Manchester United face two Premier League games in four days starting with Fulham visiting Old Trafford today prior to a trip to Arsenal in midweek.
The game sees Rene Meulensteen, who worked at United in various roles over a 12 year period including first team coach, return to Old Trafford for the first time since departing the club to try his hand at management over the summer.
In a game which was a near perfect microcosm of David Moyes’ first season at the club, United were at their abject worst against Stoke last time out and while it could be argued that both conditions and luck were not on Moyes’ side during a 2-1 defeat at the Britannia, there is intense scrutiny surrounding our beleaguered boss ahead of this afternoon’s game.
United have won just three games since the turn of the year and it’s difficult to recall a single good performance so far in 2014. With a top four position key to the short-term future of both the club as a whole and to Moyes, the Reds have to up their game in the coming weeks if they are to secure Champions League football.
Nemanja Vidic, who this week announced he will leave the club after an eight year spell at the end of the current season is available after suspension but Nani, Marouane Fellaini and Jonny Evans are unlikely to feature. Phil Jones could recover from a concussion in time, and Adnan Januzaj could return to the side after a well-earned rest last week.
Meanwhile, Fulham are in a position just as perilous, if not more than United’s, in relative terms.
Currently, Fulham lie bottom of the table and are in terrible form ahead of a key period in the season. The Cottagers were beaten by League One Sheffield United in midweek and despite some players being rested, Brede Hangeland, Clint Dempsey and Steve Sidwell all featured in the latest of a string of desperate defeats.
Management has not been a particularly easy step-up for Meulensteen and his side haven’t won in the league since New Years Day. They are in danger of being cut adrift at the bottom, although club record £15 million signing Kostas Mitroglou could be a timely boost in the London-based outfits bid for survival.
Loan signings Lewis Holtby and Jonny Heitinga could also come into the side for Fulham and Meulensteen has little in the way of injury concerns ahead of his return to his former employers.
The last meeting between the two sides finished 3-1 in United’s favour thanks to goals from Rooney, van Persie and Valencia. United also came out on top in all three of their meetings last season.
United boast a superb record at home to Fulham having won eleven out of 12 at home against them since they were promoted to the top flight including each of their last nine meetings at Old Trafford. Five clean sheets in six home games against the Londoners is likely to be a further source of confidence for Moyes’ men.
Wayne Rooney has scored in five of his last six games against Fulham in all competitions which makes ominous reading for the visitors while Robin van Persie has scored six and assisted a further two against Sunday’s opponents.
United should have more than enough in their locker to come out on top this weekend ahead of a busy week for the club but Meulensteen is a man who knows United well and despite his sides poor run of form, a victory is far from a formality.
Prediction: Manchester United 1-0 Fulham