After a taking a 1-0 lead versus Chelsea FC in the first leg of their mid-week UEFA Champions League quarter-final clash at Stamford Bridge, Manchester United FC return to Old Trafford on Saturday for a Barclays Premier League match versus Fulham FC. In the reverse fixture back in August at Craven Cottage, Fulham's Brede Hangeland headed in an equaliser in the 89th minute to earn a dramatic 2-2 draw for his side. Nani was also wasteful late in the match as the Portuguese winger missed a penalty in the 87th minute, one that likely would have given United all three points.
Manchester United: United come into the fixture top of the table in the Premier League; a seven point lead over nearest title-contending rival Arsenal FC, although the North London side have a game in hand. United also continue their fight for more domestic silverware a week from Saturday when they face Manchester City in a FA Cup semi-final derby at Wembley. The Red Devils also seek European glory as they will square off again with Chelsea in the 2nd leg of their quarter-final European tie on Tuesday at Old Trafford. The home side come into the match versus Fulham in good form as they've been victorious in their previous five matches on all three battle fronts.
Injuries have been a major concern for the club the past few months, but United are beginning to heal. Owen Hargreaves, Anders Lindegaard, and Rafael are all unavailable due to injury. Wayne Rooney and Jonny Evans are also unavailable due to suspension. Darren Fletcher has been battling a virus for the past month but the Scot has resumed training this week. John O'Shea and Wes Brown have also trained in the past week but neither, along with Fletcher, are expected to be match-fit for Saturday's tie. Edwin van der Sar has been suffering from a groin injury as of late, one that prevented him from participating against West Ham United last weekend. The groin issue also forced Nemanja Vidic to take goalkicks in the dying moments of the Chelsea match.
*UPDATE* Here is an updated summary of United's injuries and suspensions on the eve of the Fulham match.
Fulham: The Cottagers come into the match led by former United legend and current manager Mark Hughes. After spending much of the season near the relegation zone, the London side come into the match in good recent form as they have risen to 10th in the Premier League table after only one league loss in their last seven matches. This has included impressive draws versus Chelsea and Manchester City.
Fulham will arrive at Old Trafford with a relatively clean bill of health, however, there a few minor injury concerns. Aaron Hughes, Damien Duff, and the recently returned Bobby Zamora all have suffered from recent knocks but the trio are all expected to play. Zamora bagged a brace in Fulham's most recent match, a 3-0 victory over Blackpool.
With such a congested fixture list, one that includes the previously mentioned Champions League tie with Chelsea on Tuesday and also a FA Cup semi-final clash with City a week from Saturday, it's quite possible that United manager Sir Alex Ferguson rotates his squad a bit. At home, it is likely that the Gaffer plays his side in a '4-4-2' shape. Without Rooney, who is serving the first of his controversial two-match ban, the striker pairing is likely to be the Premier League's leading goal-scorer Dimitar Berbatov with Javier 'Chicharito' Hernandez. However, if Fergie feels the need to give the young Mexican striker a rest after logging heavy minutes recently for both club and country, the manager could also potentially turn to Michael Owen. Antonio Valencia has also been featured extensively as of late so Nani may be the wide right player. Ryan Giggs and Park Ji-Sung have also played twice in the past week so it's a guess as to who will be featured as the wide left player. Both Paul Scholes and Darron Gibson are relatively fresh and they may be the center-midfield pairing, although the now healthy Anderson may be called upon. Expect the recently returned Rio Ferdinand to be given a rest ahead of Chelsea and for Chris Smalling to deputize for him. Skipper Vidic is likely to be his partner at center-back. With the injury and fitness concerns to so many top-choice options at right-back, Fabio is the likely choice there. The steady Patrice Evra can be anticipated at left-back. With van der Sar's nagging groin injury, expect Tomasz Kuszczak in between the posts.
Unlike United, Fulham are playing only a single match a week and because of this, their lineup is a bit more predictable. They've recently used a '4-4-2' shape, but it's possible that Hughes deploys his side in a '4-5-1' shape away from Craven Cottage. Mark Schwarzer is the Fulham No. 1 and his usual center-back pairing is Hangeland and Aaron Hughes. Expect Carlos Salcido at left-back and Chris Baird at right-back. Dickson Etuhu and Danny Murphy are the preferred center-midfield pairing. If Duff is able to play, expect him as the attacking player on the right and American international Clint Dempsey on the left. The anticipated striker pairing is Zamora and Moussa Dembele.
*Note: If personnel news is released at Fergie's weekley press conference, I will update the projections and injury news on this preview. Therefore, be sure to check back for all the updated news in regards to projected lineups.
Odds: United 4/9, Draw 3/1, Fulham 7/1
Prediction: United 2-0 Fulham