The 11-time FA Cup winners Man Utd will be expectant of victory when they entertain fellow Premier League side Fulham in the Fourth Round of the competition on Saturday (5.30pm GMT, live on ESPN).
The last FA Cup meeting between the two sides came in March 2009, when United thrashed Fulham 4-0 at Craven Cottage to progress to the semi-finals, where they went on to lose on penalties to Everton.
The two sides did, however, produce a highly entertaining match when they met at Old Trafford in the league earlier this season. United won 3-2 having trailed after three minutes and then fought off a gallant Fulham comeback in the closing stages.
It took two bites of the cherry for United to progress past this year’s Third Round, Robin Van Persie’s injury-time equaliser salvaging them a draw from their first encounter with West Ham and facilitating a replay from which United emerged as 1-0 winners.
Those two matches both came in the midst of United’s ongoing 10-match unbeaten run in all competitions, comprising seven victories and three draws. In the Premier League they are undefeated in 11 and enjoy a five-point margin over local rivals Man City at the top of the table.
That gap was closed by two points this past weekend when United dropped points away to Tottenham Hotspur thanks to an injury-time equaliser from Clint Dempsey.
The result was more than fair on the balance of play, with United strangely flat in attack and reliant on strong defensive play from Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand to hold off Tottenham’s attacks as long as they did.
It was the first time this season the pair have lined up together in consecutive league matches and manager Sir Alex Ferguson will be hoping they can avoid further injury problems and provide United with a solid defensive base for the rest of the campaign.
If they can, then Ferguson can be confident that his side possesses enough attacking potency and variation to secure the points necessary to regain the Premier League title from the grasp of Manchester City.
United have scored a league-high 57 goals to date – 10 more than any other side – and with Van Persie, Javier Hernandez and Wayne Rooney (pictured) all performing well, plus midfielders and defenders also chipping in, seem unlikely to suffer from a shortage of goals anytime soon.
Fulham, too, had little trouble finding the back of the net earlier this season, scoring 24 goals in their first 11 matches of the campaign, a rate that would currently see them on 50 goals scored had they managed to maintain it. Instead, they scored just nine in their next 12 matches, inflating their total to be a much less impressive 33 from 23 matches.
Dimitar Berbatov scored five times in his first six starts after joining from United at the end of the transfer window but has scored just twice in 10 starts thereafter. Bryan Ruiz has been in and out of the side with injury problems. Neither Mladan Petric nor Hugo Rodallega have stepped up to the mark during Berbatov’s lean spell.
This slump in scoring form has coincided with a wretched run of results that has seen the Cottagers win just four of their last 20 matches in all competitions. In the league, a run of just two wins in fifteen has seen them slip down the table to 14th, with 25 points from six wins, seven draws and 10 defeats.
There can be no doubt that Martin Jol has made Fulham a more attractive side since replacing Mark Hughes at the start of last season, but he is currently in danger of making them a less effective one. Goals and more defensive solidity will be required if they are to move up towards the top ten in the remainder of the season.
The Cottagers scraped into the Fourth Round with an extra time victory away to Championship side Blackpool after drawing 1-1 at Craven Cottage in the first encounter. Kieran Richardson scored an injury-time equaliser to break the hearts of the home support, before Brend Hangeland completed the job with an extra time header.
Man Utd v Fulham Betting Tips
United are clear favourites for this tie. They are in excellent form – in direct contrast to their opponents, who have been having a very difficult time of late – and will be confident of breaching a Fulham defence that has failed to keep a clean sheet in any of its last 11 matches in all competitions.
Ferguson will probably opt to rest a few first team regulars on Saturday, but that should not be enough to dissuade punters from backing United for a comfortable victory.
- Back Manchester United -1.5 on the Asian Handicap @ best odds of 8/9 with Pinnacle.
- He may have obtained a reputation as a super-sub, but eight of Hernandez’s 12 goals this season have come when he has started. He is likely to get the nod on Saturday so we suggest backing Javier Hernandez to score at anytime @ 11/10 with Betfred.