After a blazing start to the season, October, November, and part of December saw a lack of five-star performances from Manchester United. Lulls are inevitable in a long and arduous season, especially when you throw a rash of injuries into the equation, but it’s only natural for fans to want to see top-notch performances on a consistent basis and to see those top-notch performances result in wins.
But if the last few games are any indication, United are rounding back into form, with two excellent performances in a row against Wolves and QPR. Can they make it three quality outings and three straight wins tonight at Fulham? It sets up to be a real challenge for United, as they haven’t won at Craven Cottage in their last three visits, but with the team playing inspired football at the right time, tonight looks promising.
Last season, United took four of six points against Fulham, though it could and should have been six of six.
In their meeting at Craven Cottage, United took an 84th-minute lead on a Brede Hangeland own goal and had a chance to all but put it away with a penalty a few minutes later. However, Nani failed to convert, and it proved costly, as Hangeland equalized in the 89th minute to earn the Cottagers a 2-2 draw.
Things went much better for United at home, though, as first-half goals from Dimitar Berbatov and Antonio Valencia produced a 2-0 win.
1) Fulham started the season with only two wins in their first 13 league matches, but with two wins in their last three matches, they’ve moved up to 11th in the table. Overall, the Cottagers have 18 points from 16 matches, with four wins, six draws, and six defeats.
For the last few seasons, Fulham have been tough to beat at home, and after winning only one of their first six home games this season, they’ve won their last two, against Liverpool and Bolton.
2) Fulham have scored 18 goals this season, 14 of them at home. Their leading scorer and attacking threat is American star Clint Dempsey, who has netted five Premier League goals this season, notched three goals in the Europa League, and has also assisted on several more goals this season.
3) Defensively, Fulham have also allowed 18 goals, nine at home and nine away. On the season, they have seven clean sheets, including four in eight home matches.
Currently they’re without usual #1 keeper Mark Schwarzer, who is set to miss six weeks with a back injury that he suffered at Swansea a week and a half ago. With Schwarzer out, Martin Jol has had to call upon David Stockdale, who had been on loan at Championship side Ipswich until Schwarzer’s injury.
1) After winning only five league games away from home all of last season, United have already surpassed that total less than halfway through this season. Sunday’s 2-0 win at QPR was United’s sixth away win in eight games, and after picking up only 25 points in 19 matches away from home last season, they’ve already picked up 20 points away from home this season.
Part of their success away from home this season can be attributed to being much better defensively than last season. Last season, United surrendered 25 goals away from home, but they’ve given up only three so far this season, one at West Brom (a soft goal from open play), Stoke City (a soft goal from a corner), and Liverpool (a soft goal from a free kick).
Speaking of defense, with the clean sheet at QPR, United have posted five clean sheets in their last seven league matches, with only two goals allowed in that span. Frankly, take that match out of the equation, and United have been extremely tight at the back all season, even with injuries affecting the lineup from the start.
2) Wayne Rooney is scoring again, and it can’t come at a better time for United. After scoring twice against Wolves, Roo scored the opener inside a minute at QPR to take his haul for the season to 12 league goals in 15 matches and 14 in 20 matches in all competitions.
3) Rooney is, of course, in the United starting lineup tonight, but after starting on Sunday, Rio Ferdinand isn’t and also isn’t on the subs’ bench. Considering the quick turnaround between matches, it’s understandable that Rio’s being rested, which means that Phil Jones moves out of the midfield slot he’d been occupying recently to move to right back, with Chris Smalling moving from right back to center back to partner Jonny Evans.
With Jones moving to defense for the night, Ryan Giggs will start in the center of midfield alongside Michael Carrick, who’s in fantastic form at the moment. And last but not least, Anders Lindegaard gets a start in goal tonight, and given how he’s impressed in the starts he’s received this season, we should expect a strong performance from him tonight.
Also, Antonio Valencia gets a second straight start tonight on the right wing, which is well deserved after a fine performance against QPR.
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