United got off to a flyer against QPR on Sunday, and things weren’t much different in their second visit to West London in four days.
With five minutes played, Nani was allowed to run down the left wing unchallenged and pull the ball back for Welbeck, setting up a simple finish for the youngster.
From then on it was a walk in the park for the Red Devils, although Fergie will be sweating over the fitness of Phil Jones and Ashley Young, as they both fell victim of injuries.
United confirmed pretty much the same line up that saw them beating QPR on Sunday, the only changes being Giggs coming in midfield, with Jones moved to right back and Smalling replacing Ferdinand in the heart of the defence, while Lindergaard replaced De Gea in goal.
Craven Cottage is a ground where Fergie’s men had struggled in the last few seasons, two defeats and a draw is a quite unimpressive record for any Ferguson-managed team, but they did their best to put the record straight.
Welbeck’s goal set up the tone for the rest of the half, with United in total control, so much that, at one stage, Fergie’s men had more than 60% of possession with Giggs and Carrick assuring composure and precision in the middle of the park.
The only sour note of the first half was that Jones had to be replaced by Young, after a suspect fractured cheekbone.
Just short of the half hour mark United found their second goal. Giggs played a short corner to Valencia, who returned the ball back to the Welsh for a perfect delivery that picked out Nani. The Portuguese winger, completely unmarked, headed the ball towards the far post where Stockdale could not reach it.
Fulham’s own shortcomings were there for all to see: a lack of composure in midfield and a virtually non-existent presence up-front, where the absence of Zamora deprived the Cottagers of a physical cutting edge.
United, on the other hand, were at their mesmerizing best, threatening to create a chance every time they had the ball, with Nani, Young and Valencia proving no match for Fulham’s fullbacks.
United fans will be thrilled to see their team regaining some of the swagger that marked the first few months of the campaign. United looked dangerous going forward and they’ve added a new found stability at the back to their game.
Welbeck was, again, extremely positive up-front, interchanging position with Rooney and displaying a good first touch, which, perhaps, explains why Ferguson chose him instead of Hernandez in the starting eleven. For all of Chicarito’s qualities in front of goal, Welbeck guarantees a better all round play at the moment.
United had the game wrapped up just before half time, as Nani was, again, allowed all the time in the world to set up Giggs for a simple finish, Senderos’deflection sending the ball looping over a hapless Stockdale.
Despite Fulham’s best efforts the second half was nothing to write home about, except for Johnson forcing a couple of good saves from Lindergaard – the Dane is yet to concede a goal in the league – and Welbeck scooping a ball over the bar after a superb move from United.
Unfortunately for United, Young joined the already long list of casualties as he hobbled off the pitch after being tackled by Etuhu.
Ferguson did welcome Berbatov back though and, after Rooney had scored an absolute cracker from 20 yards out, the Bulgarian applied the finishing touch to a wonderful night for United by meeting Valencia’s cross with a wonderful back-heel.
The game might have been beyond Fulham’s reach by then but, in any other game, such goals, coming so late in the game, would have been met with sheer joy.
The United fans were, again, in full voice. For all the – probably deserved – stereotypes that surround United home support, their away fans are surely the best in the land.
The Red Army was ridiculously loud, making Craven Cottage look like a southern branch of the Stretford End, with all the classic tunes getting an airing: from Georgie Best, to Cantona and Ronaldo, United’s trilogy of number 7, amongst many others, received a thorough tribute from the traveling supporters.
Remarkably, United fans were the first to make fun of themselves as chants of “Channel 5 is wonderful” rang through the air of a mild winter night in West London.
7 wins on the road for United, a second consecutive clean sheet and, despite the injuries, a feeling of growing confidence within the team: a happy Christmas indeed.
Daniele Cancian (@MUFC_dan87)
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