Preview: United v Fulham
Date, time and coverage: Saturday 25 August 2012, 15:00 BST kick-off. Follow it live on ManUtd.com with text and radio and watch highlights on MUTV.
Form guide: Fulham’s opening game could not have gone better as Martin Jol’s side battered Norwich 5-0 at the weekend with his new players having an instant impact. Mladen Petric scored twice on his debut and confidence will be sky-high. The Reds were defeated at Everton, of course, and will look to bounce back in the first game of the season at Old Trafford.
Betting: United have been installed as strong 7/25 favourites to beat Fulham, who are rated as 9/1 outsiders (the draw is at 17/4). Despite some ongoing defensive injury concerns, the Reds will be confident about overcoming a Cottagers side who have not won at Old Trafford since October 2003. All eyes will be on the United teamsheet to see if Robin van Persie makes his first start following his move from Arsenal. The Dutchman is 3/1 to score first and 17/20 to notch at any time. Register here with bwin to place up to £20 in free bets on the match.
Ins and outs: Jonny Evans won’t be fit in time to bolster the defence with Rio Ferdinand, Chris Smalling and Phil Jones still out. Michael Carrick could remain at centre-back but new boy Alexander Büttner is in the squad. Robin van Persie looks set for his first start while Ryan Giggs, Ashley Young, Anderson and Rafael are among the options if the boss wants to make changes. Clint Dempsey will again be left out for Fulham after agitating for a move to Liverpool. Zdenek Grygera is fit but Kerim Frei and Philippe Senderos miss out.
Last meeting: Wayne Rooney’s goal in March decided a tight affair at Old Trafford with the Cottagers upset not to be awarded a late penalty after Danny Murphy was felled by Michael Carrick. United won 5-0 at Craven Cottage with Danny Welbeck, Nani, Ryan Giggs, Rooney and Dimitar Berbatov all on the scoresheet.
Opposition boss: Martin Jol was once targeted for the assistant manager’s job at United and has earned a great deal of respect within the game. The Dutchman played in midfield for the likes of West Brom and Coventry and returned to the Barclays Premier League after leaving Tottenham in 2007. After working at Hamburg and Ajax, he moved back to London to replace Mark Hughes.
Star man: Moussa Dembele is a player with plenty of guile who will need to be watched carefully. The Belgium international shone after being asked to play in a deeper role last season and provides plenty of creative spark from the middle of the field. Despite being linked with a number of clubs over the summer, including United, he has remained loyal to the capital club.
Quote/unquote: “It’s never easy going to one of the biggest clubs in the world and trying to win, but we will take heart from the way we played [at Old Trafford] back in March.” Aaron Hughes, Fulham defender.
Sub-plots: Van Persie is likely to make his full debut and attract a lot of the attention as the Reds will be desperate to get some points on the board. Smalling misses out on a meeting against his old club and Jol is certain to face more questions about the continued absence of last term’s top scorer Dempsey after the match.