Manchester United v Fulham: Red Devils to edge enjoyable encounter
Europa League finalists Manchester United entertain already-relegated Fulham at Old Trafford on Tuesday night. Mark O'Haire previews the encounter.
United frailties exposed
A dire defensive display contributed to Manchester United being turned over 4-2 at home to old rivals Liverpool in the Red Devils' most recent outing. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer fielded his best available XI for the Old Trafford contest last Thursday but United were second-best for large swathes despite taking an early lead through Bruno Fernandes' deflected effort.
Indeed, Liverpool bounced back before half-time, striking twice by exposing long-existing frailties defending set-pieces, while the visitors' third strike came via an unforced error as Fred gave the ball away with a terrible blind pass. Dean Henderson then spilled a shot straight to Roberto Firmino, who applied a first-time finish to put the guests in charge.
Another misplaced Fred pass began the counter-attack that led to Liverpool's fourth goal late on and without Harry Maguire at the back, it's clear Solskjaer's troops struggled, particularly with their opponent's pace. Nevertheless, Marcus Rashford's consolation strike was a timely reminder of the quality the Red Devils boast themselves in forward areas.
Fulham fail to fire
Fulham's rotten record at Southampton extended on Saturday as the Cottagers were felled 3-1 at St Mary's. A 22nd league defeat always appeared on the cards after the hosts broke the deadlock midway through the opening half; the Whites have rescued only two points from losing positions this term and rarely showed any signs of rallying once behind.
Scott Parker's side produced their best efforts when 2-0 down - a last-ditch Jack Stephens tackle thwarted Ivan Cavaleiro and Joe Bryan whistled a shot just wide from 25 yards before teenager Fabio Carvalho drilled in off the crossbar to score on his first Premier League start - Fulham's first goal from open play in almost eight hours since the beginning of April.
In truth, goalkeeper Alphonse Areola had kept the Cottagers competitive for the most part but couldn't stop the already-relegated Whites sliding to a seventh defeat in eight league games, with Parker admitting post-match that his team "fell short in certain moments" despite a commendable level of "endeavour and work ethic" in defeat.
Red Devils firm and fair favourites
Man Utd have enjoyed the upper hand in recent meetings with Fulham. The Red Devils slipped to back-to-back league losses with the Cottagers back in 2009, although the hosts have since pocketed an eye-catching W11-D2-L0 across all competitions with the Whites across the following 12 years. At Old Trafford, United's return in this fixture reads W12-D1-L0 since 2003.
Having already confirmed a top-four finish, Man Utd 1.39 have since slipped to successive defeats for the first time this term. A weakened team were turned over by Leicester here before Thursday's aforementioned reverse with Liverpool, meaning the Red Devils have now lost six home games this season, shipping 27 goals, their worst return since 1970.
Fulham 9.40 have earned a solitary point from eight (W0-D1-L7) with the Cottagers really toiling in the final-third. No top-flight side has created fewer Big Chances than Scott Parker's side over the last 12 encounters with the Whites scoring multiple goals just twice since November. The visitors have earned top honours on an equal-low five times in 2020/21.
United to edge enjoyable encounter
With Manchester United now investing time into preparation for the Europa League final, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer could be tempted to rest and rotate his squad. That potential scenario, plus the absence of Harry Maguire suggests the hosts' are an untrustworthy proposition from a defensive standpoint, even against powder-puff opposition.
Fulham have managed a measly goals per-game output of their own of only 0.72 with the Whites preferring to play a pragmatic style, built around their well-drilled, organised and capable backline. However, with only pride left to play for, Scott Parker could be willing to release the shackles at Old Trafford and contribute to a more open and expansive game.
With that in mind, I'm happy to Man Utd to win and Over 3.5 Goals at 3.20 via the Bet Builder on Betfair Sportsbook. Eight (44%) of United's 18 Old Trafford league outings have produced Over 3.5 Goals 2.72, as well as 17/36 (47%) matches overall - both divisional high figures. In fact, five of the hosts' past six games have also featured at least four goals.
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