Davies 57, Hangeland 89
MANCHESTER UNITED 2
Scholes 11, Hangeland (og) 84
With five minutes of normal time remaining, Manchester United were leading Fulham 2-1 as Luis Nani stepped up to take a penalty.
One tame, saved effort followed by a poorly defended corner later and the Red Devils had gone from prime position for two victories out of two to another slow start to a Premier League season.
Having seen Chelsea, Arsenal and Newcastle United notch up huge 6-0 victories this weekend, intransigent commentators may suggest United are already playing catch-up. However, with only two games played, one an expected victory and the other a draw at a ground that has not been kind to United, it is fairer to say four points is a good reflection of their opponents and a more than expected outcome.
Sir Alex Ferguson again adjusted tactics to suit his opposition, and in Fulham, United were wary of the threat from roving wingers, runners from midfield and the opportunist targetman Bobby Zamora. Jonny Evans and Nemanja Vidic pushed up their usual line of defence for an away game, rarely dropping into Edwin van der Sar’s penalty box, with Antonio Valencia and Ji-Sung Park picked as extra deterrents for any Fulham players looking to latch on to knockdowns from Zamora.
Up top, the smaller confines of the pitch allowed the incoming Javier Hernandez to find his feet with some neat link-up play with Dimitar Berbatov. The general style of play suited the Bulgarian’s intricate footwork and the team’s best work was built around patient pass-and-move link-ups around the edge of the area, with the first half littered with examples. The number of free-kicks United, as the away side, drew from the Fulham back-line was also testament to the deliberate nature of the play. There was no hint of counter-attacking as a patient United dominated the first period.
However, Ferguson’s men will be left with questions to ask themselves of a poor second period that saw them switch off. For the first Fulham goal, Patrice Evra was easily beaten by Damien Duff down the right wing, Evans’ good afternoon on Zamora was undone when he lost his run into the area for Duff’s pass and Antonio Valencia failed to follow Simon Davies into the box for the unchallenged finish.
The second equaliser of the day could also have been avoided, Vidic losing his marker Brede Hangeland, whilst the vacant post the ball crept into has almost always previously been occupied by Paul Scholes, but not on this occasion.
United did not deserve any more than a point from the entertaining encounter. The team was set up to put Fulham to the sword, but instead, a blunt attack was coupled with the same basic mistakes seen against Newcastle last Monday, and this time United were duly punished.
It is also hard to overlook the fact that United’s three biggest chances came from things they cannot build momentum on – a moment of individual class saw Scholes net his 150th career goal, whilst two slices of luck resulted in Hangeland’s own-goal and the penalty award.
Manchester United remain capable of much more and with Everton away and Liverpool home on the horizon, Ferguson will be eager to sharpen his side up at both ends of the pitch.
1 van der Sar
22 O’Shea – 23 J. Evans – 15 Vidic – 3 Evra
25 Valencia – 24 Fletcher – 18 Scholes – 13 Park
9 Berbatov – 14 Hernandez
67 – 17 Nani on for 13 Park
74 – 11 Giggs on for 25 Valencia
7 Owen on for 14 Hernandez