It’s FA Cup time this weekend as eight teams prepare for the quarter-finals of one of the oldest and most prestigious cup competitions in world football. Manchester United welcome Fulham to Old Trafford with a trip to Wembley up for grabs.
Man United’s great run in cup competitions continued in the midweek as they progressed to the quarter-finals of the Europa League with a 1-0 win on the night and a 5-1 win on aggregate over Spanish side Real Betis. The second leg in the midweek in Seville was a mere formality with the Red Devils carrying a huge 4-1 lead from the first leg. Betis threatened the visitors in the opening stages and came close to scoring a couple of times but United’s defense and David de Gea kept the Los Verdiblancos at bay. Marcus Rashford then scored yet another brilliant goal with a fierce drive from about 25-yards out. Betis keeper Rui Silva was simply helpless and could not keep out the shot which was beautifully placed with a lot of venom behind it. It essentially killed the tie and United then saw out the rest of the game comfortably. They now prepare to face the Cottagers as they strive to keep their hopes for a treble season alive. Erik ten Hag is eager to add another two trophies to his collection alongside the Carabao Cup and told his players to focus on Fulham straight away after the win in Spain. With a very congested fixture list and games every two or three days, the Red Devils have little time for recovery and they must make the most of it.
Fulham are enjoying a stellar season themselves, with some great league form. Under Marco Silva they have improved greatly and have shown massive improvement over their previous campaigns. They sit in 9th place in the league currently, a mere five points off fifth-placed Newcastle United and look on course to finish inside the top half of the table for the first time since the 2011/12 season. They have looked a much more organized side than their previous campaigns and have got their recruitment right with players like Joao Palhinha. However, their form coming into this game has not been the best, having lost their last two games. The Cottagers have won just one of their last four and will be hoping to improve on their record at Old Trafford. Fulham have reached the quarter-finals for the first time since 2009-2010 season and are competing for a place in the semi-final, which could be their first since the 2001-2002 season. There is no doubt that the travelling fans will be in full voice to show their support for their players as they aim to make their own history.
When & Where?
Date: Sunday, 19th March 2023.
Venue: Old Trafford, Greater Manchester.
Time: 4.30 pm GMT.
The hosts will be without a very crucial player in Casemiro, who will serve the first of his four-match ban on Sunday. He has become a talisman in their midfield and it will be intriguing to see who replaces the Brazilian with Marcel Sabitzer, Fred and McTominay all in contention to fill up the two spots in the midfield. Sabitzer returned to action off the bench in their win over Betis in the midweek after the loanee picked up an injury last week. Antony missed out on the trip to Spain with an illness and it remains to see if he is fit enough to feature. His replacement, Facundo Pellistri, put in a strong performance in his first-ever start for the club in the midweek and will be ready to deputize once again if the Brazilian does not recover in time. Anthony Martial has returned to training but was not included in the squad that travelled to Spain and ten Hag confirmed he will miss out on the weekend as well. Donny van de Beek and Alejandro Garnacho are long-term absentees along with Christian Eriksen, but the Dane is set to return in April.
For Fulham, midfield juggernaut Joao Palhinha is set to return to the squad after serving his two-game suspension for yellow cards, in a big boost for Marco Silva’s side. Willian was missing from the squad in their defeat against Arsenal last weekend and it remains to see if he is fit enough to make the trip to Manchester. Tom Cairney is also expected to be in contention for selection after recovering from a foot injury, but defender Layvin Kurzawa and midfielder Neeskens Kebano are set to remain on the treatment table for some time. Loanee Cedric Soares should also return to the squad after being ineligible to play against Arsenal, his parent club, last weekend.
Fulham are enjoying a very strong season domestically and the fact that they are competing in the quarters of the FA Cup is evidence enough. They have had a torrid few years in the top-flight of English football, with constant relegations and promotions, but this season they look like a vastly different team. They have got the right personalities in and combined with an excellent manager like Marco Silva, the Cottagers finally seem to have found their footing.
Manchester United have a similar narrative, with the club going through some fairly troublesome times in the last decade. However they have turned a corner this season and having already tasted some success in form of the Carabao Cup, Erik ten Hag’s men look eager to return to Wembley, hungry for more silverware.
Both teams will lineup in their preferred 4-2-3-1 style, with a midfield pivot. The loss of Casemiro will be a huge blow to the Red Devils and a big boost to the visitors who will be further buoyed by the return of their own midfield maestro Joao Palhinha. The Portuguese has brought the same impact to the Fulham midfield that Casemiro has brought to United. Winning the ball with a crunching tackle or intercepting a pass with a brilliant reading of the game and turning defense into attack in the blink of an eye – Palhinha and Casemiro have done it all. With the Brazilian missing and Fulham’s £20 million man available, the dynamics of the game could well change, with United now lacking a proper defensive midfielder. However United have coped quite well in the absence of the Brazilian and it will be interesting to see how they fare this time around.
Fatigue and injuries could play a huge part in the game. United have played three games a week almost every week since the World Cup break and have looked a bit tired in their last couple games. Fulham have had the luxury of a week’s rest in between their games, having no European competition and having been knocked out of the Carabao Cup in the early stages. The visitors will no doubt bring that extra energy to game, but United have the home advantage, having turned Old Trafford into somewhat of a fortress.
The Red Devils have the quality to expose Fulham’s problems, despite the Cottagers having a bit of an edge, and it could well be the case on Sunday. It will be an engrossing battle with Wembley awaiting the winner.
Words fail to describe the incredible turnaround Marcus Rashford has had from last season. It feels as if the Englishman is scoring in every game and he was on the scoresheet once again in Seville on Thursday night, scoring the only goal of the night to give United a 1-0 win in Spain. It was his 27th goal of the season for his club and he is showing no signs of slowing down. The 25-year-old has terrified defenses all over Europe, and he will be United’s talisman again on Sunday.
Return of the prodigal son perhaps? Not quite in the case of Andreas who spent almost a decade in Manchester but never got going. He had a stop-start life at Old Trafford, going out on loan several times and when provided the chance in the first team, never really putting on much of a display. He had a couple moments of brilliance at the club though, with an unforgettable goal against Southampton at home in the 2018/19 season. The Brazilian swapped Manchester for London this summer and has massively improved at Craven Cottage, cementing his place as a regular starter in Marco Silva’s side. He may feel like he has a point to prove on Sunday and he will be key to Fulham’s creativity in the final third.
Manchester United lineup vs Fulham: David de Gea; Diogo Dalot, Raphael Varane, Lisandro Martinez, Luke Shaw; Fred, Marcel Sabitzer; Antony, Bruno Fernandes, Marcus Rashford; Wout Weghorst.
Fulham lineup vs Manchester United: Bernd Leno; Kenny Tete, Tosin Adarabioyo, Tim Ream, Antonee Robinson; Harrison Reed, Joao Palhinha; Bobby Decordova-Reid, Andreas Pereira, Manor Solomon; Aleksandr Mitrovic.