Fulham 0 Man United 4: Terrific Tevez stars for the Ferguson strollers
08 March 2009 09:08
They did not even need to include the player considered the world's best in their squad and they even left Ryan Giggs on the bench along with £30million Dimitar Berbatov.
Yet Manchester United roll on inexorably towards those unlikely five trophies. Greater challenges than Fulham and the FA Cup lie ahead, not least Jose Mourinho's Inter Milan in the Champions League on Wednesday night and Liverpool in the Premier League on Saturday.
But it is hard not to conclude we may be witnessing the maturing of one of the truly great teams in history. The next 10 weeks will be the testing ground, but few sides in the world could match the speed, inventiveness and determination of this extraordinary collection of players.
At half-time, sprightly manager Sir Alex Ferguson jogged to the bench, smirking as he did. He is 67 and looks in the prime of his life, as well as might, having created these untouchables.
'It was excellent,' he enthused. 'We played with great energy and enjoyment. Picking the right team is my biggest concern right now. It's not easy for me leaving great players out of every game. I just hope at the end of the season I've got it right.'
He did yesterday. United had the game won within 50 minutes and an FA Cup semi-final now beckons. There was no need for world player of the year Cristiano Ronaldo, Berbatov or Giggs and Wayne Rooney was withdrawn on 64 minutes.
The only downside: Rio Ferdinand limped off with what looked like an ankle injury. United were aided by desperately poor Fulham defending, notably an absence of marking for Carlos Tevez's first goal and a willingness to concede possession in vulnerable areas.
But better teams than this will be bamboozled by the intensity and movement of United's front four.
Fulham gave their best and even looked to unsettle United at times. Despite the emphatic nature of their victory, United started in a disjointed fashion.
Loose balls from Darren Fletcher, Rooney and Anderson seemed to indicate the perfectly formed machine might be spluttering. Even Edwin van der Sar looked nervous on his return, misjudging the bounce of Simon Davies' long ball on 15 minutes, allowing Andy Johnson to deflect the ball past the Dutchman. It bounced goalwards but Nemanja Vidic hacked it off the line.
Craven Cottage shook with anticipation as home fans sensed their team might match their noisy optimism. And when Bobby Zamora swung in a cross for Clint Dempsey, forcing Van der Sar to save again on 18 minutes, the old stands reverberated again.
Yet within 60 seconds all hope was punctured as Fulham conceded the first goal through poor marking at a set-piece. The excellent Michael Carrick took a corner, Rooney flicked it on and Tevez headed in from a narrow angle.
Other than when Simon Davies blazed over from close range, United were thereafter in absolute control. They had a 'goal' wrongly disallowed for offside on 27 minutes when Anderson played in Rooney, who finished calmly, and the England striker then hit a post from close range. No matter. Tevez took charge himself, creating a wondrous goal on 35 minutes.
There seemed no danger when he picked the ball up 40 yards out but as he bobbed and weaved towards goal, Fulham did not close him down. He unleashed a swirling 25-yard shot that had a goalkeeper as good as Schwarzer diving despairingly in vain.
'It was a superb performance by Carlos,' said Ferguson. 'He was real jack in the box all day.'
Roy Hodgson knew he had a damage limitation exercise on his hands. 'It's an uphill task when you go 2-0 down to this team, with their technique and ability to keep the ball,' he said. 'All you can do is keep going, which we did. But we lost to a great team.'
The Fulham manager added that he believed United could produce a clean sweep of trophies. 'Of course they could do it,' he said. 'The Champions League looks the most difficult but if they can get past Inter, then they can go all the way.'
At least Fulham did stick to their task. Johnson looked to be in on goal on 39 minutes but Ferdinand dived in to block, his last significant contribution of the game.
A third goal seemed inevitable for swashbuckling United. It came on 50 minutes, when a Fulham move was intercepted by Anderson, who then fed Rooney. But for the Englishman's excellence there would have been no imminent danger, but he curled the ball through the forest of legs and past Schwarzer from 20 yards.
The fourth came on 80 minutes directly from Zoltan Gera's lapse which saw him play the ball into the path Jisung Park.
The Korean, an unsung hero, advanced on goal and unleashed a strike from the edge of the area to beat Schwarzer, who made yet another despairing dive. By that stage it was a familiar pose.
FULHAM (4-4-2): Schwarzer; Pantsil, Hughes, Hangeland, Konchesky; Davies, Etuhu, Murphy (Dacourt 57min), Dempsey; Johnson (Kamara 60), Zamora (Gera 67).
Subs (not used): Zuberbuhler, Nevland, Stoor, Kallio. Booked: Pantsil, Dacourt.
MAN UTD (4-4-2): Van der Sar; O'Shea (Eckersley 52), Ferdinand (Evans 46), Vidic, Evra; Fletcher, Anderson, Carrick, Park; Tevez, Rooney (Welbeck 64).
Subs (not used): Foster, Berbatov, Giggs, Scholes.
Referee: M Dean (Wirral).