Once again, here is a suggested Manchester United starting XI -- this time for the match versus Fulham FC at Old Trafford. As always, keep in mind that this isn't an anticipated starting XI, but rather the suggestion of one man. These selection choices factor in the specific match-up, fitness, and form. Fatigue should be a minimal factor because United were last in action during the past weekend when they defeated Wolves 5-0 at Molineux. A number of first-team players actually featured at the midweek during United's 3-1 Reserves victory against Aston Villa's Reserves. Chris Smalling, Phil Jones, Tom Cleverley, and Fabio all went the full 90 minutes on Thursday.
Fulham are likely to be deployed in either a 4-4-2 or 4-4-1-1 system by manager Martin Jol. The Cottagers tend to play narrow -- their 38% attacking through the middle of the pitch is the highest in the Premier League -- as their wide attackers tend come inside and roam in the space between the lines. When out of possession, United will need to compact their lines and defend narrowly. Creating chances for the home side shouldn't be a problem.
* David de Gea (goalkeeper): The Spaniard continues to be in fine form and he's the automatic selection choice. In this particular match, he'll need to be wary of shots from distance and through balls. Unless Damien Duff starts for Fulham, crosses aren't something United will be dealing with much due to the narrow nature of the visitor's attack.
* Rio Ferdinand/Jonny Evans (center-back): This has developed into a fine pairing. Rio generally sits deeper and acts as the covering player -- this is particularly important when Patrice Evra gets caught out too high -- while Evans steps out from the back more. As of late, the latter has stepped into midfield when United have patiently built attacks from the back. Both are strong on the ball as well and this aids United's emphasis on possession-based football.
* Patrice Evra (left-back): Even though Evra is an automatic selection choice for Sir Alex Ferguson, I still desire to see Fabio more at left-back. However, Evra hasn't been too poor as of late -- that's a definite improvement -- and his experience and leadership may prove vital for the run-in. United tend to play a quick-passing game down the left side and Evra compliments that well with his link-up play.
* Phil Jones (right-back): I'd be content with either Jones or Rafael starting here but I have a slight preference for the Englishman for three reasons: (1) United's right-back will be defending narrowly against the dangerous Clint Dempsey and this space may be a bit more natural for Jones to defend in. (2) Jones offers more height against Dempsey and thus, he's better suited to duel against him when crosses are sent to the far-post -- this will have some importance if Duff starts on the right for Fulham. (3) Jones fouls less often than Rafa. Dempsey is 11th in the league in fouls won per game.
* Paul Scholes/Michael Carrick (central-midfield): It's very likely that these two midfield maestros will have more touches on the ball than any other player on the pitch. Domestically, United certainly are a possession-based side as of late as they tend to patiently work the ball from back to attack -- Scholes and Carrick are the pivots for this. Scholes is able to increase the tempo by moving the ball quickly as well or he can ignite the attack with an incisive long diagonal ball -- particularly to the right-flank where Antonio Valencia is likely to operate at. There currently is no better ball-playing duo in England at the moment.
* Antonio Valencia (right-winger): The Ecuadorian had an impressive return from injury last week as he was nearly unplayable versus Wolves. Valencia provides a nice balance in attack -- United's left side typically includes movement and quick passing if Ashley Young, Danny Welbeck, or Park Ji-sung are deployed there -- by stretching the opposition with width and his direct style of play. It's pretty simple -- Valencia will receive near the right touchline and look to beat his marker to the byline so that a cross can be sent in. He also does well to track back as well and this could be important in helping on Dempsey.
* Ashley Young (left-winger): The biggest selection dilemma that Fergie is likely to have is choosing between Young and Javier Hernandez (Chicharito). If it's Young, then that means Welbeck up top and if it's Chicharito, then that means Welbeck as a nominal wide player. Young could use a game and his understanding with Rooney, Evra, and Welbeck is superb. Really though, this is a fortunate 'dilemma' to have as both Young and Chicharito are fine options.
* Danny Welbeck (striker): I prefer Young and Welbeck on the pitch from the start as opposed to Welbeck and Chicharito because the former combination offers better all around play. Chicharito is obviously a terrific finisher in the box but Welbeck offers more in building chances -- which is more difficult than finishing them. If we need to chase a goal in the 2nd half, then Chicharito is an ideal substitute because that likely would be a scenario where United would be creating chance after chance against a deep-defending away side. The Mexican striker has the knack for scoring 'game-changing goals'.
* Wayne Rooney (striker): As always, the talisman is the first name on the team sheet. He likely will have plenty of time and space on the ball between the lines as Fulham do not have an adequate defensive midfielder that is a natural foil. Trying to defend against the fluid and interchangeable movement of Rooney, Welbeck, and Young in this space should be very worrisome if you happen to be a Fulham fan.