Manchester United came from behind to win their home opener against Fulham by a score of 3-2 with home-debutants Robin van Persie and Shinji Kagawa both on the score sheet.
Sir Alex rang the changes after the disappointing display away at Everton on Monday night, dropping Rooney and Scholes to the bench, and Nani out of the squad entirely. Valencia moved back into midfield and Rafael started at right back. Robin van Persie made his first start for the club up top with Anderson coming in for Scholes and Ashley Young for Nani.
United, or more precisely Ashley Young, were caught napping after just 2 minutes when Damien Duff latched on to a low free kick into the box from Bryan Ruiz and slotted the ball home between a diving David De Gea and his right-hand post, but it was a lead that would ultimately contribute heavily to Fulham’s demise.
Perhaps buoyed after last week’s 5-0 victory over Norwich City and the unexpected early lead, the cottagers sat back and consequently allowed United to maraud forward at will for the rest of the first half. Shinji Kagawa was at the heart of everything we did well, lively and constantly moving into space, there are already early signs that he’s forming a deadly partnership with van Persie and it was the latter who levelled the game in the 10th minute with a sublime left-foot half-volley from a low Patrice Evra cross. Regrettably this meant an end to the Fulham fans brief spell of singing “We’re winning away, we’re winning away, how shit must you be? We’re winning away” not that the few hundred that had actually bothered to make the trip were deafeningly loud in any case.
Following a period of extended United pressure, Robin van Persie launched a corner into the Fulham box, surprising his team-mates by lofting it over the first man – a tactic not seen for at least 18 months, which when half-cleared, fell to Tom Cleverley. Mark Schwarzer couldn’t hold his shot and Kagawa was there to tap in the rebound from 4 yards out for the goal his neat build up play all half so richly deserved.
Fulham heads dropped slightly once they were behind as United continued to attack relentlessly resulting in a Rafael goal correctly disallowed when the lively brazilian failed to get back onside following a shot from Kagawa that rebounded off the post, and then an actual Rafael headed goal at the back post to make it 3-1 to United.
After the break Fulham eased forward, looking to escape the relentless pressure they’d allowed themselves to be put under following their early lead and after 64 minutes a defensive mix up between De Gea (who was otherwise superb) and Vidic led to a Vidic own goal to make the score 3-2 and breathe life into Fulham’s hopes of a draw.
Shortly after the goal, Sir Alex brought Kagawa and Ashley Young off for Rooney and Danny Welbeck and the invention and drive of our first half performance disappeared completely. Disappointingly, Welbeck was stuck out on the left wing, whilst Rooney floated in behind van Persie without the dynamism, energy or enthusiasm of the departed Kagawa who fulfilled the role before him. Given van Persie’s lack of pre-season football, i wondered aloud to Darren sat next to me, if it would have been a better idea to take him off and play Welbeck in his preferred role as a striker? In any case, Fulham seized the opportunity to get back into the game and began to create chances themselves, with the excellent Mouse Dembele looking a class above in their team and flat out embarrassing Anderson at one point by taking the ball round him and then accelerating away from him like he wasn’t even there (no mean feat against a man of Anderson’s size).
United managed to hold on for the win despite a few late scares, and a gash to Rooney’s leg that reportedly could see him out for up to 4 weeks. However, based on what we’ve seen so far in the very early stages of this season, this is far from the disaster it would have been last season or the season before when we relied on him heavily.
There is no doubt there were two performances on show by United today, one scintillating, and one poor, both attempting to play the same system, the former with the correct players in each position (save for Carrick) and the latter by cramming a striker out wide and an unfit Rooney unwilling or unable to link midfield to attack in the same way as Kagawa did. Against a better side, we might not have been able to get away with it.