Fulham manager Mark Hughes does not expect Manchester United to take their eye off the ball in Saturday’s Barclays Premier League clash at Old Trafford, but will be ready to exploit any opportunity if they do.
The Red Devils will be without Wayne Rooney as he serves the first of a two-game ban following Football Association sanctions after he swore into a TV camera during last week’s win at West Ham.
England striker Rooney will also miss the FA Cup semi-final showdown against Manchester City at Wembley, but kept Sir Alex Ferguson’s men on course for a potential treble with a crucial away goal in the midweek Champions League quarter-final first leg win at Chelsea.
With United still fighting on all three fronts, it is likely Ferguson will rotate his squad for Saturday’s match against the Cottagers, who have been beaten nine times away this season.
However, Hughes believes his old club will not lose any focus as they look to extend their seven-point lead over Arsenal at the top of the table.
“Past experience suggests that won’t be, but we have got to be ready if they are not on their A game. If they are not then we have a chance to win the game. We are looking to be positive,” said Hughes, whose men have moved away from the relegation zone following a run of just two defeats in the last 11 Premier League games.
“We are playing well, so why not have a go? If their eye is off the ball, then maybe we can exploit that.
“In terms of the schedule they have got at the moment, with the high-profile games, we can’t really say what players we will be facing, but they will be accomplished players.
“It is about managing your resources and Sir Alex has been the best for a long time at picking the right team for the right game, so we know we are in for a big test.
“Their home form has been exemplary. Only one team has been able to go there and get a draw, but we want to do better than that if we can.”
Hughes, who had two successful spells at Old Trafford as a player, believes his old club continue to show the true spirit of champions, while other sides like Arsenal and Chelsea fail to make the most of any opportunities presented.
“As the season progresses towards the business end, United are getting stronger and stronger,” said the 47-year-old former Wales manager.
“They understand exactly what needs to be done and are going about their business in a fantastic manner and sweeping everyone aside.
“Against West Ham, they found themselves in a difficult situation, but they did not panic, got on with their job and turned things around, because they have the mentality and a manager who demands that of them.”
Hughes knows better than most the aura which surrounds United when they play at Old Trafford, with visiting teams sometimes appearing beaten before they step off the coach.
However, the Fulham manager expects his squad to be fully prepared for what awaits them tomorrow afternoon.
“The quality of the opposition you are against and the stage can undermine the confidence of the players going there, the history of the club and the support they have around them – come 3pm on a Saturday, sometimes that can be too much for players,” he said.
“I don’t anticipate for one moment it will be too much for my players because we are enjoying what we are doing at the moment, so we are very positive we can go there and get a good result.”