After a tough night in Turin, Fulham had for Old Trafford tomorrow, where about from one glorious afternoon early in Chris Coleman’s reign, we haven’t really enjoyed two much success. Not that many sides have that good a record up there, though.
There’s been plenty of discussion about how Hodgson will play this. Some have been advocating that he takes the ‘McCarthy’ route and rests players with future fixtures in mind. There’s something to be side for allowing a couple of the likely starters against Juventus on Thursday, but wholesale changes aren’t going to helpful.
The only alterations I can perceive Hodgson making would be to reintroduce Nicky Shorey at left back, which would make sense as the on-loan defender is Cup tied for our European games and there’s no need to rush Paul Konchesky back during a heavy schedule of games. Chris Smalling can’t play against United under the teams of the deal that will see him head north in the summer and there’s no real value in seperating Hughes and Hangeland at this stage.
Midfield might be an interesting one. Danny Murphy could be fit to return in the middle should he shake off a groin problem and given his great record against United, Fulham will like their captain available for selection. Simon Davies has been taken off early on a couple of ocassions and would normally be a candidate for a break but I suspect Roy Hodgson will want to ease the returning Clint Dempsey gently back towards full fitness following his earlier-than-anticipated return from a serious knee injury. Bjorn Helge Riise hasn’t featured for a while so this could be an opportunity to give him a rare taste of league football, from the bench at least.
Gera and Zamora have linked well together in the system Hodgson adopted to cope with a chronic lack of strikers. Bobby’s thrived as Fulham’s focal point and there’s no reason to change it. He might not have scored for a little while since his purple patch meant the media had to seriously consider him as a potential England player but his all-round play has been as excellent as ever.
United have been patchy this season amid injuries and all the off-field stability. I’ve long doubted the Glazers’ credentials as custodians of the football club let alone businessmen and the increasing efforts of MUST to build a campaign capable of unseating the Americans have to be applauded. How much it translates to the players on the field I’m not so sure. Those United fans who have protested have made it clear that there are still completely behind Ferguson and his team.
United will view this as an opportunity to reignite their title challenge and the way they demolished AC Milan in midweek suggests that they are more than capable of pushing Chelsea all the way. The ease of Wayne Rooney’s flicked header on Wednesday made me ponder the plausibility of an England call-up for Gary Neville, who delivered such a fine ball, with Glen Johnson injured and Wes Brown not really a right back. Stopping a team with all the creativity United have will be immensely difficult – and the first goal is massive (just as it will be come Thursday at the Cottage).
MY FULHAM XI (4-4-1-1): Schwarzer; Baird, Shorey, Hughes, Hangeland; Etuhu, Murphy, Davies, Duff; Gera; Zamora.