Manchester United v Fulham: Tony Valencia Is Now The Playmaker

An obdurate Fulham side made life difficult for Manchester United, but with Ashley Young back to his best and Tony V further proving his importance, Fergie's men leapfrogged City at the top...
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An obdurate Fulham side made life difficult for Manchester United, but with Ashley Young back to his best and Tony V further proving his importance, Fergie's men leapfrogged City at the top...

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Manchester United’s title campaign is still on track. Barely. An unconvincing 1-0 victory over an uncompromising Fulham side last night meant that Sir Alex Ferguson’s men leapfrogged rivals Manchester City to the top of the EPL table by 3 points.

Coming into the game, Fulham had failed to win at Old Trafford since 2003, and hadn’t scored since 2006. And even that was an own goal from Rio Ferdinand. Since the inception of the Premier League, Fulham had won only twice at Old Trafford, and they were also coming into the game on the back of a 3-0 drubbing at the hands of Swansea City. Sir Alex’s men meanwhile had routed Wolves 5-0 last timeout, with Wayne Rooney having scored 5 goals in his last 5 matches. Just a formality then? Not quite.

It took United the good part of over 40 minutes to finally break the deadlock, as Wayne Rooney blasted in from 4 yards out after some dreadful defending following an Ashley Young cross. Up till that point, the away side had been utterly resolute in the face of everything an unimaginative United had thrown at them. Danny Welbeck was poor, Ryan Giggs’s form picked up from where he left off in Europe, while Rooney kept giving the ball away with some poor passes. Only on the wings did United have some joy with both Valencia on the right and Young on the left keeping the cottagers’ full backs busy.

While the first was a drab affair, the second half was a pulsating encounter mostly dominated by Sir Alex’s men. United came flying out of the blocks as they Young, Valencia and Rooney carved aside the Fulham defence, yet the final ball was almost Arsenal-esque in the way it was found lacking. Rooney, Valencia and Young all had gilt edge chances either saved or scuffed, while the tension inside an eerily quiet Old Trafford rose to palpable levels.

As United’s very slight lead started to look decidedly less unsure, Fulham grew into the match with Clint Dempsey turning the screw for the Cottagers. The away side started to pile forward in numbers as they looked to get something out of the game, and they were let down by a poor decision from referee Michael Oliver when Michael Carrick blatantly tipped Danny Murphy inside the penalty box after the former Liverpool man had wriggled away from Rio Ferdinand’s attention and was through on goal.

Antonio Valencia is slowly shaping into United’s new playmaker

An increasingly desperate United side took off Rooney for Paul Scholes as Ferguson tried to see the match out. United somehow managed to keep the visitors at bay for the remaining minutes of the game and hold on for a vital win.

Manchester United :

Despite the overall poor performance, there were some bright things to see. For a change, Patrice Evra wasn’t totally dreadful. I admit, some shades of his poor defending did return during the last 10 minutes or so, but that apart, the Frenchman had a near perfect game. Excellent going forwards, unyielding staying back. Ashley Young had a very good game. It was his cross that set up the goal and he was always on hand to cover Evra when staying back. Antonio Valencia is slowly shaping into United’s new playmaker. He received and sent more successful passes than even Rooney yesterday. Danny Welbeck had a poor game, but he was always willing to run and track back whenever he lost possession, unlike a certain Bulgarian..

Fulham :

A second successive defeat for Martin Jol’s men as Fulham’s poor form continued, aided by even more poor refereeing. Jol has never managed to defeat Ferguson in eight attempts so far, but should have deserved at least a point from yesterday’s game. Fulham looked short of ideas and most of their play were forced through Dempsey in the middle, as both their wingers were effectively shackled by United. Their increasing dependence on Pogrebnyak to get the goals for them might backfire on them, as the Russian had a relatively poor game last night. And after just ten minutes on the pitch, Bryan Ruiz showed exactly why he’s even more crap than Andy Carroll.

Man of the Match : Ashley Young

Rafael, Valencia and Jonny Evans all had excellent games as well, but Ashley Young performance was the best of the lot. Young worked his ass off last night by running up and down that left hand side. It was his crossing that created the first (and only) goal and he was also more consistent than Valencia with his crossing. In the second half, he spent more time near United’s penalty area than almost any other player, but was almost always the first person to fly off when United countered. Another outstanding performance from the Englishman.

Its Blackburn away for United next. Steve Kean’s men had spoiled New Years’ for United and Sir Alex Ferguson as they had edged United 3-2 at Old Trafford earlier in the season, and although Blackburn are safe from relegation right now, Ferguson will be looking for revenge. And a better goal difference.

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