Can Manchester United stop Fulham’s Bobby Zamora?

Fulham v Manchester United, Premier League, December 19, 2009

Fulham 6/1; Draw 7/2; Manchester United 4/7

Can Manchester United stop Bobby Zamora?

A few weeks ago this question would have been greeted with a smirk but with the Premier League champions heading to Craven Cottage short of defenders and Zamora in fine form, the Fulham striker could make it another tough afternoon for Manchester United by the Thames. (Fulham are 26/1 to score in both halves.)

Zamora is banging in goals left right and centre and the criticism from the bloggers which led to his angry celebration after scoring against Sunderland has seen him produce the form that saw him rise to prominence at Brighton. The winner against Sunderland was swiftly followed by a clinical finish against Burnley last weekend and then a fine brace in midweek at FC Basel, helping to secure progression to the knockout rounds of the Europa League.

Fulham’s form in Europe has been hugely impressive and is another string in the bow of Roy Hodgson. Most teams struggle to perform both domestically and in Europe but the Cottagers are currently in ninth position and look more than capable of securing another top half position.

Unlike the earlier stages of the Europa League, Hodgson played a full strength side in Switzerland on Wednesday night and the fitness of Fulham’s players will be tested by United. The victory in Basel was notable for two assists from Bjorn Helge Riise who may well have played himself into a starting berth for this match.

Roy Hodgson’s side have been quietly producing some good results and will be a danger to United with the likes of Danny Murphy and Jonathan Greening prompting from midfield. They have not lost in their last six matches and have only been defeated in the Premier League once (at Birmingham) since the end of September.

As seems to consistently be the case these days, Manchester United’s main pre-match injury concerns are with their defence with Michael Carrick once again expected to play as a central defender. Nemanja Vidic’s calf injury, which saw the Serbian defender substituted just before the hour mark in the win over an under-strength team has left Sir Alex Ferguson short of options. (United are 10/11 to keep a clean sheet.)

If Vidic doesn’t make it, Ritchie De Laet will start alongside Carrick and Darren Fletcher will resume at right back. Despite coming through the last few weeks with a number of wins, Fulham should not be overawed. The uproar over Mick McCarthy’s team selection has clouded the fact that United laboured to victory over Wolves and both Wayne Rooney and Dimitar Berbatov failed to really dominate a second choice defence.

The home defeat to Aston Villa last Saturday is strong in the memory and whilst wins at Wolfsburg and West Ham before that were impressive, the current form of both those sides suggest that United may not be as strong as we think.

Fulham will also remember the 2-0 win over United last March which saw Wayne Rooney sent off and Zoltan Gera score a fine acrobatic goal. Having already beaten Liverpool at Craven Cottage this season, Fulham may be set to give neighbours Chelsea a helping hand in the title race.

101gg predicts: Fulham 2 – Manchester United 2 (26/1)

Fulham 6/1; Draw 7/2; Manchester United 4/7