A place in the FA Cup quarter-finals is up for grabs as Manchester United and Fulham renew hostilities at Old Trafford on Sunday afternoon.
Fresh from acquiring a quarter-final berth in the Europa League, the Red Devils switch their attention back to domestic assignments, looking to build on February’s League Cup triumph.
Standing between Erik ten Hag and his second domestic cup trophy with United will be the Cottagers, who come into proceedings off the back of an underwhelming 3-0 home league defeat to Arsenal.
With United seeking a replica of the 2015/16 title-winning season and Fulham targeting their first semi-final qualification since 2001/02, Sunday’s fixture should be a treat for neutrals.
If a 4-1 home triumph over Real Betis in the first leg of their Europa League last-16 tie wasn’t enough to qualify Man Utd for the quarter-finals, Marcus Rashford made sure to finish the job on Thursday.
The in-form English forward fired the Red Devils to a 1-0 second-leg win at the Estadio Benito Villamarin, helping them set up a handsomely-looking last-eight tie against record-time winners Sevilla.
United’s midweek success in Andalusia may have settled fans’ nerves for a while following last weekend’s disappointing 0-0 home draw against Premier League basement boys Southampton.
That result has effectively ruled Man Utd out of the title race, but after beating Newcastle United in February’s League Cup final, they have two cup competitions left to conquer.
It’s little wonder the Red Devils head into this contest as huge betting favourites, considering they haven’t lost any of their last 16 FA Cup matches at Old Trafford (W14, D2).
They have progressed from each of their last eight FA Cup ties against Fulham after losing the first two in 1905 and 1908, though they last met in this tournament in 2013.
All competitions included, ten Hag’s men are unbeaten in their last 15 encounters against the Cottagers (W12, D3), including a last-gasp 2-1 Premier League victory at Craven Cottage in November.
This fixture comes at the wrong time for Fulham as they’ve gone from an eye-catching seven-game unbeaten run in all competitions (W4, D3) to losing their last two matches by an aggregate score of 6-2.
Marco Silva’s side strolled to a 2-0 win over Premier League whipping boys Leeds United in the previous FA Cup round, advancing into the competition’s quarter-finals for the first time since 2009/10.
However, this stage has often proved the end of the road for Fulham, as they’ve failed to make it out of this round in their last three attempts since overcoming West Ham United in 2002.
Changing the script would likely require the Cottagers to register an unlikely clean sheet against Man Utd, a feat they last achieved at Old Trafford in 1963.
They have failed to keep the Red Devils at bay on their last 25 competitive visits to the Theatre of Dreams, conceding a staggering 63 goals.
But a return of two shutouts from their last three domestic trips to face off against fellow top-flight rivals can inspire some confidence in the Fulham camp.
That bodes well, as they bid to play down the odds and eliminate two Premier League clubs in a single FA Cup campaign for the first time since the 2002/03 season.
Ten Hag faces a few selection dilemmas ahead of this game.
In addition to Christian Eriksen, who has been on the sidelines since picking up an ankle injury in a 3-1 FA Cup win over Reading in January, Man Utd will be without another key midfield component.
Casemiro received a straight red card in last weekend’s home draw against Southampton and will be ineligible to play, leaving the Dutchman with a difficult choice to make.
He can either go with Scott McTominay and Fred as two holding midfielders or nail one to the bench and deploy a more attacking-minded line-up as he did against the Saints.
Either way, he cannot call upon second-string option Donny van de Beek to fill the void, as the former Ajax youngster remains pinned to the treatment room with a knee problem.
Alejandro Garnacho, who scored a late winner at Craven Cottage, is out with a foot injury, while Anthony Martial has yet to recover from a long-term muscular issue.
It means underperforming Jadon Sancho should join Rashford and Wout Weghorst in the front third, though keep an eye on Anthony Elanga, who had a decent game at Betis.
As for Fulham, captain Tom Cairney is ruled out with ankle damage, with Neeskens Kebano and Layvin Kurzawa struggling with Achilles and knee injuries, respectively.
There’s still a question mark over William after the Brazilian sustained a minor back problem against Brentford a fortnight ago, but Silva will have an ace up his sleeve.
Shakhtar Donetsk loanee Manor Solomon has soaked up the limelight as the Cottagers’ headline performer in 2023, clocking five goals in 13 appearances since arriving from Ukraine in January.
Solomon’s sublime form has made Fulham supporters forget Aleksandar Mitrovic’s rough patch, with the Serbian striker searching for only his fourth goal this calendar year.
But despite drawing a blank in his last six Premier League outings, Mitrovic has scored in back-to-back FA Cup matches, so Man Utd should keep their eyes on him.
Manchester United potential line-up:
(4-1-4-1): David de Gea; Diogo Dalot, Harry Maguire, Raphael Varane, Luke Shaw; Scott McTominay; Antony, Bruno Fernandes, Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho; Wout Weghorst.
Fulham potential line-up:
(4-2-3-1): Bernd Leno; Kenny Tete, Tim Ream, Tosin Adarabioyo, Antonee Robinson; Sasa Lukic, Harrison Reed; Manor Solomon, Andreas Pereira, Bobby Decordova-Reid; Aleksandar Mitrovic.
We Say: Manchester United 3-1 Fulham
With all due respect to Fulham’s impressive Premier League season, Man Utd should be waltzing away with a comprehensive win here.
Barring last weekend’s shocking result against Southampton, ten Hag’s lads have been scoring at will at Old Trafford, netting two or more in 16 straight home games beforehand.
And with the Cottagers prone to conceding cheap goals, this should be a routine task for the Red Devils.
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