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Match 2 preview: Fulham-Manchester Utd

21 August 2010

Danny Murphy will have his hands full with the geriatric Paul Scholes in the central midfield.

I’m not going to bother to pretend I could (or want to) bore you with a complete tactical breakdown of how Fulham can take apart the Red Devils for a third straight season at the Cottage. This isn’t ZonalMarking.net.

That said, I feel very confident entering into the home opener tomorrow (11am ET, FSC). This same core of Fulham players have looked very comfortable (and skillful) in this fixture the past two seasons, earning well-deserved 2-0 and 3-0 victories. Last season, United’s back four was decimated at the time, but that didn’t explain how Fulham passed the rest of the side off the park, too.

In examining the Guardian’s fun chalkboards after last week’s opener at Bolton, it’s clear that under Mark Hughes, Fulham took a decidedly more optimistic posture away from home. There were a lot more direct, incisive passes forward and, generally, the m.o. was to attack with more urgency than Fulham ever showed under master magician Roy Hodgson.

It will be interesting now to see how Hughes wants his side to play at home, especially against a team where a little Hodgson-style shape and discipline could go a long way. United is still very talented, but this version is a far cry from the best Red Devils teams of past seasons. Wayne Rooney still hasn’t recovered his form since an ankle injury and a rancid World Cup dampened the first 80 percent of a world-class 2009-10 campaign. His strike partner, Dimitar Berbatov, is talented but mercurial. I don’t rate Darren Fletcher in the midfield nearly to the extent Jake does, and with aging and/or missing and/or so-so parts at several other positions, this is a United side that’s ripe for the taking at home.

Will Fulham be up for it? It’s quite possible David Stockdale will continue in goal for the “injured” Mark Schwarzer, but recent rumors that the club will be offering LB Paul Konchesky a new contract should help settle another player mired in transfer speculation. I’d love to see Hughes start going with more of a 4-2-3-1 formation, with Bobby Zamora up top and supported by (my preference) Moussa Bembele, Zoltan Gera and Clint Dempsey, with Danny Murphy and Dickson Etuhu in defensive midfield support. That would be a beautiful possession side and one that should be very flexible and creative in approach. The inclusion of Bembele’s speed and dribbling on the left also should help Fulham open up the far weaker side of United’s back four.

I’m going to be in Las Vegas for this game (hopefully watching at the Crown & Anchor, if anyone’s around) and I’m very tempted to drop $20 on Fulham to win at home, getting 6:1 odds. The Cottagers have beaten better United sides than this and the Cottage has seen its fair share of magnificent victories in the last couple years. Here’s to another to jumpstart this campaign.

Optimistic prediction: Fulham 2, United 1
Realistic prediction: Fulham 1, United 1

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