The result genuinely speaks for itself, loud and clear. What a dismal afternoon Fulham stumbled through at the Theatre of Dreams, or chilling nightmares, against Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United, who leisurely coasted through proceedings in cruise control. Needless to add, but it was also United’s biggest home victory of the campaign.
Each encounter against the Premier League’s top six has been labelled a ‘free hit’ and a loss at Old Trafford is a relative formality, but if we’re to claw our way out of the depths we’re currently languishing in, we have to yank our heads out of the sand, pronto. There’s no place to cower and hide in the world’s marquee division.
Ranieri has only been at the helm a matter of weeks and since his arrival the Cottagers have genuinely rallied to alter their misfortunes. On Saturday, however, the Whites were ruthlessly flogged by a United fold that also carry frailties and hindrances, a deplorable defeat that illuminated, to our sheer dismay, our own damning deficiencies.
Painfully Pedestrian Performance
United had an unprecedented freedom whilst Fulham shuffled after their shadows. Anticipating a determined performance from all in white following Wednesday’s dogged antics at Craven Cottage, I was personally bewildered by the unsightly amount of respect and privilege we gifted Mourinho’s men.
The Whites severely lacked intensity and were dragged apart by United’s swift movement and combinations in the middle of the park. Struggling to contain the likes of Ander Herrera and a roaming Romelu Lukaku, we were rendered ineffective by the home side’s willingness to pounce on our muted tameness.
In previous weeks, we’ve marvelled at Fulham’s desire to frustrate and shackle their opponents with a rejuvenated defensive ethic, although United’s creativity, directness and fierceness completely unhinged our momentum and confidence, hence the inexcusable first-half capitulation.
Even in possession, for those startlingly brief periods, Fulham laboured in their attempts to venture past the halfway line and were duly cordoned. United tightened their grip and we choked, fatally. Furthermore, Mourinho’s temperamental fold weren’t even at their shining best, however it had to be us, again, that made a distinctly average outing appear superlative.
Feeble on the Flanks
An Achilles heel of ours, United recognised that our channels could be breached with very little resistance. incorporating Juan Mata and Marcus Rashford in their advancements, Diogo Dalot and Ashley Young methodically exploited Joe Bryan and Denis Odoi, most notably, and bombarded our 18-yard box incessantly.
At first, Denis Odoi actually equalled Young and Rashford in each of their individual sieges on our penalty area, however in the 13th minute, after withstanding wave after wave, the Belgian’s lesser superiority was duly abused. Young weaved his way through Odoi, literally, to crash a fizzing shot into the top right corner from an obscure angle. Queue the implosion.
All four of United’s pivotal blows initially culminated from wide areas on the right side, not the left. I’m not trying to directly pin Odoi, because Mawson failed to close Lukaku in the build up to their second and Mata was in fact fractionally offside for their third, but the 30-year-old was unmistakably one of our weaker representatives. I suppose we had to make do with what we had available, seeing as Timothy Fosu-Mensah was prohibited to play against his parent employers.
Straying from defensive ineptitude, our offensive components also toiled in their attempts to strain and stretch United from the touchline, none more so that Andre Schurrle, who ambled through the encounter in a disinterested, defeatist manner. The German was a mere spectator and well out of his depth. Renowned figures like him, a World Cup winner, should lead by example and elevate morale, not sink.
Ryan Sessegnon tried with all his might to fleece Dalot, but the 18-year-old simply couldn’t steal a march on the steadfast Argentine. He did, however, send Phil Jones back to year 3 with an exquisite pirouette, and for that we can be eternally grateful. Judging Jones’ troubled reaction, his facial expression would have been absolutely hilarious.
Anguissa the Anguished
With Calum Chambers unavailable due to fitness concerns, Ranieri rightfully installed Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa into his starting XI to deputise in the 23-year-old anchor’s unfortunate absence. On paper it was a necessary inclusion, but it soon became visible that the strapping Cameroonian is nowhere near an effective holding midfielder, or indeed even worth £30m for that matter. My retinas are still stinging.
