After seemingly starting the match 3 minutes after Fulham did, United over came an early scare to run out victors at Old Trafford on Saturday afternoon.
Prior to kick off, the talk was of the surprise exclusion of Wayne Rooney from the United starting line up. It was expected that Robin Van Persie would be given his first start for The Reds, but it was expected to be along side Rooney. It was commented that Rooney had looked droppable after Everton, but few had expected to happen.
Non the less, the excitement of seeing Van Persie as the lone striker and Kagawa playing in his preferred central role had the Old Trafford faithful in fine voice. However, Fulham quietened the crowd within three minutes of the kick off. A clumsy Carrick challenge, just wide of David De Gea’s penalty box, lead to a free kick in a dangerous position. The resultant free kick saw the ball rolled across the United box to Damian Duff ,who’s movement reasulted in a slip from Young and gave him all the time in world to place his shot past De Gea.
After such an early set back United quickly got their collective heads together and stepped up the tempo. The Reds instantly got a grip on the game and produced wave after wave of attacks. Antonio Valencia whipped in some dangerous balls, though I do wish he would take his man on a little more often and get to the by-line. He is so dangerous when he does this and is more than capable.
It’s United width which has given their opponents the most to worry about in recent years, but Shinji Kagawa has given us that bit of creativity in the middle. With Cleverley alongside him, the two midfielders kept possession well for United and their passing had Fulham with little choice but to sit deep with numbers.
With United now playing some beautifully flowing football it was only a matter of time before the pressure resulted in a United equaliser. Just 7 minutes after falling behind, and 10 minutes into his full debut, Robin Van Persie showed why Sir Alex Ferguson had worked so hard to get his man. Patrice Evra crossed to the edge of the box where Van Persie skillfully guided the ball in to the top corner.
Buoyed by such a good response, United kept up their momentum. Mark Schwarzer was called into action on more than one occasion in the Fulham goal, preventing Valencia, Young and Kagawa from giving The Reds the lead. It was Kagawa who continued to pull the strings for United and he was soon rewarded for his hard work by eventually giving United the lead. A Van Persie corner was only cleared to the edge of the box where Cleverley fired a shot back in. Schwarzer did well to get down to save the shot but couldn’t prevent the rebound going straight to Kagawa who had the simplest of tasks to turn the ball home.
After the disappointment of losing the league on goal difference last season, and with United in the ascendancy, United carried on attacking until the half time whistle sounded.
Rafael was invigorated by being recalled to Right Back. Questions have been asked about his defensive abilities and also about his concentration. Today he looked to answer those questions in a positive manor. However, as is the way with the modern Right Back, their attacking ability is almost as essential as what they can do defensively. We know Rafael is very capable in his attacking role but this was one of his best all round performances. Popping up in some good positions he can count himself unlucky to have just wondered slightly offside when he put the ball in the back of the Fulham net. But as was his ambition today, he kept getting into those good attacking positions and no sooner than United had taken the lead Rafael once again found himself at the back post where he double The Reds lead with a good header from Ashley Young’s cross.
With most of the play being in the Fulham half, David De Gea was a largely a spectator. However, he was on his toes before half time when he made a fabulous double save to keep United 3-1 up at the break.
The second half started with United on the front foot, and Rafael came close to increasing the lead when he met a Van Persie cross. His header though cleared the cross bar.
United looked comfortable until a mix up between Vidic and De Gea allowed Fulham back into the game. A lack of communication, along with the presence of Petric, saw a Matthew Briggs cross come off the trailing leg of Vidic, when he went up with De Gea and Petric, and make the score 3-2. Due to the Vidic injury last season, he and De Gea haven’t played as as many games together as yet so perhaps that had something to do with the sloppiness of conceding in that manor.
A double substitution by Ferguson, Welbeck for Young and Rooney for Kagawa, was the response to Fulhams goal. United though seemed to lack in creativity a little now. Fulham were finding their way back into the game and found themselves with much more of the ball. Rumoured United target Dembele was becoming a threat in the Fulham midfield. As good as they are going forward and retaining possession, the United midfield did struggle to win the ball back in the middle of the pitch. Hopefully when Michael Carrick is available to drop back in there this will not be so evident. Anderson looked distinctly average again and was replaced by Giggs after 80 minutes.
United remained reasonably comfortable, and were unlucky not to add to their lead when Cleverley, Rooney and Rafael came close and tested Schwarzer. However, the final ten minutes saw Fulham stream forward in the belief that they could get something out of the game. Some hard work from Uniteds defence, coupled with several good saves from De Gea, though saw The Reds hold out to gain their first three points.
The game was soured, however, in injury time with what appears to be a nasty injury to Wayne Rooney. Rooney had a great attitude when he came on, exactly the response you want from a player who has been dropped. He worked hard at both ends of the pitch and when he flung himself in front of a Hugo Rodallega shot, the Fulham man landed on Rooney which produced a very deep slash across the back of his leg. Early signs are that Rooney will be out for a month.
Though the match ended tightly, the result flattered Fulham a little. United dominated for the large part and their first half performance should be a hint of what is to come from United this season.
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