Writer: Andrew Joyce
Date:Friday February 23 2007
Manchester United arrive at Craven Cottage this Saturday for a fixture that could see United open up a nine point gap over our local rivals, Chelsea.
The Cottage could witness a feisty affair with Fulham keen to escape from the doldrums after a 4-0 reverse at the hands of Spurs in the FA Cup last weekend. Although there is gap between us and those battling relegation, it is essential that we don`t slip into the mind set of thing we`re safe. Football can be strange affair and history is littered with club`s who thought they were safe actually being relegated,
United arrive in London after a torrid Champions League trip to France. On the pitch a solitary Ryan Giggs ensured that Lille were beaten but the fixture was played against a backdrop of discord that has resulted in to UEFA enquiries. Hopefully, apart from the disquiet about high ticket prices, the travelling support will, hopefully, have a more sedate time next to the Thames.
There is no doubt Sir Alex Ferguson will see this fixture as the ideal opportunity to increase the pressure on Chelsea as United seek to stop those from SW6 from making it three titles on the trot. Indeed, United are chasing a fourth successive Premiership victory and a fourth clean sheet on the trot.
With the 4-0 defeat by Spurs still fresh in the mind, perhaps a visit by free scoring Manchester United isn`t the best opposition to be facing this weekend, however, perhaps the team could do well to heed the words uttered by Chris Coleman following last weeks catastrophic defeat,
We've 11 league games left and it will be interesting to see if we can keep a clean sheet.'
What better place to start than against Manchester United.
If Fulham are to spring an upset and stop Manchester United in their stride they`ll have to do it without the services of Vincenzo Montella after the loan player was sent off in the last seconds of the FA Cup defeat inflicted by Spurs.
For Fulham, two players, Collins John and Carlos Bocanegra could, if selected, make their one hundredth appearances for the club whilst full back, Liam Rosenior, will, if selected; continue his remarkable record of playing every minute of every Fulham Premiership game this season.
Brian McBride - The powerful centre forward is Fulham`s top scorer with eleven goals and his bustling style could unsettle the United centre back pairing of Vidic and Ferdinand. This no-nonsense player has been a good servant to Fulham and a winning goal against United would bring a big smile to a face that has taken a thousand knocks for the cause.
Manchester United are likely to field two ex-Fulham players in Luis Saha and Edwin Van der Saar both of whom could play prominent parts in deciding the outcome of the fixture. However, the most likely candidate to influence the game remains Ronaldo. The Portuguese winger is United`s top scorer and although rumours filtered through about a foot injury, it is very likely that he will feature in the side. Another threat will be Rooney, whilst he may not have been a prolific goal scorer this campaign he retains the ability to inflict damage on opponents with moments of individual brilliance. If Fulham are to get anything out of this game they`ll need to defend with more resolution than they showed last weekend.
Wayne Rooney - The player everyone loves to hate. His temperament occasionally lets him down and his verbal tirades are often totally unnecessary but his skills remain sublime. A first goal for United tomorrow would be the three hundredth scored against Fulham in the Premier League.
In the corresponding fixture at Old Trafford this season, United recorded a 5-1 rout of Fulham. The fixture marked the occasion of Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo playing together for the first time since their infamous World Cup bust up. If Fulham are not to suffer a repeat of that result they will have to find some way of halting a United side who remain the top scorers in the Premiership. If that challenge isn`t stiff enough they`ll have to breach a defence that is also the tightest in the Premiership, all in all a tall order for Coleman and his team.
Nevertheless, Fulham can take heart from the fact that alongside, Aston Villa, they are the draw specialist in the Premiership. Coleman and his team are also unbeaten in their last six Premiership games at Craven Cottage. However, whilst recent home Premiership form looks to be favourable perhaps it should be remembered that Fulham have not beaten Manchester United at home, in League football, for forty-three years.
Strangely enough, a defeat for Fulham tomorrow would leave us in the same position we were in this time last season, namely thirty-two points off of twenty-eight games. What was that about making progress?
Peter Walton from Northamptonshire will take charge of the fixture his tenth of the season; he has yet to issue a red card in the Premiership but has dished out nineteen yellow cards. Wouldn`t it be nice to see a red card flourished in the direction of either Ronaldo or Rooney?
Fingers crossed, four leaf clover safely tucked away, lucky rabbits foot in back pocket but still the most I can see us getting is a draw. Please prove me wrong lads.
The visit of Manchester United is followed by the visit of Aston Villa next Saturday whilst Manchester United will visit Anfield next Saturday lunch time.
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Date:Friday February 23 2007
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