Man of the Match: Leaving the match after 68 minutes gave this teammates a chance to catch up to Shinji Kagawa. It didn’t happen. After Kagawa left, United lost their nous in the final third, having sacrificed the man who’d been their main creative force. Kagawa was even rewarded for his work in the 35th minute when a spilt Tom Cleverley shot left the former Borussia Dortmund star with a tap in for his first United goal. The Red Devils’ best player for the second match in a row, Kagawa may be forcing a subtle but important shift in how United’s organized, a shift emphasized by their assumed leading man starting on the bench.
Packaged for takeaway:
- That’s right: Wayne Rooney was out at the start of this one, though he did come on in the 68th minute (for Kagawa). Coming off a terrible performance Monday night, Rooney’s benching has already been interpreted as him losing favor with United. That’s far too hasty. At worst, this as a message – a warning shot, of sorts. There’s no reason to believe Ferguson’s doing more than instituting a policy that will keep his stars fresh.
- Robin van Persie also came into the team, a move that paid off early. After poor set piece defending had allowed Damien Duff to give Fulham a 1-0 lead, van Persie half-volleyed a Patrice Evra cross into the right side of Mark Schwarzer’s goal from 14 yards out. The play was defended decently by Brede Hangeland, who was only a half-step away from running onto the cross himself, but an athletic play by van Persie got the shot away with his first touch, leaving Fulham little chance to prevent the equalizer.
- The goal started a United onslaught, the type of attacking pressure most expect to see all season from the Red Devils. Constant runs behind the line kept turning a Fulham defense that lacked the speed to come pressure United (and expose space at the back). The packed in defense was a partial factor in Kagawa and Rafael da Silva’s goals (35′ and 41′).
- Fulham got a fortunate own goal from Nemanja Vidic in the second, one that made the final score closer than the actual play. The goal will spark more unfair criticism of David de Gea, though. Vidic bumped Mladen Petric into de Gea in the 65th minute, with Matthew Briggs‘ cross left to deflect off the defender’s heel and into goal. The immediate reaction from the commentators recycled last year’s trope: David de Gea is a problem. On this play, though, the problem was a collision to which any goalkeeper is susceptible.
- The end result was a good United performance against an underrated Fulham team, even if that team played more conservatively than they probably should. Martin Jol’s XI played with two holding midfielders in a 4-4-2, leaving tons of space for Kagawa, Tom Cleverley, and Anderson to control the game. For much of it, United had near 70 percent (Opta) possession, thanks in part to Ashley Young and Antonio Valencia cutting in, augmenting the midfield advantage while da Silva and Evra kept Fulham’s wingers wide.
- Cleverley, playing without Paul Scholes, was much better than Monday. The theory then was Scholes and Cleverley were redundant. Without his teammates deferring to Scholes’ experience, Cleverley was able to have an impact in proportion to his talents.
- The bright spot for Fulham was Moussa Dembele, playing along side Mohamadou Diarra in midfield. After a quiet first half where he was marginalized by United’s possession, Dembele was the second half’s best player.
- Did Fulham miss Clint Dempsey? They still scored twice, but they weren’t exactly manufactured goals. The first came from a set piece where Diarra probably should have been called for a foul (throwing an NBA-style pick on Young), while the second was manifest randomness. Though Petric played well, he’s not the type of player you roll a ball to and say “make something happen.” Neither is Bryan Ruiz, though Demebele seems relatively close, provided some targets. Dempsey was that player for Fulham, the type of player you typically call on when chasing a goal late.
- Late in the match, Rooney had to be stretched off after Hugo Rodallega, following through on a shot from 26 yards, stepped on Rooney’s right thigh. A gash opened up, creating a scene reminiscent of Nani’s sliced open shin at the boot of Jamie Carragher two years ago. Rooney was wrapped on the field, carried off, and will probably be out for while stitched seal the wound. (More from NBC Sports: Rooney could be out 4 weeks)
- Ultimately, this was exactly the match we expected. United rebounds with a performance that flashes their attacking potential, while Fulham leaves empty handed from a match where they expected nothing.