Manchester United host Fulham on Monday night whereby a win guarantees they will lead the Premier League heading into the final 8 games of the season.
Sir Alex Ferguson’s side have once again kicked into gear at the right stage of the season, winning 8 of their last 9 Premier League games despite getting emphatically dumped out of Europe by FC Basel and Athletic Club of Bilbao this season.
A comfortable 5-0 victory at Wolves last weekend saw Jonny Evans score his first Manchester United goal, Javier Hernandez hit a brace to take him into double figures for the season and Antonio Valencia score on his return from injury and setup two more. Wayne Rooney managed not to get his name on the scoresheet having scored 10 in his last 6 in all competitions heading into the game at Molineux.
David de Gea was rarely tested on Sunday as he collected his second straight Premier League clean sheet, taking his tally up to 7 for the season; 1 more than Anders Lindegaard. Sir Alex Ferguson has praised the central defensive partnership of Rio Ferdinand and Jonny Evans lately, although the pair have yet to be greatly tested. I would not expect much to change on Monday.
Fulham are hit-and-miss under Martin Jol, but a 13 point gap over the relegation zone has them all-but-safe for next season. The Cottagers have experienced a 6-0 win over Queens Park Rangers and a 5-0 win over Wolves this season, as well as losing 3-1 at Blackburn and 3-0 at home to Swansea.
Defensively, I don’t like the match up for Fulham. Whilst John Arne Riise kept Antonio Valencia relatively in check at Craven Cottage, the Norwegian full back can be very undisciplined in striding forward too often, with the Ecuadorian winger already having the pace advantage over the left back.
On the opposite flank, Nani had Chris Baird’s number in the meeting between these two earlier in the season. The Northern Irish defender has not played much recently, with Stephen Kelly playing at right back. The Portuguese midfielder is a doubt for this game, but in his place, Ashley Young has played well of late.
Ryan Giggs caused havoc from the centre of midfield in December, scoring a deflected effort past David Stockdale that day. Only Michael Carrick had more touches of the ball that day, with the evergreen Welsh-wonder having an assist to his name also.
Manchester United have too much pace and flair for this Fulham defence as I expect the defending Premier League champions to end Monday night on top of the Premier League. After a 5-0 win at Wolves last weekend I can see the Red Devils putting a couple past the hapless Fulham defence again before they travel to Blackburn the following Monday.
Barrie’s Bet: Manchester United to win -1.5