Manchester United fan Elliot Dawson was kind enough to give us his thoughts ahead of their trip to Fulham this weekend
It is testament to both Roy Hodgson and the current Fulham playing staff that an away trip to Craven Cottage can no longer be considered a gimme for the Premier League’s top teams. Both Liverpool and Sunday’s opponents Manchester United left South West London without a solitary point in the last campaign, with valuable credits also taken from Everton, Tottenham, and Birmingham to ensure yet another credible campaign total.
Following a solid pre-season and a useful opening-day draw at the Reebok Fulham must surely be in high spirits leading into their first big test of the year. New manager Mark Hughes, a former United legend and the first major causality of Dr. Sulaiman’s Grand Projects at Man City last year, has done little to tinker with the personnel during his short reign and could be forgiven for expecting the same level of discipline and application enjoyed by his predecessor.
For United, it is vital that no early ground be lost to Chelsea and they will be hoping that there be no repeat of last years humiliating 3-0 defeat.
Much has changed since that cold December afternoon, not least that United can expect to start with a recognized first team defender. Last year with Fletcher and Carrick at the heart of their defence Fulham were able to carve them open at will. This time around, although Rio Ferdinand is still a long-term absentee, Jonny Evans and Nemanja Vidic will be available and United fans will be hoping that they can continue to develop the sort of intuitive partnership that is the hallmark of every championship winning side of the modern era.
Ferguson, with the recognition that to remain static in the Premiership is to go backwards, has added youth and vigour to his squad over the summer months and has a healthy looking balance of energy and experience throughout his impressive squad. Fulham on the other hand have had little opportunity to recruit any fresh talent and, as Hodgson before him, Hughes must settle with making the most out of what he currently has. The speculation surrounding Mark Schwarzer’s proposed move to the Emirates has been disruptive to Fulham’s preparations but new signing Moussa Dembele is a welcome addition and should fit straight into a threadbare-looking attack, allowing star-striker Bobby Zamora to rest his legs after what has been a grueling 18-months.
Both teams have much to prove after contrasting fortunes last year. Fulham will be looking to consolidate their position in mid-table and, if they can regain the form that saw them announce themselves on the European stage last year, then another Europa League spot is well within reach. United however will be looking to impose themselves at the top of the league by picking up some early momentum over their rivals. Superseding the current champions, Chelsea, and their bitterest foe, Liverpool, to claim their 19th domestic crown is priority at Old Trafford this year, a feat that looks a distinct possibility given their opening game win over Newcastle on Monday.
Expect excitement and open football but, I’m sorry Fulham fans, I think it’ll be more predictable score-line than last season’s fixture. Rooney to score twice in a 3-1 to the Red Devils.
Elliot was also kind enough to answer the regular pre-match questions we pose to visiting fans.
1. What are your expectations for United this season?
I fully expect United to challenge for the title this year, along with Chelsea and Arsenal. If the youngest members of the squad can find their feet quickly I think we could be in for something special. If not then we will still be professional and pick up wins like we have for the last couple of seasons but it may not be enough come May. Whatever happens we will always be competitive, Ferguson and the fans wouldn’t settle for anything less.
2. What did you think of the 3-0 win over Newcastle on Monday?
Solid without being spectacular. It was a potential opening game banana-skin which you just need to get through. It’s clear that Rooney is lacking last season’s joie de vivre but hopefully Berbatov will be able to enhance his reputation at Old Trafford with a few more goals in 2010/11. Newcastle look like they may struggle away from home though.
3. How do you assess United’s summer signings? Fulham fans will be interested to know how Chris Smalling has settled in.
Smalling will grow into a United player over time and will be given plenty of opportunities in the cups this year. He is great cover for Rio Ferdinand in the short-term and, in the long term, his likely successor. Chicharito is capturing the hearts and minds at present but still needs reigning in at times. Bebe is an odd one but, by all accounts, might just turn out to be another Ronaldo.
4. Are there any areas that you think Sir Alex Ferguson should still strengthen?
The goalkeeping situation looks a worry, especially for next season. Van der Sar is already creaking and there is no able understudy at present but I’m sure Fergie has eyes and ears all over the world to find an appropriate replacement. Similarly, with Giggs and Scholes looking like they are on there way in 2011, unless Hargreaves experiences some kind of medical miracle we are light in midfield. The Fledglings are close to all flying the nest and its time for the new breed to take their place. If they don’t then the future looks bleak.
5. Are the Glazers still a major talking point amongst United fans? Are you happy with their ownership of the club?
The ownership of the club is largely irrelevant unless the team starts losing. With a long-term business plan that is based on consistent on-field success it is clearly an unstable position to be in. But, in order for United to carry on winning they need to spend money and recruit better players and, in that regard, the Glazers have always been forthcoming. The situation was exacerbated by the sale of Cristiano Ronaldo but that made footballing, as well as financial, sense and the fact that Ferguson hasn’t gone out and blown the money on a like-for-like superstar has been because there hasn’t been one available, not because he has been forced to bank the money to pay loan repayments. We as fans should get behind the team and stop the divisive action that is turning the club into a media circus.
5. How do you think Fulham will do under old United favourite Mark Hughes?
Hughes is a shrewd and intelligent manager who has never really been given credit for the jobs he did at Blackburn and Man City. He has learnt from the best after all and you know what you will get from his teams – passion, determination, physicality, and hard-work. It is only when you have those ingredients at a football club that things like guile, flair, and showmanship can come through. Fulham will be ok with Hughes but he will be forever fighting the fans expectations which maybe have been set too high since the virtual deification of Roy Hodgson.
6. Are there any players in the Fulham side that you’re particularly concerned about?
The whole of the starting XI for Fulham are impressive – they are a genuinely quality side. Zamora can score goals from anywhere, Gera is full of gumption, and Murphy is perhaps one of the most influential players in the whole league. What they suffer from is a lack of depth but that can’t be addressed without big investment. On their day Fulham can, and will, beat anyone but when their resources are stretched you can see them rolling over.
7. How do you think United will approach the game on Sunday? Can they put their poor recent run of results at the Cottage behind them?
United will be looking to come out of the traps early to get the upper hand and silence the crowd. Rooney will be crucial to their gameplan – it will be interesting to see whether Fergie goes with the same 4-4-2 that he played against Newcastle on Monday or opts for the tradition 4-5-1 that he favours away from home. United will need to boss the midfield and stretch their wide men to create space for Scholes to pick passes which will open up the strong Fulham defence. Above all they’ll be looking to avenge last years humiliation so expect plenty of strong tackles and tons of shots on goal.
8. Finally, what do you reckon the score will be?
3-1 United. Rooney to score twice, Berbatov the other with Hangeland scoring a late header.