Manchester United travelled to Craven Cottage to face Fulham in the team’s final match before the long World Cup break.
Erik ten Hag was keen to get his team back to winning ways after the devastating defeat at the hands of Aston Villa a week ago.
The Dutch boss fielded a much-changed team from the one that lost last Sunday. Anthony Martial came in for Cristiano Ronaldo. Anthony Elanga’s introduction to the starting XI meant that Bruno Fernandes was restored to his preferred playmaking role, effectively relegating Donny van de Beek to the bench.
In place of the suspended Diogo Dalot, Tyrell Malacia slotted into the right-back position.
Here are three things we learned from Manchester United’s last gasp win against Fulham.
United had an encouraging first half at best. The team fell short of the dominant performances they have been putting in prior to the shock drubbing against Unai Emery’s Aston Villa in the last Premier League outing.
To highlight this, the Reds went into the break with less possession than the Cottagers in the opening 45 minutes – 47% to Fulham’s 53%.
Despite this, it is United that fashioned the most clear-cut opportunities in the opening half. United registered seven shots at goal, with four being on target.
The Red Devils’ breakthrough came in the 14th minute when the team’s number 14 got on the end of a brilliant Fernandes cross to put the ball into the back of the net.
In what was a brilliantly-worked team goal. Casemiro pinched the ball in the middle of the park before passing it to Martial. The Frenchman found Fernandes on the left side of the Fulham box, and the Portuguese found a sliding Eriksen who made no mistake from close range.
Martial had a few other opportunities to add to United’s lead but could not capitalize when needed to. He fluffed a brilliant chance when Rashford put him in as well as another header from an exquisite Luke Shaw cross.
While Ten Hag would have been happy to head down the tunnel with a lead, he would not have been pleased that his players allowed multiple Fulham incursions into United territory. Particularly threatening were Willian and former United midfielder Andreas Pereira, who kept finding pockets of space on the right of the defence.
Ten Hag’s cry for help must be heeded
Before the game, Ten Hag spoke to the press and inadvertently issued a cry for help that club officials do not have the luxury of ignoring.
The Dutch boss could only name eight players on the bench and out of this, there were two goalkeepers.
On his lack of options, Ten Hag said, “We have no more players available who can help us today.”
🗣 Erik ten Hag on having eight substitutes including two goalkeepers: "We have no more players available who can help us today." [@ShamoonHafez]
— UtdDistrict (@UtdDistrict) November 13, 2022
Due to the lack of sufficient alternatives, the manager was forced to play Elanga on the right. The academy graduate failed to get into the game at all and it was no surprise he was the first to be marshalled off.
With Dalot not available, Malacia, naturally a left-back, was deployed in the right full back position. His lack of experience was exploited many times by the opposition who orchestrated most of their attacks from that side.
Malacia struggled against Willian, who had his number all game. Fulham’s equalizer came when Malacia who was drawn high up the pitch was caught out before a cross into the box found ex-United winger Dan James for a simple tap-in.
Heading into the winter window, the club must not let the opportunity to add reinforcements to their ranks pass them by. A right-back and another attack-minded player, preferably a striker, are a must-buy.
As seen against Fulham, the lack of options forces Ten Hag into compromising his way of playing and making ineffective tweaks to his starting XI which greatly inhibits the team.
Garnacho and De Gea the positives
In a game hallmarked by United’s lack of a clinical edge in front of goal and withstanding waves of Fulham pressure especially in the second half, goalkeeper David de Gea and substitute Alejandro Garnacho were the major positives.
De Gea came with a number of heroic saves to keep Marco Silva’s players out, following up on what he did against West Ham.
When Garnacho came on, he made a difference. His directness and threatening play gave an untried and settled Fulham defence something to think about.
The Argentine could have been awarded a penalty when he was brought down inside the box but the referee ruled it out. It was therefore fitting that he came up with the winner for United late into the game with the last kick of the game.