By Guy Mowbray
BARCLAYS PREMIER LEAGUE
Venue: Old Trafford Date: Saturday, 25 August KO 15:00 GMT
Robin van Persie is set to make his first start for Manchester United.
Fellow new recruit Alexander Buttner is likely to be among the substitutes, with fellow defenders Phil Jones, Jonny Evans, Chris Smalling and Rio Ferdinand all out injured.
Forward Clint Dempsey, recently linked with Liverpool, has once again been left out of Fulham’s squad.
Kerim Frei (pelvis) and Philippe Senderos (foot) are unavailable, but Zdenek Grygera (knee) is now fit.
“One swallow doesn’t make a summer”. It’s the first time that I’ve heard Martin Jol almost quote Aristotle, but a sentiment older than time (well, from BC anyway) that his counterpart Sir Alex Ferguson will certainly nod along to.
Let’s be honest. Fulham will NOT win the Premier League and Manchester United will NOT finish in the bottom half of it, no matter what the ‘table’ looked like after one game played each.
United’s 1-0 loss at Everton wasn’t a shock of seismic proportions, but it was their first opening defeat for eight years and does make it imperative that they win this one – not that anything other than winning is acceptable at Old Trafford anyway.
They haven’t lost an opening home game since Everton (again!) scored three without reply in 1992, and it’s hard to make a case for an away win this time with Fulham having been beaten in every one of their last nine visits – failing to score in any of the last five!
After his substitute appearance on Monday, last season’s 30-goal Premier League top scorer Robin van Persie is expected to start for United on his home debut. That in itself would make many a defence quake with fear – but maybe not Fulham’s. Only the Cottagers and Manchester City managed to stop the Dutchman from scoring against them last season.
Fulham’s main goals man is of course AWOL at the moment, and I’ve been impressed with the way Jol is handling the whole Clint Dempsey situation. Openly hinting at reconciliation whilst subtly damning the American’s (in)actions with a smile must be a difficult balance to strike. The frustration was evident this week though with a telling remark of “I don’t know what the boy wants”.
In thrashing Norwich last Saturday, Jol put away the man who used to be his assistant at Spurs – Chris Hughton. There was a time when Jol was wanted by Ferguson to be HIS number two at United. I think I’ll take the ‘Don’ to beat the Deputy again – about as radical a tip as going for Frankel was on Wednesday!
- Manchester United have won their last nine league and cup games against Fulham at Old Trafford, scoring 23 goals.
- Fulham have avoided defeat at United only once in 49 years – a 3-1 Premier League victory in October 2003, when Lee Clark, Steed Malbranque and Junichi Inamoto scored for the visitors.
- They have conceded 16 goals on their last six league trips to Old Trafford, and failed to score in the last five of those.
- United’s 1-0 defeat by Everton on Monday night marked only the fourth time that they have lost their opening Premier League match of the season – and the first since 2004.
- They have gone on to win the league title in two of the three previous seasons in which they lost their opening game: 1992-93 and 1995-96.
- Sir Alex Ferguson’s side are unbeaten in the league at Old Trafford in 2012, winning eight of their nine fixtures at home and keeping seven clean sheets.
- They have only conceded seven goals in their last 12 league matches – five of them against Everton.
- Fulham are vying to start a top-flight season with back-to-back wins for the first time in the club’s history.
- They had the fourth worst away record in the Premier League last season, earning only four wins and 17 points from 19 matches. However, three of those wins came in their last seven attempts.
- Fulham were the only side in the top flight last season not to have a player sent off.