Manchester United recorded their fourth straight win at Craven Cottage on Saturday, taking a 3-0 lead over Fulham before thirty minutes were up. Although Fulham got back into the game in the second half, they were only able to find one goal. The win lifts the Red Devils to seventh place, while Fulham remain just two points above the relegation zone.
The first half could hardly have gone better for the visitors. Fulham were utterly dismantled by the 22nd minute, and by the half, looked like they simply wanted some quiet time in a dark room. It all started with a goal from Antonio Valencia in the 9th minute. Robin van Persie sent the ball up for Wayne Rooney, who had all the time in the world to wait, twiddling his thumbs, for his teammates to arrive. Rooney then selected Valencia as his target, and the Ecuadorian wasted no time slotting in the first goal.
It took barely ten minutes for the next United goal to come. Adnan Januzaj did well to win the ball in midfield, even if he may have clipped some heels while doing so. The youngster took the ball up through the middle before putting it out wide for van Persie, who was clear on goal and had no trouble tapping it home.
Next it was Rooney’s turn. Once again the ball came up from the back, completely splitting apart the Fulham defense. Van Persie was loitering on the right, with all the time and space in the world to choose his next move. He slid the ball over to Rooney, and once again, only a touch was needed to get the ball in the back of the net.
The second half began with three substitutions for the visitors. No, it wasn’t a strategic move by David Moyes, thinking ahead to the midweek Champions League match against Real Sociedad. Rafael, Jonny Evans and Tom Cleverley all picked up injuries during the first 45, and were replaced by Chris Smalling, Shinji Kagawa and Marouane Fellaini. The action diminished a bit after that.
The defensive shuffling did enable Fulham to take a chance and grab a goal. Martin Jol’s own switch, Alexander Kacaniklic on for Ashkan Dejagah, paid off after not even five minutes had passed. The Swede put in his shot and Rooney, apparently believing it was his duty to be all things to all people in this match, attempted to block the strike. Instead his leg caused the ball to take a big deflection, with David De Gea unable to get anywhere near it.
Fulham might not have been able to get even a point from this match, but Jol should at least have his spirits lifted by their second half display. But with Liverpool coming up next, it’s unlikely those spirits will stay high.
Fulham: Stekelenburg; Riether, Senderos, Amorebieta, Richardson; Dejagah (Kacaniklic 61), Sidwell, Parker (Bent 83), Kasami; Ruiz (Taarabt 74); Berbatov
Subs not used: Stockdale, Hughes, Karagounis, Boateng, Bent
Goals: Kacaniklic 65′
Manchester United: De Gea; Rafael (Smalling 46), Vidic, Evans (Fellaini), Evra; Valencia, Jones, Cleverley (Kagawa 46), Januzaj; Rooney, Van Persie
Subs not used: Lindegaard, Nani, Young, Hernandez
Goals: Valencia 9; van Persie 20; Rooney 22