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Preview: Beating Fulham should be simple for Manchester United but it will be laboured once again, if it happens…

Manchester United -v- Fulham

Premier League

Old Trafford, Manchester

Saturday 8 December 2018; KO 15:00 GMT

Referee: Lee Probert

Manchester United welcome Fulham to the Theatre of Dreams on Saturday afternoon in the Premier League. On Wednesday evening, United drew 2-2 with Arsenal, coming back twice to level the points. It was a much better match than had been seen at various points this season as United attacked from the start and only looked poor again after three substitutions were made, which included Romelu Lukaku and Paul Pogba, who had both been dropped from the starting XI.

United’s defence was boosted with the return of both Eric Bailly and Marcos Rojo, along with Chris Smalling returning from injury, which kept him out of the draw with Southampton four days previously. The performance against Arsenal may not have changed much, other than show that some of United’s players are prepared to fight, but United manager Jose Mourinho will need to find ways to get United firing once again, starting this weekend.

Mourinho has been under fire for summer signing Fred not playing as much football as would be expected. The Portuguese manager told journalists and writers at his press conference on Friday why the Brazilian has not featured as much for his team, saying:

“Step by step. You also have other players at other clubs that needed their time and you have some of them that play even less than what Fred is playing. I think Fred [will play more], when the team is defensively stronger and doesn’t need in midfield people that are more worried about giving some balance to the team than being involved in creation and attacking dynamics. The day we are stronger defensively, I think the horizons for Fred change completely.”

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Pre-Match Thoughts: Paul Pogba is not the cause of all Manchester United’s problems but he is a contributing factor for many

Paul Pogba has been criticised by supporters, pundits, managers, journalists and writers alike since he made his £89 million return to Old Trafford in the summer of 2016. Graeme Souness had shown an unhealthy obsession with the French international but recently, most of what has been said about the player has been correct. Pogba himself once said that he did not give his all on the pitch, which is poor for a professional player.

Against Southampton last weekend, the Frenchman gave the ball away 25 times and just did not seem to want to be on the pitch. Some would say he does not want to be at the club. There are factions of supporters who seem to worship particular players, somewhat intolerant of anything negative being said about the player(s) they follow, despite the majority being factual. These same supporters seem to harbour anything negative about other players, even the manager, who is apparently ruining the club.

I was once excited to see Pogba back in a United shirt but recently, it is something I abhor. Unless a player is willing and able, to fight for the badge on the front of the shirt he is wearing, they are an unnecessary aspect of the football club they apparently represent. Pogba seems to play for the name on the back of his shirt, not that he is doing that much good by not performing. His hairstyles, clothes and his religion seem so much more important than anything else he stands for. Time for departure number two?

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Team News: Lindelof and Sanchez still out for United; players coming back from injury to field an able side

Mourinho has confirmed that there are still some doubts ahead of Saturday’s visit of Fulham to the Theatre of Dreams. Against Arsenal, Anthony Martial limped off and Chris Smalling, although he made himself available for the match, was not fully fit. Phil Jones missed the match through injury. Eric Bailly, although he came back into the fold, seemed to be not fully fit at the end of the match, seemingly a doubt ahead of this match. Speaking to the official Manchester United website, Mourinho said:

“[We are] still waiting for conclusions, still waiting for people like Martial, Smalling, Jones – people with these kind of doubts. But there is a good spirit and people are putting themselves on the line like Chris did in the last match and Jones did against Southampton. That’s important when we have so many matches and problems with some players.”

United will still be without both Victor Lindelof and Alexis Sanchez. Ashley Young is back from a one-match suspension after earning five yellow cards so far this season. Luke Shaw could be back in contention. Fulham Claudio Ranieri will have some absences for this match. Tim Fosu-Mensah is ineligible to play against his parent club whilst on loan this season. Both Floyd Ayite and Kevin McDonald could miss this match through injury.

Predicted Starting XI: World class players do not make a team. A team can be made with individuals who want to fight and win…

Manchester United have many willing and able players to field a team. The defence is the main area that needs attention right now. United still rely on Smalling and Jones as the most-experienced defenders at the club but both are largely poor in their roles, which is where the consistency has been during their long careers at the club. Lindelof’s injury came at a bad time for United but with Bailly and Rojo making a return, it could keep Smalling and Jones out of the team.

Pogba needs to knuckle down and work hard for his place in the team. He is a talented player but one cannot be faulted for looking at the problems he causes in the team. He might think he’s the best player in the world but he’s a long way off achieving that. What team would want to spend a massive fee on Pogba right now. He’s more interested in fashion, dancing, or getting his hair cut, which are the things he has done consistently in his time at the club.

Romelu Lukaku needs to sort himself out too. Overweight, lacking ability to play with the ball and losing the aspects of his game which gave him the option of moving to United 18 months ago. Nothing seems to be going right for United. Players need to stand up but also the manager, the executive vice-chairman, the owners and the board need to look at the problems they have all caused themselves. I don’t believe there is one person at fault for everything. Working together to solve the problems is much better then them persisting.

Match Prediction: United should be beating Fulham easily but in practice, it will be another tough match as more of United’s identity drifts away

Nothing seems to be easy for United right now. There are problems in almost every area of the club. It makes you wonder what the hell is going on at the club. The owners seem to care more about what they can take out of the club. Ed Woodward seems to be happy bringing on sponsorship deals and pretending he has footballing knowledge which has seen him suggest United’s defence is better than it could have been with investment. Mourinho has his faults and his stubbornness could become costly.

A defensive approach in every game sees United as the underdog. Defence wins titles but United are a long way off the fight to win one, as they have been for five years now. There is no point in defending when you have achieved nothing in attack. Score goals, then defend. Surely that is the best way to be. There are so many problems and seemingly no solutions for any one of them. Something will need to give soon though. The media are getting ready for another managerial sacking at United. They rule the roost, they think!

Manchester United 2-1 Fulham

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