Manchester United: Was Fulham the turning point?

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Did the Fulham match mark the turning point in a frustrating season for Manchester United; and does this mean curtains for David Moyes or greater things to come?

Before the match started it seemed simple: United lose to Fulham; Moyes resigns; and Jupp Heynckes is appointed at least for the rest of the season.

Losing 1-0 with 13 minutes to go and this seemed a plausible scenario. Then, in the space of two exhilarating minutes the whole season turned on its head.

If United had held on and won, following it up with a sneaky defeat of Arsenal on Wednesday night, you could truly see this as the start of the long-awaited renaissance.

Instead, Fulham had their own 'Rene-ssance' as they scored an equaliser in 'Fergie time'. Ironic.

Given that United needed three points from this match did this change the possibility that Moyes' job was truly at risk? Nine points behind Liverpool is virtually hopeless. That gap won't be closed.

But what matters to the 'money men'?

Apparently they could swallow one season out of the Champions League in the interests of rebuilding United, but out of the Europa League now seems highly plausible.

But is the real nightmare scenario finishing in seventh place? That would mean United having to play in the preliminary round of the Europa League and could squash any hopes of their participation in the money-spinning International Champions Cup this summer.

You would have to think that they need at least 27 points from their last 13 matches, including Liverpool and Manchester City at home and, on Wednesday, Arsenal away.

They had a half decent unbeaten streak leading up to the New Year, albeit largely against lower half teams and with a few wobbles such as going 2-0 down to Hull.

But the engine has never seemed to get fully started. Is it because of Moyes' constant tinkering, appraising the squad and trying to find a winning formula?

Or is it because the team's confidence has been shot to pieces, or that they have hardly been able to play Rooney and Van Persie together?

And it has often been said that there are lucky managers and unlucky managers. Was Sir Alex lucky and is Moyes the unfortunate counterbalance? Although it must be said that great teams and individuals make their own luck.

Nevertheless, Moyes hasn't exactly had his fair share and last night was probably the best example of the lot. Not just because they were again denied a legitimate penalty but also because the statistics made a compelling case for a massive United win.

The Fulham match was stunning for any neutrals. While Rene Meulenstein may claim that he knows how to beat United, he was very lucky that his team wasn't at the end of an almighty hammering.

People may criticise United's style of crossing from wide but the fact remains that, with the majority of these coming low, rather than in the air, it was sheer good fortune that Fulham weren't buried.

And of course there will always be those quick to criticise the strikers. Van Persie and Rooney are still not match fit and they certainly missed more than a handful of chances.

Statistics can't lie: United had 81 crosses and 33 shots, of which nine were on target;; it was beyond believe that so many balls persistently fell to Fulham heads and feet as they led a charmed life.

It was a compelling performance by United from the word go with 75 per cent possession but they largely have themselves to blame because they seem unable to cut out the sloppy defensive errors.

Both goals were avoidable: as with Charlie Adam's second goal for Stoke last weekend, nobody tracked Steve Sidwell's run on the breakaway; and Club captain Nemanja Vidic will be hanging his head in shame that United yet again gave away a last minute goal that cost them critical points. 

So inevitably there were growing numbers of fans calling for Moyes' head after the match in the latest episode of a disappointing season, but on reflection this now looks premature.

Although it may be easy to say and harder to do, United only need to do one thing and that is to stop the sloppy goals conceded. If they do, they can be up there playing the compelling football that City have for much of the season and Liverpool displayed against Arsenal.

The good news is that there were clear signs that Moyes understands the imperative that United play attacking football; to throw on Valencia at right back; and then Hernandez for Ashley Young, moving Rooney to midfield is about as committed as you can get to winning a match.

For much of the 90 minutes United's football was breathtaking; they deserved better and if they play like that against Arsenal then surely they will get the result to turn their season around.

And the portents for the Champions League are very good, because if United can play such compelling football, why couldn't they do a Borussia Dortmund?

But Moyes must do three things to salvage something from this season: cut out the defensive errors; play his best starting 11; and score first.

When United score first they invariably win; when they concede first they don't.

And the last three matches have shown that Moyes hasn't been entirely committed to "winning the next match"; United now need to do just that for the rest of the season.

Can you honestly imagine Mourinho or Pellegrini in the same situation starting without Eden Hazard or Sergio Aguero if they needed to win the next match?

So why on earth did Moyes bench his most effective player, preferring Young to Adnan Januzaj for the Cardiff, Stoke and Fulham matches?

Apart from not having Mata available for the Champions League, it has to be United's best team all the way now. The only possible exception would be if they could not finish in the top seven, in which case he must surely give a chance for Jesse Lingard and Michael Keane to show they are part of the first team future.

Walking away from Old Trafford last night there was a sense of bemusement mixed with exhilaration. It was an astonishing match where once again United fell short of what was required.

But this time it was different. Whatever the future holds, including inevitable rebuilding this summer, United found their old attacking habits last night and, despite the result, surely a burgeoning self-confidence. Carry that to the Emirates on Wednesday and anything is possible...

Including finishing fourth...or winning the Champions League like Chelsea did (consigning Liverpool to missing out again)?

No, that's a step too far isn't it? But that doesn't mean we didn't see a glimpse of a much brighter future last night.

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Wayne Rooney
Robin Van Persie
Manchester United
Juan Mata

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