Following a slow start in this season’s Premier League campaign, the worst in decades, football pundits suggested a season filled with meltdowns was inevitable at Old Trafford. They were wrong. The Red Devils lost at the Etihad Stadium, one of the most excruciating moments in my fan experience, lost to West Brom at home, and dropped points to Sunderland. Matches that once were mere formalities now required tooth and nail fights in order to secure the three points, wins weren’t automatic, they were eked out.
At Craven Cottage this past Saturday, a new United emerged. The majority of passes were completed, the midfield supported the defense when needed and the Rooney-Van Persie duo proved it could be a lethal weapon. Let’s look at how United made it worryingly easy against Fulham especially in the first half, by containing the danger while inflicting the damage earlier.
Game Situation – 00:24 Rafael turns the ball over which gives Fulham an opportunity to develop and break from the flank. Phil Jones steps up, allowing Rafael to sit back and Cleverly puts pressure on the ball carrier. Rafael is able to block a pass that would have set up Kasami who just overlapped and he’s out of position. Valencia realizes the danger and fills in to close the flank.
Valencia’s move allows Rafael to pressure the ball carrier and with the help Jones provides, traps him while Evans advances to close in further limit his options. Evans would end up recovering the ball.
Summary: Last weekend, United left too much open space that Stoke gladly toke advantage of to open the score. This was a great example of closing the space and filling in for the man who left his spot to put pressure on the ball carrier. On Saturday, they displayed great defensive discipline by closing the space while dropping back to fill in the vacated space.
Game Situation – 01:18 Scott Parker dances and intends to deliver a pass to Kasami. Valencia reads the play and closes in on and Phil Jones narrows Parker’s passing lane, forcing him to put more power on the delivery for it would have been blocked otherwise.
The pass is too strong and Kasami is unable to put in a decent first touch. Rafael realizes this and sprints forward to recover the ball.
Summary: This is again a great example of closing up the space and stepping in the passing lanes of the opponent. Also, this was a outstanding play by Rafael. He realized that Cleverly and Jones had their backs turned and decided to step up and intercept the pass.
After dwarfing Fulham’s attempts, United exploited the space and time Fulham gave them to score. Let’s look at the first and third goal.
Game Situation – Antonio Valencia Opens The score: Ruiz and Berbatov were often very laxed in covering Evans and Vidic, who were allowed to operate in the middle third of the pitch for most of the first half and pick out teammate.
Vidic, un-pressured, delivers a long ball to Van Persie who controls the pass and fends off Amorbeita before playing Rooney in behind Sanderos with a sweet through ball.
As Rooney collects the pass, the Fulham defense is forced to account for Phil Jones who has started a run from midfield. Rooney patiently holds the ball waiting for a wide open Valencia at the far post who smashes the cross home.
Summary: Vidic realized there the open space between the Fulham midfielders and defenders. This goal served as a good indicator of the chemistry the Rooney and Van Persie pairing has been developing. Also, Phil Jones’s run, which occupied the Fulham defenders, deserves some applause.
Fulham’s quasi inexistent pressure on the ball carrier proved fatal once more as seen in the third goal.
Game Situation – Rooney Makes it 3-0: Cleverly, with all the space in the world and soft pressure from Fulham delivers a long ball to Van Persie who is played onside by Riether (who dragged behind the offside line). Van Persie makes a run and creates room for a cross. However, because of the understanding he’s developed with Rooney, he holds onto the ball patiently and waits for Rooney to get open.
Rooney initially makes a run outwards to draw Senderos’s attention only to drop into the box; he’s wide open (because Riether is primarily concerned about Zanuzaj and forgets about Rooney) and taps Van Persie’s cross home.
Summary: Fulham allowed United to stroll all over the pitch unchallenged. On the third goal, Cleverly had enough time to tailor and deliver a perfect long pass. Also, Rooney’s fake run towards the near post completely fooled Senderos out of position and allowed him to be wide open
The handover was never going to be velvet. Despite the apparent smoothness of the transition from Sir Alex Ferguson to David Moyes it was delusional to expect Manchester United’s new manager immediately to fill the void left by his canny and charismatic predecessor. However, Moyes is slowly quietening the naysayers with this decisive win over Fulham, United’s fourth successive win in all competitions.
Moyes is still fine tuning his squad but Evans seems to have cemented his spot at the back, while Jones proved his volatility and deputized for Carrick in midfield. Also, Valencia might be the answer to the woes of the right flank and Zanuzaj’s emergence will be something Premier League sides will learn to deal with. United did something that hasn’t been a commonality this season, start off strong, and made it look facile against Fulham. It is no doubt this win will alleviate the pressure on Moyes and build ground for future success.