Sports Mole provides team news, predicted lineups and a full preview of Saturday’s Premier League clash between Manchester United and Fulham.
United have come from behind on three occasions in their last two Premier League matches to avoid defeat, but it has done little to lighten the mood at Old Trafford as the club continues to drop off the pace.
Jose Mourinho‘s team are still just the eight points adrift of fourth position in the table, but the club’s hierarchy and supporters will be concerned that little progress is being made with regards to performances.
Mourinho suggested that ‘panic’ had started to emerge in his defence against Arsenal, and it was difficult to argue with that statement as the Gunners squandered several chances to defeat United on Wednesday night.
The North-West giants lined up with a back three with wing-backs featuring either side, but the fact that each of those five players had not been involved in the previous fixture at Southampton highlighted the problems which Mourinho is having to deal with right now.
Injuries, the form of a number of his star men and the desire to get another win on the board has left the Portuguese failing to find any consistency with his team selection, and United now find themselves on the brink of dropping into the bottom half of the table.
That possibility appeared unlikely at the beginning of the campaign but with just three points separating United to 11th-placed Watford and Liverpool to follow at Anfield next weekend, United effectively need three points against Fulham to fend off what would be perceived as embarrassment.
The subject of Paul Pogba remains a hot topic for debate with Mourinho seemingly alluding to the Frenchman’s work-rate in his programme notes earlier this week, but the club’s record signing may be given the chance to redeem himself against the league’s bottom side.
Pogba’s form should not necessarily be highlighted more so than his teammates because this is an under-performing team – not just an individual player – but an improvement from the midfielder could act as the catalyst for progress from the rest of the squad at a crucial part of the season.
Recent form: WWLDDD
Recent form (all competitions): WLDWDD
Fulham still find themselves propping up a division which contains teams who have also failed to put together results on a consistent basis this season, but supporters have every reason to be optimistic now that Ranieri has steadied what appeared to be a sinking ship.
The Cottagers have still conceded six goals in three games under the guidance of the Italian, but four points during that period is a significant improvement to what had been achieved under Slavisa Jokanovic.
Some will argue that Jokanovic was harshly treated by the club’s hierarchy, but the switch in the dugout now appears to be justified with Fulham just three points away from 15th position.
Ranieri would have hoped for more than a 1-1 draw against former club Leicester City in midweek, but every point has to be considered a positive as the team gets back on track ahead of the January transfer window.
Fulham will no doubt be active in the market but Ranieri will be delighted with the application of his players since his arrival, and his team could have easily earned a point at neighbours Chelsea last weekend.
That performance will fill Ranieri and his players with belief ahead of what is still a tough trip to Old Trafford, but there will be an acknowledgement that there has never been a better time to take on United.
Ranieri is still looking to establish his preferred starting lineup, but it already appears that Arsenal loanee Calum Chambers has a leading role to play in the middle of the pitch.
The England international has been a revelation since being pushed forward from defence and while Ranieri still needs Aleksandar Mitrovic to provide the goals in attack, Chambers is suggesting that he could finally be about to realise his potential in front of the back four.
Recent form: LLLWLD
Recent form (all competitions): LLLWLD
Mourinho could revert to a back four this weekend, and that would likely see Pogba used as the most attacking player of a midfield three.
Alexis Sanchez is expected to miss the remainder of the year, meanwhile, having returned to Chile to recover from a hamstring problem.
The quick turnaround could lead to Ranieri making a couple of alterations, and Andre Schurrle will expect to feature having remain as an unused substitute against Leicester.
Ranieri will be without Timothy Fosu-Mensah at Old Trafford, though, with the defender ineligible to play against his parent club.
Manchester United possible starting lineup:
De Gea; Valencia, Smalling, Rojo, Young; Matic, Herrera; Mata, Pogba, Rashford; Lukaku
Fulham possible starting lineup:
Rico; Christie, Odoi, Mawson, Le Marchand; Chambers, Seri; Schurrle, Cairney, Sessegnon; Mitrovic
Head To Head
Saturday’s meeting will represent the 83rd competitive clash between the two clubs, with United recording 49 wins in comparison to 14 victories for Fulham.
United are unbeaten in their last 10 fixtures with Fulham, although the two teams have not faced each other since a 2-2 draw at Old Trafford in February 2014.
We say: Manchester United 3-1 Fulham
Fulham will believe that they can extend United’s winless run at Old Trafford, but the home side are due a victory in front of their own supporters and a Cottagers side still conceding goals are the perfect opponents for Mourinho’s men.