Paired alongside Jean-Micheal Seri, who may as well have stayed in SW6, Anguissa’s midfield support came at a sparse premium and the former Olympique de Marseille competitor was basically forced to cover the back four on his own. But gosh, did he make a horrendous hash of his preservative duties. Those two cannot feature together as a double pivot ever again, it’s farcical.
Erratically bundling into challenges, frantic distribution, naive tactical awareness, Anguissa was consistently preyed upon and was twisted inside out by Rashford on one notable occasion as a result of getting too tight to the searing England international in a central position – let the 21-year-old turn unopposed and then size him up, as he’s devastatingly rapid across 20 yards.
Anguissa’s toilsome evening was cut short in the 68th minute after receiving a contentious second caution. Grappling with Rashford, which ensued into a strange UFC-inspired melee, Anguissa painstakingly pleaded his innocence, but Lee Probert authoritatively discarded his case. In all fairness, Anguissa didn’t do much wrong at all, although he should have possibly been subbed at the break as a precautionary measure, anyway.
Sensibly Selected Subs
Aleksandar Mitrovic and Tom Cairney were both hauled off at the break and replaced by Aboubakar Kamara and Luciano Vietto respectively. Heads were scratched, fists were clenched, and many a blue phrase was shrieked in defiance, but Ranieri’s baffling deck shuffle undoubtedly had a shrewdly profound purpose. Guys, there’s a bigger picture to observe here.
The meeting was well and truly lost in the first-half and Ranieri understood that Fulham weren’t equipped to relinquish United’s domineering cushion. And with pivotal, season defining encounters to come over the festive period, resting integral figures wherever possible will be essential to our prosperity.
By far our most ingenious craftsman, Cairney’s still presumably grafting his way back to full fitness after a string of 45-minute cameos, and it’s critical that the injury prone metronome remains sharp and motivated for the tasks ahead. Vietto performed adequately as the Scotsman’s direct replacement, without making too much of a telling impact.
AK47, considering he’s a human high-rise, is arguably stronger that Mitro’ physically and the Frenchman was ultimately introduced as the focal point to buttress and bully Jones and Chris Smalling in a similar vein to the bullish Serb. Buffeting his way into the penalty area, the 23-year-old was awarded a dubious penalty in the 67th minute, which he coolly dispatched. At last, something ironic to shout about, rather than at.
Two goals in two appearances for the haphazard liability, I mean, seasoned Premier League marksman. Many happy returns to Ibrahima Cisse, too, who realised his life-long dream in becoming a fully fledged top-flight professional. Great to know he’s still alive.
Sturdy-ish Second-Half Showing
Am I clutching at straws when I proclaim that the second 45 was in fact a 1-1 draw? Outfought, jaded and clipped to 10-men for the last 20 minutes, of course, it may seem a shallow consolation, however the Whites did regroup after the interval – to some extent – to ensure that United’s 3-0 cushion didn’t double, or indeed triple.
Fulham were the brighter force once play resumed and even established base camp in United’s half for a prolonged spell. With fresh, invigorated faces on the pitch, the Cottagers hounded and hassled United into desperately clearing their lines and rushing their routine passes, which subsequently soothed Fulham’s pounding headaches at the back.
It’s often said that it’s markedly tougher to dismantle a team of ten than it is a full compliment, and though United’s fourth was registered by a rasping Rashford piledriver, the Whites were regimented in their unjust depletion and consummately thwarted the Reds’ threatening opportunities. It wasn’t Sergio Rico’s finest hour, but the Spaniard also made a catalogue of astounding saves to deny United’s baying hit-men further rewards.
Okay, it’s definitely a game to forget but I’m sure that we’ll soon get over ourselves, once wounds have been licked and the angst has subsided. Admittedly, this type of defeat is all part of the club’s transitional cycle, as it will abruptly remind us that we’re in esteemed, venerated company.
We were porous, brittle and limp at Old Trafford, but at least we categorically stormed the race back down the M6 to London, though. A drubbing it was, but we support our local club. Peering ahead, West Ham United awaits, and next Saturday is undoubtedly a tangible instance to claim three crucial points on our home patch. Keep those chins up and we’ll see you at the Cottage very, very soon.