Preview: A Hope For the Best, Prepare For the Worst Look at Fulham v Manchester United

Laurence Griffiths

Fulham host Manchester United Saturday in a match that sees the two clubs in the odd position of having quite a lot presently in common with one another. The chorus of "Jol out" has grown to a raging cacophony after a defeat to Leicester City dumped the Cottagers out of the League Cup. Can Martin Jol tease the best from his squad and right the ship before it's too late?

Over a long enough timeline, Manchester United and Fulham don't have too terribly much in common. United can count themselves among the royalty of international club football, while Fulham occupy a more modest niche as every Premier League supporter's second favorite club. United are 80,000 seat, state-of-the-art Old Trafford. Fulham are 25,000 seat, historical monument Craven Cottage. United win titles, lots and lots of titles. Fulham lost the Europa League final in 2010 (But oh, what a night it was!).

Take a snap shot of right now, however, and the similarities abound.

Both sides find themselves well below the standards, both in results and performances, their respective levels of talent dictate.

Both sides are essentially comprised of the exact same players who donned the clubs' jerseys in the 2012/13 campaign, save one hoped for missing link. Manchester United have added Marouane Fellaini and Fulham have added Darren Bent.

Both sides are headed up by managers who could generously be described as not presently the most popular men among each clubs' respective fans.

In the last five Premier League matches, Manchester United have lost, lost, won, drawn, and won.

Fulham have lost, lost, won, won, and lost.

Both David Moyes and Martin Jol will be desperate for a win Saturday. United need to make up ground on the clubs at the top of the table if they have any hope of making the Champions League next season, and Martin Jol surely cannot afford a heavy defeat at home after Tuesday night's League Cup debacle at Leicester City.

A word or two regarding the Leicester match:

I actually agree with Jol's team selection. It was a good mix of veterans who have not played much of late and younger players who need to be evaluated and given the experience of being in the match day squad with the first team.

Fulham had just played Saturday and limply surrendered to Southampton in what, come May, may very well be the most underwhelming performance of the season by any team. A rest and perhaps a message sent seemed before the match as equally sensible dual motivations. A manager can't run his first XI out in all competitions and expect them to last the entire season, and he especially cannot do it if said first XI know they are and always will be the first XI. For a side looking for all the world as if it will entertain an extended flirtation with the drop zone this campaign, I actually thought Jol made very sensible team selections.

But then it backfired. 4-3. Out of the League Cup.

I'm sure Martin Jol must have anticipated entering the Manchester United match coming off a win against Leicester and a berth in the next round of the League Cup. Instead, calls for the Dutchman's ouster have never been louder and now he's facing a United side coming off a second half awakening against Stoke and who surely sense blood in the water along the banks of the Thames.

I expect Jol to roll out essentially the same XI he's fated himself to all season. There's a principle in psychology called loss aversion that basically says the desire to avoid the loss of something valuable (ie one's job as the manager of a Premier League club) is greater than the willingness to risk something - anything really - at the expense of acquiring gains.

In other words, scrapping the underperformers or fiddling with the tactics probably isn't going to happen. Jol will be praying Berbatov is up for the match.

Moyes also will be averse to fiddle too much with his 4-2-3-1. He's fielded this same formation in the last three matches and one gets the sense he's just trying to decide on the right personnel. Width is provided by Patrice Evra and Smalling or Rafael. Some combination of Cleverly, Carrick, and Fellaini plays the two holding positions in the middle of the park. Rooney plays just beneath Robin Van Persie and largely dictates the pacing and direction of the United attack. A rotating cast of Adnan Januzaj, Shinji Kagawa, and Nani has provided the starters for the other two midfield spots.

It should be noted that this is essentially the same system Southampton deployed to such devastating effect last weekend, although at times Pochettino's men play a more traditional 4-3-3 and the Saints' pressing game is much more aggressive than that of Manchester United.

If I'm David Moyes, and mercifully I'm not, I'm tempted to plant a healthy Marouane Fellaini right in Dimitar Berbatov's balletic little orbit and force Martin Jol's questionable tactical hand from the outset.

Hopefully, a few dropped names from the match day squad and a hiding by Leicester City will have served to stoke the fighting fires in the Fulham squad and focused Martin Jol's attentions to rectifying the side's deficiencies. Anything less would surely end Fulham's brief period of commonality with Manchester United and brand the the Cottagers as relegation candidates - perhaps manager-less ones at that.

I'm hoping for the best and preparing for the worst.

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