In recent years it has become impossible to predict with absolute certainty which Manchester United team will turn up for a match.
The team that hit Charlton for 4-0 was not the one that lost to Chelsea 3-0, and the team that drew with Sunderland must surely be waiting to rear its ugly head someway through this season.
To add to the uncertainty, the fans worst fears are realised – the starting lineup, sans Ruud van Nistelrooy, is actually weaker than what we finished with last season. Vidic is still recovering from the knee injury that cut short his World Cup, Heinze is being rested to allow him to recover from his 11-month injury layoff and Carrick won’t be back till September.
With Heinze and Vidic Ferguson is understandably being cautious and wants his best players available for the rest of the season. Hopefully the trio will be back for the Tottenham and Arsenal home games in September, while Rooney and Scholes should be back from their ridiculous 3-match suspensions for the Arsenal match.
Rooney is back but without Ruud and Keano (and without Alan Smith starting either) the Manchester United starting lineup will not lend itself to any encouragement. Carrick’s return, and the much-hoped-for Hargreaves signing should give us confidence but till then, it’s the same old, same old for Manchester United.
Expected lineup for Manchester United: van der Sar, Neville, Ferdinand, Brown, Silvestre/Evra, Ronaldo, Fletcher/O’Shea, Scholes, Giggs, Rooney, Saha.
A possible switch could be Giggs starting in central midfield and Park or Richardson starting for Manchester United on the left.
Key Player: Paul Scholes – a lot more responsibility on him to create goals for the front two, and if the pre-season is anything to go by we will a return of the Paul Scholes of old times.
Moving on to Fulham…
Fulham were the last team to score at Old Trafford – and that was back in February. Apart from that tidbit, the only encouraging sign for Fulham would be that United don’t have Carrick or Ruud playing – their poor record (away and against Manchester United) means that they’d jump on any advantage that they can get.
New signing Jimmy Bullard will replace Steed Malbranque in the side who has been continuously asking for a transfer and as a result could be freezed out of the side by Chris Coleman.
Manchester United in particular would want a raring start and as such I expect us to be more motivated and prepared for this game than Fulham, and while Fulham are a decent team but they don’t have the players or the style of play to bother United. It would be uncharitable to suggest that they’d come to Old Trafford looking for a draw, but for a mid-table side in an away match against Man United as a first match of their season, they would take the draw and run with joy.
Key Player: Jimmy Bullard. If he can replicate his form for Wigan here for Fulham, United will have a problem on their hands. I don’t expect Fletcher to be able to deal with Bullard that easily either.
Manchester United begin as they always do – some flash, some nervous moments and plenty of potential. I don’t see Fulham scoring more than one goal (and I doubt they’ll even get that) and United should score at least two.
Manchester United wins, 3-1 or 2-0.