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Three Players to Watch: Matchday 26 vs. Manchester United

Yeah. This May Not be Fun

Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images

So, we’re back to the very beginning of Fulham’s problems. They simply can’t get out of their own way to play a style that doesn’t suit the players at all. Against Manchester United, a team that has been filled with goals galore under new boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, the incentive will once again be to sit back with all Craven Cottage behind the ball before springing the counter-attack. I beg to differ.

In short, everyone around the world expects Fulham to lose 5-0, heck, maybe even 10-0. So why not go for it in attack? Why on Earth, in 2019, would you not want to play your best formation that fits the players? Why not play a system that allows Tom Cairney and Jean Michael Seri, Fulham’s two most well-rounded players, to work well together? Most importantly, why should we be told by the opposition how to play?

Yes, there are great sides that have adapted to every game of football and are able to succeed, but this club was told to play one way for years. There are some adjustments along the way, but that comes after trying to put their best foot forward with the style the club would like to play. Just look at tomorrow’s opponents as further proof of that.

We all know that their defense and midfield is Europa League at best without Paul Pogba, and that is unforgivable for Manchester United’s standards. But their array of attacking talents are endless and they are being unleashed by Solskjaer’s tactics. Add all that together from the disastrous Mourinho era and it’s amazing to see United sitting third in the Premier League in expected goals scored at 46.5. The thing is though, United don’t get better in defense by being more defensive. They keep the ball and tell every opposition to do your best to take the ball away from them.

That’s how Fulham rolled under Slavisa Jokanovic and Claudio Ranieri has continued to ignore the past in spite of losing every part of the identity this club has built for so long. Tony Khan is no where out of the woods on this either, but the thing is, whoever dictates the tempo will not only win this game, but put in the proper margin of victory. There is a chance that plenty of big names could sit next week out for United due to their fixture against Paris Saint Germain in the UEFA Champions League next week. However, I seriously doubt their depth won’t be lacking enough quality to affect the outcome of next week’s game. Let’s just hope Fulham even bother to give it a go and put their best foot forward.

On that note, here are three key players for United that have broken out under Solskjaer.

Marcus Rashford

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You knew Marcus Rashford was a talent ever since making it to the Euros in 2016 for England. The question was always going to be how he was going to usurp Romelu Lukaku, a World Cup semifinalist and a world-class star at the prime of his career in his own right, from his starting position. Amazingly, Rashford has done that in his age-21 season and he has torn up the Premier League to pieces in the process. His nine goals are already a career high for him in any league campaign and his six assists and total xG Chain of 11.97 have him second only to Pogba. He is due for some regression on the assist count, but with United not having a true creative force that starts week-in-week-out, Rashford might as well be the closest thing. Now Lukaku could start on Saturday just to get his confidence going while the youngster goes back to playing out wide, but why not have him with Jesse Lingard, Anthony Martial or even Alexis Sanchez up front. Should I mention that Juan Mata is also in this squad? Yeah, United are that deep in that area of the pitch and it will be downright miserable to mark any of them for a full 90 minutes.

Ander Herrera

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Next up is the next best thing to Pogba in midfield, who clearly is head and shoulders better than any United player over there. However, Ander Herrera just puts in the hard yards whenever its required of him. Add in the horrible aging of Nemanja Matic and the loss of Marouane Fellaini to China and the Spaniard’s role within the club grows even more. He’s always involved in challenges and he’ll do his best to connect the defense into attack. That latter part is perfectly seen with his club leading 0.55 xG Buildup per 90 among players playing over 500 league minutes. Now Herrera will be 30 by the opening weekend next season and his contract runs out this summer. He may not be a good enough midfielder to guide United to the juggernaut they were under Sir Alex Ferguson, but he has been enough of a cult hero during his time at the club that he won’t be completely forgotten.

Luke Shaw

All data from whoscored.com

Lastly, let’s talk about Jose Mourinho’s whipping boy because this fullback has been proving doubters wrong all season. To be blunt, Luke Shaw has been the best defender for United all season by miles. It’s as if we all have forgotten that he is still 23 years old with plenty of football left in him. However, the gruesome injuries have put him so far behind schedule in his development that he might as well be 28 or even 30. But now that Shaw is making up for lost time, we might as well get ready for him to have more amazing seasons to come as long as he is being managed properly. He’s certainly getting that now under Solskjaer and I expect him competing the starting left back spot for England.