Jack Stroudley looks at our upcoming fixture against Manchester United.
It’s the last game before the World Cup and Fulham welcome Manchester United to Craven Cottage, looking to bounce back after last weekend’s bitter defeat to Manchester City. With a few suspensions and a certain Serbian potentially out on Sunday, there are some question marks in regards to the starting line-up and how we can potentially exploit Erik Ten Haag’s side. After coming unstuck against one Manchester opposition, can we beat the other?
The oppositionEmbed from Getty Images
Before getting into our starting line-up, I think it’s only fair to look at Manchester United and some potential weak points that Fulham can target this weekend. Ten Haag appears to be finding his feet at Old Trafford, going unbeaten in nine of their last 10 games in all competitions. The one banana skin happened to come last weekend at Villa Park when they come unstuck against a revamped Unai Emery side.
While I doubt Manchester United will still be licking their wounds after that shock result, I have attached their average positions in that game above. Looking at this, Manchester United tried to compact the midfield with five players sitting relatively central and with both Shaw and Dalot spending most of the game in the opposition half they looked to make it difficult for Aston Villa to keep hold of the ball.
While the 3-1 result may not reflect it, Manchester United did control large chunks of the game and practically bossed the second half. With Aston Villa scoring three of their four shots on target there is certainly an argument to be made it was just a bad day at the office for this weekends’ visitors.
One crumb of comfort that Fulham fans can take is that Diogo Dalot will be suspended for this Sunday’s game. Dalot has been a crucial part of Ten Haag’s side and has come on leaps and bounds this year so a potentially out-of-form Wan-Bissaka looks to be an area Fulham could exploit.
How do we prepare?Embed from Getty Images
With the suspensions we have, I’m not expecting an easy game. Harrison Reed would’ve helped deal with the Manchester United midfield onslaught, and Kenny Tete doubling up on the right-hand channel when Shaw finds himself out of position could’ve been very beneficial when Fulham look to attack.
The other area of debate is whether Aleksandar Mitrovic, who is pivotal to the way our forward line, plays. While I don’t mind Carlos Vinicius, he certainly doesn’t hold the ball up or bring others into the game the way that Mitrovic does leave us having to try and break down United in a different way.
Starting with right-back, I would bring in Bobby Decordova-Reid as his defensive capabilities combined with his ability to bring the ball forward could help create overloads for Luke Shaw (who may have one eye on the World Cup and won’t want to risk injury).
Next, up in midfield, there are arguments to be made for Onomah, Chalobah or even Luke Harris to come in for Reed, but I would go for Tom Cairney. When coming on this season, Cairney has shown intensity and tenacity with the ball and a continuous desire to drive forward and unlock defences. For that reason, he has to start for me. I would also bring Pereira slightly deeper to help combat the onslaught Manchester United will bring and have him as the more advanced of a midfield three.
Going under the assumption that Mitrovic isn’t fit, I would start Vinicius up top and play Willian on the left with Wilson on the right. With an out-of-form Wan-Bissaka, this is the perfect game for someone of Willian’s calibre. Constant trickery and pace down that left channel could leave United exposed and I think that’s our best bet if we want to get a result.
The final verdictEmbed from Getty Images
It’s always going to be tough against Manchester United. Ten Haag is building a strong and regimented side who are starting to buy into his process; despite a blip against Aston Villa I think they’re going to be more than fine this season and Fulham have a real test on their hands this weekend. With key members of the starting XI suspended and us having to change personnel as a result of it, it’s going to be a very tough game. While I’d love a draw, I’m going to be pessimistic and say we head into the World Cup with another defeat.