Manchester United vs. Fulham: Picking a Red Devils Starting 11 to Destroy Fulham
Manchester United have no time to waste.
An opening-day loss to Everton ensures pressure is already on the side that is widely tipped to take the Premier League crown.
Fulham are up next for Sir Alex Ferguson's men. His starting 11 must focus on the club's offensive strengths and aim to overwhelm Martin Jol's side with an array of attacking talent.
With that in mind, let's take a look at the United 11 that should start at Old Trafford.
Goalkeeper: David De Gea
If it wasn't for David De Gea, Man United would have suffered an even more embarrassing defeat at Goodison Park.
The Spaniard had an excellent display, reminiscent of the performances that kept United in the title race for so long last year.
While he's still shaky from incoming crosses, De Gea has become one of the club's most important players.
His shot-stopping ability is well-documented, and at a time of defensive need, Sir Alex Ferguson will be pleased he no longer has to alternate between De Gea and Anders Lindegaard.
Against Fulham, the United No. 1 needs another assured performance. The team's defensive frailties are currently intensified through injury, so it's likely he'll be busy once more.
This is the perfect match for De Gea to instill confidence within the struggling back line, Old Trafford crowd and, most importantly, himself.
Left Back: Alexander Buttner
The signing of this 23-year-old left back may surprise some, but he's an important acquisition.
United were linked with Leighton Baines this summer (via ESPN), but an inflated price put the Red Devils off. Instead, this exciting young Dutch prospect was brought in for £3.9 million as Patrice Evra's immediate understudy (via The Independent).
I believe he deserves an instant chance to make an impact. With Fabio loaned out to QPR for the season, Buttner has a real shot at challenging Evra for a starting birth.
If the Frenchman's performances are anything to go by, he doesn't deserve to be in United's starting lineup.
For too long, Evra has been regularly caught out of position, given the ball away in vital areas and failed to pick up players he should be marking.
To make things worse, he only has three goals in nearly 300 appearances for Fergie's side. His bursts up the left wing very rarely produce assists and often leave the team exposed.
Against Everton, it's fair to say Evra's presence was non-existent at best. He doesn't look interested and no longer has the capability to exert his influence on the younger players.
Buttner may be unknown to many, but this winger-turned-defender has attacking urges that his nearest rival will never possess. He scored five goals last season for Vitesse and could do a lot more damage with United's players around him.
Buttner is still a raw talent, but United's "other" Dutchman could excite against Fulham. That is, if Fergie is bold enough to drop his consistently lagging favourite.
Center Back: Nemanja Vidic
The return of Nemanja Vidic is huge for Man United.
On numerous occasions last year, fans were often left wondering what the outcome would be if he was in the team.
After an eight-month absence, the captain will be massively excited to play in front of his home crowd. He's a vital cog at the best of times and is unlucky to be the only fit senior central defender at the club right now.
Although United only conceded one goal against Everton, it should have been more.
Vidic's appearance in the side provided Michael Carrick the leeway to make positioning mistakes and will once again let the makeshift defender feel his way into the game against Fulham.
Of course, if one of the club's dead-ball specialists delivers a decent corner, the Serbian monster is likely to cause problems in the opposition's box too.
Vidic provides a tenacity and grit that has often been lacking in United's recent play. Unlike Patrice Evra, he still has the ability to provide younger members of the team with added confidence.
Center Back: Michael Carrick
It's an unfortunate time for Michael Carrick.
Sir Alex Ferguson believes he can be the midfield key in United's potential success this season (via The Guardian).
Against Everton, he was forced to play center back.
With Fulham on the horizon, it's likely he'll be deployed in this position once more. For a player who has only made a handful of appearances in defence, Carrick's display against Everton shouldn't be criticised too harshly.
Even from the back, he managed to take control of the ball and begin attacking moves.
Carrick's passing and ability to control the ball often calmed down the Everton pressure. He always looked like he possessed a neat touch or accurate pass to break away from tight situations.
He was physically dominated by Marouane Fellaini, but Fulham don't have an attacker with his aerial ability. The main threat is likely to come along the ground, and if Carrick manages to stay in position, his contribution will be greatly appreciated by the home crowd.
With attacking full backs on either side, a few sprayed passes from Carrick could set the tempo for the entire game.
Right Back: Rafael
Rafael is a constant enigma but must return to the side against Fulham.
Antonio Valencia took on the role of right back against Everton, and it simply didn't work. The Ecuadorian's natural instinct tells him to get forward at every occasion, and there's no doubt he's most effective when dribbling into the penalty area or delivering crosses.
Valencia, who was Man United's Player of the Season last year, must return to this role quickly.
Behind him, Rafael has a chance to shine. Confident on the ball and surprisingly hard-hitting in the tackle, he provides a sense of adventure that was missing from United's defence in the match at Goodison.
The Brazilian is the kind of player who wins an amazing tackle one second and gets sent off the next, but his partnership with Valencia is dynamic on the right wing.
