Sir Alex Ferguson chose to start with Premier League top scorer Dimitar Berbatov ploughing a lone furrow, supported out wide by Antonio Valencia and Nani. The way United approached this game was to soak up the Fulham pressure and attempt to hit on the counter attack, with Berbatov being the linchpin for any attacking move. Most of the verve, however, came from Nani who was instrumental in both of United’s goals. A comfortable win it may have appeared, with United doing just enough to gain the three points, but had Fulham been a little more potent themselves early on it may have been a different story.
United fans may have had one eye on the second of Rooney’s matches out – the FA Cup semi final with Manchester City – while watching this encounter, but in truth the way United played gave little indication of how they will fare at Wembley. It would be difficult to look past Javier Hernandez partnering Berbatov up front against City regardless of whether or not he starts Tuesday’s Champions League tie with Chelsea. If this is to be the case United will line up in a 4-4-2 and not the consolidating 4-5-1 they did on Saturday. However, for United fans looking for hope without Rooney much can be taken from the performance of the 3 wide men who have started the last two games.
Antonio Valencia has been sensational since his return from a long term injury. Since his first appearance back against Arsenal the Ecuadorian has fitted straight back into first team duties with ease. So much so that Nani, during his most successful United season to date has been kept out of the team. Also returning from injury, but not involved against Fulham, Park Ji Sung has shown his energy and ability in recent high profile matches against West Ham and Chelsea. For many this is the pairing that is sure to start against Chelsea given the defensive capabilities of both.
If Nani does not make the starting XI for the midweek game he may well be a good bet to start against City and considering his performance on Saturday he could well prove the danger-man in Rooney’s absence. Nani has had a phenomenal season this term both in terms of goals and assists and prior to Valencia’s return was United’s most in-form player. Fortunately for United in Saturday’s encounter he was able to show all his ability in making both of the goals. His touch and instant pass for the opening goal and his nous to beat Mark Schwarzer for the second will not have gone unnoticed by Roberto Mancini’s side, no doubt following United before they take the field on Monday night.
Rooney will be missed by United against City but in Nani, Sir Alex Ferguson has a match-winner who may well be relied to provide the spark to break down a tough and solid defensive City side. If Nani can step up to do this he will further emphasise his importance to United.