Ahead of the festive period, we find two teams stuttering towards Christmas, come up against each other – as an eighth-placed Manchester United host bottom-of-the-pile Fulham at Old Trafford this Saturday.
Manchester United are in a state of complete non-existence right now – firmly mid-table, they have become one of those run-of-the-mill ordinary also-rans in a league they used to be competing for year-in year-out; especially going up a few gears at this stage of the season.
Now, they are an irrelevance in the grand scheme of things – 15 games in, United have won less than half of them, lost four already and remarkably – still have a negative goal difference as a reminder of how bad things have become at Old Trafford these days. There is a general sense of acceptance in a stadium – to anomalies becoming the norm.
While Mourinho continues to drift one game to another without making any positive influence on neither the players nor the atmosphere around the club, Manchester United get accustomed to being mere spectators in a race for the title that is a million miles away from where they are right now.
Fulham – one of the most hyped newly promoted sides – in recent memory, though justified, have been quite the disappointment so far this season. After the initial knock-on effect of appointing a new manager – Claudio Ranieri see them beat an abysmal Southampton side, the potion seems to have worn off as they got beat by Chelsea in the next game and drew the following fixture against Leicester City leaving them rock bottom on goal difference alongside Burnley and Southampton.
Fulham could do worse than go all in at Old Trafford, given the propensity of the home side to concede goals this season – and hope for a result that may kick start things for them in their bid to keep themselves above the water.
Ashley Young served his one-game ban in midweek while Romelu Lukaku and Paul Pogba were only named as substitutes against Arsenal on Wednesday and could also star here.
Marcos Rojo made his first appearance of the season in midweek, while Eric Bailly also started his first United game since the start of October. Chris Smalling played through the pain against Arsenal. Luke Shaw and Phil Jones missed out against Arsenal and remain doubts for the home side.
Timothy Fosu-Mensah is ineligible to face his parent club. Aboubakar Kamara scored on his third league start of the season in midweek and will hope to be rewarded with another place in the starting XI on Saturday. Tom Cairney will hope to earn a recall to the starting XI after dropping to the bench in Wednesday’s 1-1 draw with Leicester.
- Man United are unbeaten in their last 12 home matches against Fulham in all competitions.
- Fulham have lost their last 6 away matches (Premier League).
- Fulham have conceded 16 shots per game this season on average, only two teams have managed higher.
Anthony Martial – Manchester United
Anthony Martial is a doubt for the weekend but the Frenchman rediscovering himself has been one of the best things about Manchester United this season – going forward. Martial appears to thrive well when he is given the responsibility to score a bulk of his team’s goals as he did in his debut season.
Even though this is quite contrary to the intuitive beliefs that his game suits the wider role better than it does up front on his own, the numbers do not support this claim. The 22-year old has the best goals per minutes ratio (over 3 goals) in the league and it is easy to see why.
His natural ability to be in the right place at the right time – in addition to his prodigious control on the ball in tight spaces makes him a force in the box that Mourinho should build ideally build his attacking setup around.
Aleksandar Mitrovic – Fulham
Mitrovic has had a prolific season so far – scoring 7 in 15 Premier League outings is quite comfortably the one man who could trouble Manchester United’s defense on Saturday. The Serb is the kind of player who would be anonymous for large portions of the match, only to convert that one chance in a set piece that can alter the course of the game.
Especially, in a period when United do seem very shaky at the back in front of their own fans, an early goal from Mitrovic can give them a huge incentive to go on and do a lot of damage at the weekend.
Manchester United may surprise a few people and win a football match for a nice change.
Manchester United 2-0 Fulham