Fulham 2-2 Manchester United: exciting game, fair result
Brede Hangeland scored late on at both ends in a frantic finale to a superb game.
Fulham brought in Clint Dempsey and Paul Konchesky, with Mark Hughes sticking to the 4-2-3-1 shape that brought Roy Hodgson such success last season. Wayne Rooney was out, so Sir Alex Ferguson gave Javier Hernandez his first Premier League start, and selected Park Ji-Sung rather than Nani on the left – otherwise the team was the same as in their opening game of the season.
United started the game strongly, with Paul Scholes picking up where he left off against Newcastle, and Darren Fletcher making dangerous forward runs to link up with the front two. Dimitar Berbatov was also involved in a lot of United’s best play, dropping deep off Hernandez, to either pass the ball into Fletcher’s path, or knock it back to Scholes to create from deep. A Berbatov-Fletcher combination almost created a good chance in the first ten minutes, before United went ahead – Berbatov laid it back to Scholes for a long-distance daisy cutter into the bottom corner.
Fulham responded well to the goal, however, with their best moves coming from Zamora drifting into Fulham’s right-hand channel, where he dragged Jonny Evans out of position, as left-back Patrice Evra not comfortable enough in the air to contest high balls with the new English international. United’s problems in this position were compounded by Simon Davies playing narrow and high up the pitch, connecting with Zamora and getting into a couple of decent goalscoring positions early on.
United seemed to have particular problems dealing with the forward runs of Dickson Etuhu – perhaps because they were so unexpected. Under Hodgson, Etuhu played a very defensive-minded role, remaining solidly ahead of his back four and rarely looking to combine with the strikers. Today, however, he frequently got into the box, and should have equalised after half an hour, but for two decent saves from Edwin van der Sar.
The second major point of interest was Fulham’s use of wingers. Under Hodgson they were ‘inverted’, with Davies on the left and Damien Duff on the right, but today they started on their ‘natural’ sides. This remained the situation for the majority of the first half, but at half-time Hughes ordered them to switch – Duff going to the right, and Davies to the left.
These players combined – through Zamora – for Fulham’s equaliser. Duff produced great bit of skill to get past Evra, who had got too tight to his man, and passed the ball forward for Zamora. He got to the byline, slowly cut the ball back, and Davies was able to come onto the ball perfectly on his stronger foot, to smash the ball into the net.
United were creating much less in the second period. Ferguson switched three of his front four around, with Berbatov remaning as the pivot for the other attackers to work around. Valencia, Park and Hernandez made way for Nani, Giggs and Owen, and United had a brighter spell – with Nani providing more attacking threat than Valencia or Park had done from wide positions.
But Fulham created a golden opportunity in the 80th minute, when Zamora’s knock-down was inches away from finding Etuhu at the far post. Again, United had completely failed to track the Nigerian’s run into the box, as Scholes let him run straight past him. Etuhu had a good game overall – as well as being a goal threat, he was also very reliable in possession, as the Chalkboard below shows.
United were still failing to create decent chances, however, and they were rather fortunate that Hangeland turned the ball into his own net on 84 minutes. The penalty award on 87 minutes was debatable and lead to Stockdale saving Nani’s effort – and that missed penalty was the only shot on target United had in the final twenty minutes of the game.
Tactics largely went out of the window in the final spell, but Fulham got their equaliser when Hangeland rose to head home a Duff corner. United had defended poorly all game – the midfielders didn’t track runs, the full-backs weren’t as solid as usual, and Vidic was fortunate not to give a penalty away for a shirt pull. They simply allowed Fulham too many opportunities to get back in the game, and eventually one was taken.
A classic Premier League game – that’s to say it was end-to-end and extremely exciting, but there wasn’t a tremendous amount of tactical detail. The two key points of interest both came from Fulham – how Etuhu (nominally the most defensive-minded midfielder) kept popping up in goalscoring positions, and how the use of inverted wingers caused United more problems than ‘natural’ wingers.
United often start reasonably slowly – this is the fourth consecutive season they’ve failed to win both of their opening two games. To let a lead slip twice in one game is very unlike United, and they have been troubled by the use of two big, powerful strikers, in Andy Carroll and Bobby Zamora. This was a fixture they lost last season, for which United can blame the makeshift back three of De Laet-Fletcher-Carrick, but they didn’t defend that much better today.Fulham 2-2 Manchester United: exciting game, fair result