Between them, the two players have more than enough firepower to create chances and the defensive understanding to cover the other person's trail.
Left Wing: Ashley Young
Young's absence was extremely noticeable against Everton.
With Kagawa bouncing between the midfield and forwards, Danny Welbeck often pushed out to the left wing. Unlike such players as Thierry Henry, Welbeck doesn't have the pace or dribbling skill to provide from a wide position.
As Young sat on the bench, United's attacking threat whimpered. Huge gaps appeared on the left, and nobody was there to fill them.
Against Fulham, this needs to be corrected.
Young often saves his best performances for the Old Trafford crowd. His directness and ability to deliver the ball was needed against Everton, but Ferguson introduced him too late.
If United are to barrage the Fulham goal with plenty of chances, the English winger must be on the pitch from the first whistle.
Central Midfield: Anderson
In recent times, United have often suffered from a lack of intensity in midfield.
Such players as Paul Scholes and Tom Cleverly are fine passers of the ball, but the battling side of the game is often lost.
Both played against the Toffees and, needless to say, couldn't keep up with the physicality of the match.
Now he's fit again, Anderson could play a major part in United's season. If he's given the start against Fulham, his ceaseless effort across the pitch will make a huge difference.
The Brazilian is well-rounded (no pun intended), and can quickly break up dangerous play.
If he maintains fitness, Anderson's diligence when passing, dribbling and tackling will offer United a doggedness that the other midfielders simply don't have.
Right Wing: Antonio Valencia
Antonio Valencia is Manchester United's best winger.
After recovering from a horrific injury, he provided 13 assists and four goals in 27 appearances for the Premier League runners up last season.
While he regularly covers at right back, he must be pushed further up the field against Fulham. Valencia has become a master of cutting inside the nearest defender, often forcing them onto their toes with his power and ability to turn.
More importantly, his inclusion means Nani must sit out. The Portuguese winger was awful against Everton, and must be punished.
Valencia offers a direct style of play that doesn't waste the team's attacking efforts, unlike Nani, who continues to frustrate with wild delivery and general sloppiness.
Central Attacking Midfield: Shinji Kagawa
Alongside David De Gea, Man United's Japanese signing provided a lot to get excited about against Everton.
He's already settled into a difficult role.
Kagawa retained possession brilliantly, worked hard across the pitch and played a couple of intricate passes that nearly created goal-scoring opportunities.
In fact, only a last-ditch clearance from Phil Jagielka stopped Kagawa from getting his first assist in a competitive match for United.
Against a Fulham side that doesn't share the same defensive strengths as Everton, Kagawa's ability to float between positions will cause havoc.
With wingers either side of him, Kagawa can focus more attention on opening up spaces around Brede Hangeland, who will have more than his fair share to deal with in United's strikers.
Striker: Robin Van Persie
The new signing's debut was instantly forgettable, but that's through no fault of his own.
Robin van Persie must be introduced in front of his home crowd against Fulham. The £24 million man is something of a luxury for a side that needs to strengthen in other areas, but that doesn't mean his influence isn't going to be pivotal.
In his short appearance against Everton, van Persie was quickly isolated, something Sir Alex Ferguson wasn't best pleased about (via The Daily Mail).
If the Red Devils are to get the best out of him, support needs to arrive much quicker.
Shinji Kagawa and Wayne Rooney often trod on each others toes against Everton, and it's the latter who must alter his positioning.
If Rooney stays alongside his new attacking partner, Fulham have an awful lot to think about. Doubling up simply can't happen if the English striker stays higher up the pitch, especially with Kagawa and wingers buzzing just behind.
The Dutchman will need time to adjust. If he's afforded a start against the outfit from London, you can bet he'll create problems.
Striker: Wayne Rooney
The return to his boyhood club didn't quite work out for Rooney.
Against Everton, I'm surprised he lasted the entire 90 minutes.
Misplaced passes, slow movement and positioning issues summed up a poor opening to the England man's Premier League season.
With Fulham rolling into town, he'll be looking to bounce back instantly. The supporters are itching to witness a mouthwatering partnership alongside Robin van Persie, and this is the perfect opportunity for the duo to start alongside each other.
Rooney often scores sporadically, so it's important he nets quickly. If he can get a goal against the Cottagers, expect plenty more to follow.
Starting 11 and Final Thoughts
Man United usually respond after a defeat.
The best way to do this is through the club's attack. While Ferguson will want to put on a show for the home crowd's first taste of Premier League football this season, getting the win is a must.
Weak performances from Paul Scholes, Tom Cleverley and Nani should see the trio relegated to the bench, which will also include any combination of Danny Welbeck, Javier Hernandez and Dimitar Berbatov.
While it's unlikely the manager will punish Patrice Evra for his bad form, I feel he should be dropped completely, just to give him a kick up the backside.
Fulham will arrive at Old Trafford in confident form, but if Ferguson places the egos of certain players to one side, Man United should stroll to a comfortable victory.