After Fulham gave an all-round poor account of themselves last week in the F.A Cup, Manchester United encountered anything but in yesterday’s 1-0 victory at Craven Cottage. The game was settled by Wayne Rooney’s clinical 77th minute strike, which was almost a carbon copy of a similarly important Cristiano Ronaldo goal in 2006/07, to move ten points clear of City.
Defensive stability at last?
It would be fair to say that clean sheets were a fairly rare occurrence in the early stages of the season. United shipped goals left, right and centre and while United’s defensive issues didn’t impact on the teams results heavily, the general consensus was that it would cost valuable points.
Yesterday, Jonny Evans and Rio Ferdinand were selected at the heart of the United defence and both were truly exceptional as United managed to keep a clean sheet. Evans made more tackles than anyone on the pitch and also made the joint highest interceptions.
He was an absolute colossus in the air and who’d have imagined we’d have been saying that three seasons ago. Jonny has matured into a strong, ball-playing defender. His anticipation and tackling are exceptional and we have seen him emerge as the best centre-backs in the Premier League over the past 16 months.
Credit also has to go to the majestic Rio Ferdinand who was impeccable. It would be an absolute travesty if Ferdinand doesn’t get a new contract with the club as he has had an astonishing 18 months for the club and England’s loss is definitely United’s gain after Ferdinand was again overlooked by Roy Hodgson.
David De Gea meanwhile showed the critics exactly what he is capable of with a string of fantastic saves on route to United’s third league clean sheet since boxing day. Critically, with Real Madrid just around the corner, Evans and Ferdinand’s partnership could be key if United are to progress.
Rooney’s winner against Fulham yesterday was his fifth goal in as many matches since he returned to fitness following a knee injury. While Van Persie has been very much at the forefront of everything United have done this season, Rooney has quietly notched 13 goals to sit 7th in the Premier League top scorer list and has also laid on countless goals for his teammates, sitting 4th in the Premier League assists chart with seven.
The winning goal was a very calm and cool strike which nestled low into the bottom corner. Rooney appears to be hitting a bit of a purple patch and if he can stay fit for the remainder of the season, he will be the key man.
Van Persie has taken the majority of the plaudits this year but a fit and firing Wayne Rooney is a beauty to behold. He possesses the correct blend of talent and graft which is particularly important in the big games and he is rightly regarded as one of the most complete footballers on the planet.
Wide of the mark?
After opting to field no recognised wingers in the nervy mid-week victory over Southampton, wide men returned to the side last night with mixed results. Nani continued his good form of late and tested his fullback frequently. While his end-product was again a little bit erratic, his good work to get into dangerous positions was very impressive.
Antonio Valencia meanwhile continued his shoddy standard of performances this season, once again contributing precious little going forward. Long term doubts are creeping in whether Valencia will ever get back to the levels of last season when he was named Player of the Year. Nani’s recent form meanwhile shows plenty of encouragement.
Fulham’s Jekyll and Hyde act
As it transpires, Fulham can actually play a little you know. After a toothless, unambitious showing in the F.A Cup tie at Old Trafford, this performance was anything but. Last time the two sides met, Fulham had Mark Schwarzer to thank for keeping the score remotely respectable. However, this time it was David De Gea having to be at his absolute best to prevent Fulham taking the lead via John Arne Riise and Bryan Ruiz, who both came perilously close.
It was a vastly improved performance and one unrecognisable from the previous week. In the second half, United had to rely on goal line clearances from Rafael Da Silva and Robin Van Persie to ensure United kept a clean sheet.
Peculiarly, Fulham were excellent minus star man Dimitar Berbatov who was ruled out with injury. The Londoners are notorious for being solid at home but their performance came as a surprise to many, as little was expected after the previous weeks encounter.
The Gilluminati strikes again
One of the stranger occurrences of the evening came in the 43rd minute of the match as Craven Cottage descended into darkness following a failure of the floodlights. Failures to the lighting system are very rare in modern football, so to have it happen twice in a matter of months, after another blackout away at Braga in November, is unbelievable.
Blame David De Gea.