling may well return to the team against his former club. In the full back area, I have chosen Fabio and O'Shea. I believe the Irishman is back in training after a hamstring injury and if he come through then he is likely to get the chance to build up match fitness. Wes Brown is another option as he also returned to training this week. Rafael has heavy bruising after clashing with Drogba on Wednesday so I expect he will be given an extra few days to recover.
Midfield is a tricky one to predict. I would expect a 4-4-2 formation as we are playing at home and most likely a return to the team for Paul Scholes who has sat out the last few due to suspension. Alongside, in the continued absence of Fletcher I would expect Michael Carrick to start but if the game is effectively won early then he may well be rested after an hour. Nani is due a game after being a substitute in the last couple and Park may well get the nod on the left with Ryan Giggs playing two full games recently.
Up front, Dimitar Berbatov deserves a recall without question and alongside I will plump for Michael Owen who has been waiting patiently on the bench since his recovery from injury. Many feel that the Englishman could well have one decisive impact on the run in and if this is going to be the case then he needs some match practice. Javier Hernandez would normally expect to start but a role from the bench will be acceptable, giving him the chance to study his more experienced colleagues.
With Anderson impressing in a 45 minute cameo last night, I would imagine that he will start on the bench and probably get around 30 minutes as a replacement for Scholes. On first viewing, the Brazilian looks to have shed a few pounds and it is hoped that he can stay fit for the rest of the season as he offers the midfield a different dimension in terms of ball carrying skill. A rare bench spot for Van Der Sar may be in the offing after usual deputy Ben Amos dislocated a finger against City in the reserves fixture on Thursday.
With the feel-good factor returning to Old Trafford, I would expect a comfortable United win tomorrow against opponents who are all but safe from relegation. Fulham do possess quality in their ranks and must not be taken lightly with the likes of Zamora, Dembelé, Murphy, Dempsey and Duff all capable of causing problems. However, I would imagine that an early United goal will crush their spirit and lead to a 3-0 home win with goals from Owen, Berbatov and Nani. This will mean another match can be "chalked off" and means the Red machine moves one step closer to that much heralded 19th league title.
Do you agree with my team and score predictions? Please leave a comment below or contact me on Twitter.
There will be a full review of the game on Sunday and I look forward to hearing your view after the game where the best will be included in that post.