Will we see a heavily rotated Manchester United side at Craven Cottage?
Following Sunday’s 0-0 draw with Liverpool at Anfield, Manchester United maintained their position at the top of the Premier League. Since then Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s men have dropped down to second after Leicester City’s win over Chelsea; they could be in third by the time kick-off against Fulham rolls around at Craven Cottage on Wednesday night.
With the table so tight and some of the other clubs having games in hand with which to potentially narrow any lead United have over them, there can be no let up. Every game feels like a big one. As exemplified by not taking three points against Liverpool, any dropped points can let others back in and build encouragement for those chasing the leaders of the pack.
Whilst league position isn’t the be all and end all currently, maintaining runs of form is crucial. With that in mind, any changes to Solskjaer’s line ups have to be thought about carefully. Managing the progress in the league alongside the FA Cup and, further down the line, the Europa League, will hinge on the quality of that decision-making.
The next five days represent an interesting conundrum in team selections. An away game against a Fulham team struggling at the bottom is followed quickly by another meeting with Liverpool in the FA Cup at the weekend. Does the Manchester United boss pick one to prioritise and play his strongest hand there? Alternatively, does he split any rotation over both games?
There is a sense that Solskjaer would be reluctant to hand Liverpool an advantage in the FA Cup by playing a weakened side. He will be aware that a trophy could be huge for him but this season does represent the best chance in years to be competitive in the Premier League. For those reasons, it’s reasonable to expect a small handful of changes in each game this week.
Thankfully, Solskjaer has options of quality in decent quantity. He also has a new option at his disposal. Many Reds are speculating about the prospect of new signing Amad Diallo featuring sooner rather than later after impressing in first-team training and not featuring for the under-23s on Monday.
In reality, it’s unlikely that the 19 year-old Ivorian will feature in the squad against Fulham but he may be afforded a spot on the bench in the coming weeks. Solskjaer hinted as much in his pre-match conference, at least.
One Ivorian that will be hoping and even expecting to come back in on Wednesday night is Eric Bailly. To the surprise of many, the centre-back was left out in favour of Victor Lindelof on Sunday but baring the Swede’s ongoing back issues in mind, Solskjaer will likely handle him with care. Any other occurrences of defensive rotation will probably be left until the weekend.
There has also been talk in some quarters about Bruno Fernandes needing a rest but the manager was quick to dismiss any cause for concern there. When asked about the theory by the media, Solskjaer rebuffed it; “He’s not tired, no. No chance. He’s one of the players who runs and covers the ground in every single game. He’s very good at recovery, very good at recharging his batteries.”.
That answer may be more bad news for Donny van de Beek. Fernandes looks certain to carry on in the side despite a below-par display at the weekend which would mean the Dutchman is almost relying on his manager changing tact and picking the summer signing in a midfield pair, or potentially switching to the diamond set-up.
There is a line of thought that more midfielders could be accommodated here, though. Marcus Rashford also had a poor game at Anfield and has struggled a bit of late. This could be a good opportunity to take him out of the team temporarily and utilise Edinson Cavani, possibly in tandem with Mason Greenwood. United will be expecting plenty of the ball against Scott Parker’s men so the creativity of Van de Beek, Fernandes and Pogba could be a useful mix behind two of United’s most clinical strikers.
Fulham have managed to recover slightly from their decidedly shaky start to the season and will be a sterner test than they would have been a few months ago. That said, the chips may be down for Solskjaer’s team if Manchester City beat Aston Villa before United kick-off. This squad have tasted the top position now and won’t want to give it up so soon. Let’s see how they handle the pressure.
Score Prediction: Fulham 0-2 Manchester United
Don’t forget to check out The Devil’s Trident Podcast every week wherever you get your podcasts!
Fulham vs Manchester United (Last 5 Meetings)
February 2019: Fulham 0-3 Manchester United
December 2018: Manchester United 4-1 Fulham
February 2014: Manchester United 2-2 Fulham
November 2013: Fulham 1-3 Manchester United
February 2013: Fulham 0-1 Manchester United