Manchester United exorcised the hoodoo of Craven Cottage in emphatic fashion yesterday with a 5-0 trashing of the home side. A very good result in the festive season that we are in, heading into Christmas. Ever since our exit from the Champions League, we have upped the ante with our performances and results. There’s no more of the laboured 1-0 wins in the aftermath of the humiliation by Manchester City but from experience of past seasons, I believe those laboured, gritty 1-0 wins are as appreciated as the 5-0 wins in the bigger picture of winning the Premier League title and they would make a return too if there is a need to because it is impossible for a team to play in the same way all the time in a league as competitive as the Premier League.
At kickoff I was proved right when Ryan Giggs was chosen to start in centre midfield alongside in-form Michael Carrick but disappointed and upset to find Rio Ferdinand out. Post-match I found out that his absence was through injury so I guess his run in the starting line-up was only 2 matches long. Ferdinand as we know have been quite injury-prone for at least 2 seasons now and his body has been susceptible to injuries, creaking now from the pressure of playing every 3 days. With captain Nemanja Vidic sidelined for the rest of the season, we would need Ferdinand more than ever but looking at his recent injury history, United would do well to wrap him up with cotton wool and pick and choose the matches that he would play for the rest of the season.
Due to Ferdinand’s absence, Phil Jones was shifted back into defence and although originally it was stated that Jones would partner Jonny Evans in central defence, I felt it was right to play Chris Smalling in his usual position, the position that caught Sir Alex’s eye in the first place, in central defence due to his greater experience and composure. Unfortunately for United, things got worse on the injury front as Jones was caught by Clint Dempsey’s flailing elbow as both players went up for a header in the early minutes of the game. Jones lasted till 20 minutes and a wonderfully-timed sliding tackle in the box before asking to be replaced. United were by then 1-0 ahead after carrying on from where they left off at nearby Loftus Road by taking the lead inside the first 5 minutes through Danny Welbeck. At half-time, United were 3-0 ahead and looking very comfortable.
Our performance was very good, with good movement and interplay from the players. What helped us as well was the fact that Fulham hardly offered much of a challenge which contributed to make the lead so comfortable. In the second half, United eased up and Fulham put in greater effort and offered more of a threat going forward and challenging the United players more for the ball. Worringly, Fulham started to create more chances and tested Anders Lindegaard more than they did in the entire first half. Thankfully, Lindegaard was on top of his game as he kept his fourth clean sheet in four Premier League starts. United had another fall-in on the injury front when Jones’ replacement, Ashley Young got injured from a combination of aggressive challenges by Chris Baird and Dickson Etuhu. For all of Fulham’s pressure to at least score a consolation goal in the second half, United still posed a danger whenever they went forward and struck a fourth as Wayne Rooney belted a shot from 30 yards to keep his goal-scoring run continuing and substitute Dimitar Berbatov added United’s fifth and his fiftieth United goal with a nonchalant back heel from an Antonio Valencia cross.
Undoubtedly we are on a great run of form but the injuries we thought were easing up have mounted again with the injuries to Ferdinand, Jones and Young. Our defence is looking increasingly threadbare; Ferdinand is expected to be out again for at least a week, Vidic out for a month and Jones out probably for 6 weeks. I would expect Jones to be back before 6 weeks as he probably will play on with a protective face mask before 6 weeks. In centre midfield, we are also threadbare as Carrick and Darron Gibson are the only two fit central midfielders. Ryan Giggs would have to be used sparingly inspite of a great performance against Fulham due to his age, we would hope to have Tom Cleverley back sooner rather than later now, Darren Fletcher is out indefinitely and Anderson is out until February. Park Ji Sung is an option as a winger and a central midfielder. On the wings, we have two in-form wingers in Valencia and Nani but no cover besides Park. If Sir Alex decides to use Valencia as a right back instead of fit again Rafael Da Silva, we would be left with lesser choices on the wing.
I do hope that the injury situation clears up sooner rather than later but it will be a test for the United squad to see how they cope with the packed fixture schedule and a squad decimated with injuries.