With another two week break for World Cup 2006 qualifying matches coming up, this weekend's round of Premiership matches is a vital chance to show some major improvement for the so far patchy Manchester United.
This weekend sees United back in London for the Saturday afternoon fixture against goalie Edwin van der Saar's former club, Fulham, owned by Mohamed Al Fayed, who also owns upmarket shop Harrods. The Red Devils are going to be too busy to go shopping however as, not having won in the League since August, there is some serious work to be done against a club currently lying fourth from bottom in the table.
Manchester United and former Fulham goalkeeper Edwin van der Saar
All I can tell you about the Fulham lineup today is that it reads Mark Crossley, Moritz Volz, Carlos Bocanegra, Alain Goma, Niclas Jensen, Steed Malbranque, Claus Jensen, Papa Bouba Diop, Luis Boa Morte, Brian McBride, Collins John with substitutes Heidar Helguson, Tomasz Radzinski, Ahmad Elrich, Dean Leacock and Tony Warner. Full details on the entire Fulham squad are available here.
This week's Manchester United lineup looks curiously almost 4-4-2 with Edwin van der Sar in goal; a back four of John O'Shea (the new Phil Neville?), Rio Ferdinand, the returning Mikael Silvestre and Kieran Richardson; in midfield we find Ji-sung Park, Darren Fletcher, Alan Smith, and Ryan Giggs (captaining the side for the second match in a row) with Wayne Rooney joining Ruud van Nistelrooy up front. There are a couple of notable players rested today, giving a bench of Tim Howard, Cristiano Ronaldo, Paul Scholes, Phil Bardsley, who did so well against Benfica in midweek and the young Spanish defender Gerard Pique.
Before anybody's had time to adjust to the lineups and formations, Fulham get the ball forward and their American striker Brian McBride heads the ball on to strike partner Collins John standing on the penalty spot.. The Liberian-born Dutch international makes no mistake and slams the ball past van der Sar into the corner of the net and with 2 minutes gone it's GOOOOOAAALLL 1-0 to Fulham.
Unfortunately, there is a lot of wind swirling round Craven Cottage making it difficult for either side to get their passing game working. Fortunately, United don't let this early setback get to them and keep pressing forward. Within 10 minutes of the restart the Red Devils have had three decent shots saved by Fulham's keeper Crossley then, in the 15th minute, the Cottagers' German defender Moritz Volz brings down Ji-sung Park in the Fulham box and it's a clear penalty to the Reds.
Ruud van Nistelrooy steps forward and with a confident air practically strokes the ball past Crossley and it's GOOOOOOOOOOOAAAAAAAAAAAAALLLLLLLL 1-1.
Ruud and Rooney celebrate
The good news has hardly sunk in before Park is surging forward again and slides a great pass through to Rooney who makes no mistake and shoots past the advancing Crossley and it's GOOOOOOOOOOAAAAAAAAALLLLLLLLLL 1-2 to United! Two goals in two minutes - and playing 4-4-2. Sensational!
United aren't in a mood to settle for this and keep pressing forward whilst Fulham seem happy to play the offside trap and counterattack. Just before the half hour mark and totally against the run of play, Fulham have a free kick which their Danish international midfielder Claus Jensen sweeps goalwards and, with Ferdinand and O'Shea leadenfootedly ballwatching, almost unbelievably it's GOOOOOOOOOALLLLLLL to Fulham and 2-2.
Both sides are up for it now and the match is turning into a real classic Premiership attacking game played at high pace. This match is turning into a total vindication of the 4-4-2 formation and attacking football and the hell with 4-5-1!
United do it better of course and in first half stoppage time Park again proved his skill, determination and increasing importance to United with a beautifully placed pass to an unmarked van Nistelrooy who simply tapped the ball into the net and it's GOOOOOOOAAAAAAAALLLLLLLLLL 2-3 to United and halftime. Whew!
Heavy rain and determined defending combined to prevent the second half matching the excitement of the first and with only a couple of chances at each end and no further goals to report, United did indeed revert to 4-5-1 for the last few minutes, correctly defending the ultimately match winning lead.
This review is cross-posted here at BlogCritics