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    QPR

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    Norwich

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    Arsenal

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    Stoke

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    Everton

    3

    Aston Villa

    3

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    Newcastle

    3

    Chelsea

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    Reading

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    Sunderland

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    West Ham

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    Wigan

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    Fulham

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    Man Utd

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BARCLAYS PREMIER LEAGUE

Craven Cottage, England

Attendance: 25670

* Local time based on your geographic location.

0 - 1

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Manchester United

  • Wayne Rooney 79'
Watch Live on: ESPN(UK)

Berba blow hands Fulham uphill task

George Pavlou
Dimitar Berbatov will not be available to face his former club at Craven Cottage

The first fixture post-deadline day sees these sides looking at the January transfer window in very different ways. Fulham have shaken up their squad with some new arrivals having found themselves perilously close to the relegation zone before their midweek win against West Ham. On the other hand, Premier League leaders Manchester United chose not to dip into the transfer market as they chase silverware on three fronts.

United dumped the Cottagers out of the FA Cup with a 4-1 win at Old Trafford last week but while it is easy to say Fulham would like nothing more than to get revenge for their recent humiliation, it is far simpler for boss Martin Jol. The West Londoners just need to get something from the game, whether it be points or pride. Before the victory over West Ham, Fulham had only won two of their previous ten games in all competitions and rumblings around Craven Cottage were of discontent about the quality of the team and that perhaps Jol's time at the club was nearing an end. Relegation fears have been temporarily allayed with their latest result but there are still concerns about the team's insufficiencies.

It was always going to be difficult replacing the goals of Clint Dempsey and the quality of Mousa Dembele in midfield. New signings Dimitar Berbatov, Mladen Petric and Alex Kaciniklic all started the season with so much promise but have fallen away along with Fulham's form over the winter. Jol assembled a decent squad, more than capable of staying in the Premier League, but with injuries to key players such as Bryan Ruiz, they have struggled. Despite their bad run, the midweek win has opened up an eight-point cushion to the drop-zone and eased the pressure from the fans.

United, meanwhile, have lost just once in their last 12 matches in all competitions. The squad is brimming with quality and confidence. Their midweek triumph against Southampton underlines their ability to not play well but still grind out a win. Sir Alex Ferguson described Southampton's performance at Old Trafford as the best from an away team this season but United still came out with a 2-1 victory. Now seven points clear at the top of the league and with the treble still on, Ferguson will want a response from his players and to make a real statement to his rivals.

Not many teams have good recent form against Manchester United, even at home, but Fulham's resolve at Craven Cottage has been admirable. In United's last six visits to West London they have come away with all three points only three times, losing twice and drawing once. However, the last time these sides met at Craven Cottage, United won with ease; a 5-0 drubbing in December 2011. Jol will want to put both this result and the recent FA Cup mauling right.

It will not be easy for Fulham as United only have Ashley Young and Jonny Evans unavailable for the visit. Jol has freshened up his squad and brought in Arsenal's young, combative midfielder Emanuel Frimpong to their ranks on loan. His chances of playing are high after Jol announced he'd be looking to bring the Ghanaian into the team in the next two games. Fulham also signed Urby Emanuelson from AC Milan to add some much-needed athleticism and versatility to their midfield, though his featuring on Saturday is less likely. Kieran Richardson is missing through injury and Fulham will also be without star striker and former Red Devil, Dimitar Berbatov, who picked up a hamstring injury against West Ham. This will be a huge loss for Fulham as his quality up-front could have caused United plenty of problems.

It is by no means a make or break contest for either club but will give a strong indication as to how the next few months will pan-out. If Fulham can get something out of the game against the league leaders, it will give them great confidence that they can stay well clear of relegation and perhaps begin an assault on the top 10 positions in the league. Manchester United will feel nothing but a win is good enough to keep their momentum going.

Fulham player to watch: Bryan Ruiz. The Costa Rica forward has been unlucky with injuries so far this season but is vitally important to the way Fulham play. His flair and technique are an asset to the Cottagers and may help them unlock United's defence. Ruiz's ability to effortlessly float into space may help occupy the visitors' midfield, allowing his team-mates to take control of the centre of the park. He also has an eye for the spectacular goal.

Manchester United player to watch: Robin van Persie. Since his arrival he has been nothing short of a revelation. Not many expected Van Persie to so seamlessly continue his amazing form after such a high-profile move from league rivals Arsena,l but 18 goals in 23 appearances speaks volumes for the Dutch striker's temperament and his quality in front of goal.

Key Battle: Steve Sidwell v Michael Carrick: The battle for control of the midfield could be all important in this match. If Michael Carrick gets a hold of the ball and starts to dictate the play, it could be a long afternoon for Fulham. Steve Sidwell's job will be to close down United's playmakers and Carrick will be one of his main targets. Whoever wins this battle could ultimately win the match for their team.

Stats: Fulham have not kept a clean sheet in any of their last ten league games.

Trivia: Dimitar Berbatov has eight goals this season and would be joint-third top goalscorer if he was still at United, behind Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie but level with Chicharito.

Odds: Fulham are major outsiders with odds at 5.00 with bet365, while the draw looks fairly tempting at 4.20 and Manchester United can be backed to win at 1.65.

Prediction: Fulham will struggle to get anything out of a game against an increasingly strong looking United side, especially without top-scorer Berbatov.

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