As Manchester United succumbed to Bournemouth and were knocked out of the Champions League in the same week, Mark Young looks back to six years ago when Sir Alex Ferguson’s men fell apart against Fulham in similar circumstances . . .
Fulham 3-0 Manchester United
Saturday, December 19
Six years ago this Saturday, an injury-ravaged Manchester United side travelled to Craven Cottage to face Fulham in the Premier League. Sir Alex Ferguson’s side had won four out of five of their matches in December, including an away victory over Wolfsburg in the Champions League.
Fast forward to December 2015, and United once again struggled at a small ground after suffering casualties to their backline. The Red Devils started against Bournemouth with Guillermo Varela, Paddy McNair and Cameron Borthwick-Jackson, making Daley Blind the old man at 25.
The side looked weak on paper and so it proved, but things were worse for Ferguson in 2009. Gary Neville, Nemanja Vidic, Wes Brown, Rafael, John O’Shea, Jonny Evans and Rio Ferdinand were all out. It left Patrice Evra as the only senior defender in United’s starting XI.
Ritchie de Laet had some experience but at right-back with Michael Carrick and Darren Fletcher also able to play a role in a back three. Anderson, Paul Scholes, Antonio Valencia and Darron Gibson made up the rest of the side behind an attack of Wayne Rooney and Michael Owen, who had netted a Champions League hat-trick against Wolfsburg.
Fulham had hit some good form under then-manager Roy Hodgson, who had built a solid team. Bobby Zamora was being tipped for an England call-up and Danny Murphy was enjoying a superb spell in the twilight of his career, alongside Damien Duff. Clint Dempsey was proving how effective he could be, while Brede Hangeland was looking like a top class Premier League centre-back.
United were poor on the day; and were well and truly outplayed by a Cottagers side that had the bit between their teeth. The Red Devils were on the back foot from the start, when Tomasz Kuszczak had to save from Zoltan Gera with only a quarter of an hour gone.
But the Pole couldn’t prevent United falling behind as a familiar foe popped up with the opener. Murphy once again scored against Ferguson’s men, which he had done previously many times as a Liverpool player.
It’s fair to say Paul Scholes did not have the best game of his career that day at Craven Cottage, but then, neither did most of the other players around him. United managed to go in at the break just one down but Hodgson’s men really took charge in the second half.
The concentration of United’s mistake-ridden backline was tested seconds after the restart as Zamora doubled Fulham’s lead. The Manchester side appeared uncharacteristically lethargic and had no answer to the rampant home team; they were in danger of conceding more.
Ferguson tried changing things as Dimitar Berbatov came on to play against his former club and Fabio Da Silva replaced De Laet but the substitutions would not alter the final outcome. Duff got on the scoresheet with 15 minutes to go as an under-strength United were beaten 3-0.
But they overcame this blip as Ferguson guided them to second place in the league, missing out on a fourth consecutive title by just a point to Chelsea. However, last week’s Bournemouth loss is part of a deeper problem at Old Trafford, with question marks remaining over Louis van Gaal’s regime. Time will tell if he can also turn it around.
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