Man Utd 2 Fulham 0: Report, Player Ratings & Video Highlights
With the sun shining down on Old Trafford, Manchester United stormed to a 2-0 over Fulham in the Barclays Premier League. Nani created two first half goals for both Dimitar Berbatov, who took his league-leading goal total to 21, and Antonio Valencia, who registered his first of the season, to give United all three points.
The victory, which marked the seventh straight time that United has got maximum points against Fulham at home, moves them, momentarily, in front of Arsenal, which have two games in hand, by a massive 10 points in the Premier League table.
With this match sandwiched between two UEFA Champions League Quarterfinal matches with Chelsea, Sir Alex Ferguson, unsurprisingly, made eight changes to his starting line-up.
Wayne Rooney starts serving his first of a two-match suspension, so the Gaffer decided to recall Berbatov to the starting XI for the first time in the last six matches in all competitions, so the league’s leading goal scorer operated up top on his own in Sir Alex’s 4-5-1 formation. Behind the Bulgarian, Sir Alex made four changes to his midfield with Anderson, Darron Gibson, Nani, who was also making his first start in the last three games, and Paul Scholes with only Valencia keeping his spot from the Chelsea match.
At the back, Ferguson made three changes to his back-five bringing in John O’Shea, who has recovered from his hamstring injury he suffered against Olympique de Marseille, Chris Smalling and Tomasz Kuszczak, who rudely announced before the match that he is leaving the club in the summer.
Within 40 seconds of the match, Gael Kakuta, who is on loan from Chelsea, got passed Anderson with ease, and fired in a good right-footed shot from the top of the box that Kuszczak did well to get down and block and smother up the rebound. The Reds first effort came in the fourth minute when Richard Hughes blocked Valencia’s cross, but it only made it to Nani, standing on the outside of the box, but the winger’s shot took a decisive block and went over the Fulham goal.
After having a clear shout for a penalty, Fulham mounted an attack of their own it was their summer signing, Moussa Dembele, struck a left foot shot of his own, and this time Kuszczak could only get his left hand on the shot to tip it around the post for a corner to visitors. A kind deflection caromed off of an unsuspecting Scholes that let Bobby Zamora in behind the United defense and presented the Cottagers a great chance, but, thankfully, he failed to get his shot on target and the Reds got off the hook.
A great play on from Mike Jones, the referee, allowed United to get the early goal in the 12th minute. Nani slipped passed two Fulham defenders, and played a nice one-two with Anderson, and then touched the ball into the path of Berbatov, and the Bulgarian, who looked to be close to being in an offside position, struck home his 21st goal of the season from close range.
The goal did not change the flow of the match, because both teams were still trading attacks, but it was the visitors who had the next half-chance. Chris Baird floated a long, high cross towards the far post from the right-hand channel, and instead of laying the ball off for a teammate, Zamora tried placing his header passed Kuszczak at his near post, but the want-away goalkeeper was not troubled.
The Reds were presented with a fantastic opportunity to double their lead in the 19th minute, and it was all created by the inventiveness of the United No. 9. Berbatov danced passed his defender, and held the ball up well and squared it back for his on-rushing teammates, but Anderson, who was gifted a golden chance by a dummy from Gibson, screwed his left-footed shot well wide of Mark Schwarzer’s left-hand post.
With some good passing in the middle of the pitch, Clint Dempsey received the ball from about 35-yards, and the American, who had better options to his right, let fly, but his shot went terribly wide of the goal.
Fulham were presented with a good position to cause United problems with a free-kick, but it was cleared well by Berbatov, and the Reds broke on a counterattack down the right. Valencia used his trickery to evade his first defender, and played a good one-two with Gibson, which saw him burst down the right wing, and with his other options cut off, the Ecuadorian went on his own, and it took a decent block from Brede Hangeland denied him.
There were three corners for United in a two minute span that Smalling did ever so well to out-jump his former teammate, Hangeland, but each time his efforts, two of them that fell to his teammates, were either blocked by a Fulham defender or came to nothing.
In the last couple of minutes down the left, Nani was terrorizing his marker, Baird, and it resulted in United’s second goal. A great ball over the ball top was expertly met by Nani just ahead of Schwarzer, and the winger did even better to keep his balance to collect the ball, and, with two Fulham defenders scrambling back to guard their open net, floated a cross-shot towards the target that Valencia was on hand to head home from less than a yard out.
Moments later, some terrible communication between Smalling and Kuszczak nearly gifted the Lillywhites a goal, but, to spare their blushes, the United goalkeeper plopped on the loose ball with Dembele lurking.
The match was certainly entertaining, but since the goal the final ball for both teams was certainly lacking, which was a poor reflection of the play that was going on inside of Old Trafford. On the verge of halftime, some great penetration by Valencia, nearly added United’s third, but a terrific intervening block by Hughes cleared the ball out for a corner kick.
The second half got underway with the Reds attacking their favored Stretford End, and, like the match against West Ham United, the next goal will more than likely dictate the outcome of the match.
Fulham came out of the gates full of confidence, and showed that they wanted to get that next goal by putting the Reds under some intense pressure, but a goalkeeping error gifted the Reds the first real opportunity of the half. Schwarzer’s clearance fell to fell to the foot of an unmarked Valencia, and with he quickly spotted Anderson, who struck the ball first time, but the Fulham ‘keeper made up for his mistake by parrying his shot out for a corner kick.
On multiple occasions, Anderson had chances to spring a teammate in behind the Fulham defense, but his pass was wayward and killed off the chances for United.
Berbatov did well to create and nearly finish off United’s next chance. Aided by the referee, Berbatov spun passed his defender, and played the ball back to Gibson, who expertly slid to play the ball out wide to Valencia, and he whipped in one of his trademark crosses, but the Bulgarian could not wrap his foot around it and it went wide of Schwarzer’s left post.
10 minutes into the second half, Hughes made his first change bringing on Eidur Gudjohnsen, who has only played 20 minutes for the Cottagerss, for Dembele to provide more experience the visitor’s attack. Dempsey was given the space to shoot from distance twice, but back-to-back blocks by Smalling denied Fulham’s leading goal scorer.
With a half an hour to go, United looked content dropping off deep and allowing the Cottagers to attack, and Gudjohnsen was within inches of halving the United lead with scorching effort, which was saved well by the finger tips of Kuszczak.
The referee whistled Vidic for going through the back of Zamora, which gifted Fulham a free-kick from 35-yards out, but Kakuta blasted well over from long-range. Nani lost Baird down the left, and he spot and unmarked Gibson at the top of the Fulham penalty area, but the Irishman, who normally thumps the ball, went for placement and struck it directly at Schwarzer.
Hughes made his second change of the match withdrawing Dickson Etuhu, a midfielder, in favor of an attack-minded Zoltan Gera, who scored against the Reds two seasons ago.
Anderson did well to latch on to a loose ball and out race Hangeland, but his shot did match the efforts he put in prior to, and his 20-yard shot was easily saved by Schwarzer.
Like he did against West Ham, Vidic blocked off the run of Kakuta right on the edge of the United penalty area, but this time it was given as a free-kick instead of spot-kick. The resulting set piece saw both Zamora and Murphy standing over the ball, and it was the former, who swung his effort just wide of the top corner.
Watching from the stands, Ferguson phoned down his orders to United dugout to introduce Michael Owen for Valencia, which saw their formation switch to a 4-4-2. Dempsey drove at the United defense, and spotted Zamora on the left, and with the outside of the boot, he picked out a wide-open Baird on the opposite of the box, but his shot flew over the top of Kuszczak’s goal.
With his formation off-balanced, the stoppage in play allowed Ferguson to make his second substitution by replacing Anderson with fellow Brazilian, Fabio.
Fulham refused to take their foot off the pedal, and nearly set up a nervy last 10 minutes, but, fortunately, their slack defending was enough to deny the visitors. At the other end, a poor clearance went straight to Berbatov, but his bending shot was blocked well by Hughes and Schwarzer did well to save to his right.
Hughes made his final roll of the dice by bringing on former United youngster, Jonathan Greening for his captain, Murphy. United won a free-kick on their right channel, and the initial effort into the box was cleared only as far O’Shea, and the stand-in right-back swung his left peg at the ball, but his shot was saved by Schwarzer.
With under five minutes to go, Sir Alex sent on Michael Carrick to add more steel and composure to the center of midfield, and it allowed Nani to get a standing ovation. Scholes had a very good chance to shoot just inside of the Fulham penalty, but his powerful shot that he struck on the volley rose well over Schwarzer’s goal.
The referee awarded minimum of three minutes of added time to play, which Manchester United did well to see out, and were full value for all three Barclays Premier League points against Fulham.
Having been rested in the last couple of games, Nani attacked down the left wing with precise pace and power, and increased his league-leading assist total by at least one.
T. Kuszczak – 7; J. O’Shea – 6, C. Smalling – 7, N. Vidic – 6, P. Evra – 7; A. Valencia – 8 (M. Owen – 5), P. Scholes – 7, Anderson – 6 (Fabio – 6), D. Gibson – 7, Nani – 8 (M. Carrick – 5); D. Berbatov – 7
D. Berbatov (12′), A. Valencia (32′)
Shots (On Target): 16 (12)
Fouls Conceded (Suffered): 12 (8)
Watch match highlights from Man Utd 2-0 Fulham
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