• Manchester United v Fulham, FA Cup

History on United's side in cup clash

ESPN staff
January 25, 2013
Former United striker Dimitar Berbatov will encounter old friends at Old Trafford © PA Photos

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The most successful club in the history of the FA Cup, Manchester United, have claimed the famous trophy on 11 occasions and contributed to many a memorable final, including a dramatic last-gasp loss to Arsenal in 1979, and Eric Cantona-inspired victories over Chelsea and Liverpool in the 1990s.

But the famous trophy, affectionately known as "old big ears", has not resided in the Old Trafford trophy room since 2004 - the longest FA Cup drought the club has experienced since 1977 - and fans have had little to shout about in the competition over the past nine years.

But United supporters should probably spare a thought for their Fulham counterparts. After losing to West Ham in their only FA Cup final appearance in 1975 - Bobby Moore captained the West Londoners against his old club - the Cottagers only managed to get past the third round three times in their next 23 attempts, incidentally losing to the Red Devils when they finally reached the fifth round in 1999.

The 2000s brought a little more joy but United continued to be the scourge of Fulham in the Cup, knocking them out of the competition again in 2001, 2004 and 2009. A narrow semi-final defeat to Chelsea in 2002 was the closest the Cottagers have come to emulating the achievements of Alec Stock's 1975 vintage.

Head-to-head battles

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  • Steve Sidwell v Anderson

    Anderson's engine against Sidwell's poise

  • Bryan Ruiz v Chris Smalling

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Martin Jol's current crop have been struggling of late, having won two Premier League games since October, though Fulham did show plenty of spirit to come from behind to earn a replay at Championship side Blackpool in the third round, before repeating the trick to progress after extra-time at Bloomfield Road last week.

The Cottagers have won once at Old Trafford in their last 21 visits and have not eliminated the Red Devils from the FA Cup since 1908. Should Ferguson's side triumph on Saturday it may be viewed as a good omen, as United have gone on to reach the FA Cup final four times after beating Fulham in earlier rounds, including the famous makeshift side that reached the 1958 final in the wake of the Munich Air Disaster, and the 1999 Treble triumph.

On the pitch, the Red Devils are undefeated since December 5 when they lost 1-0 to CFR Cluj at Old Trafford, a run of 10 games. Yet goals have not been as copious as you would expect for the team at the head of the league and they have only scored six in their past four games.

Team news

United are fresh from a training camp in Qatar where Ashley Young and Jonny Evans were only able to complete light training sessions and will therefore miss the tie. But both are expected to be available for the Real Madrid match next month. Chris Smalling and Phil Jones are back and are expected to start in the centre of defence while Anderson will most likely partner Ryan Giggs in centre midfield.

Martin Jol has stated that that his strongest side will line up at Old Trafford. But he will be unable to call on former United player Kieran Richardson who is out with a calf problem. Kerim Frei has a pelvic muscle problem and Mahamadou Diarra is not expected back for another three to four weeks. Bryan Ruiz is expected to play in behind Dimitar Berbatov while Sidwell and Karagounis will partner each in centre-midfield.

One to watch

Having been an unused substitute in the Premier League draw with Tottenham, Javier Hernandez can be expected to feature against Fulham. Robin van Persie's sparkling form has left Chicharito battling for game time this season, but his record of eight goals from 14 starts is an enviable one that shows he should not merely be regarded as an impact player from the bench.

His predatory instinct has certainly come to the fore in Cup competitions during his United career; Hernandez has previously netted decisive goals in Champions League games against Valencia, Marseille and Braga, while his two strikes against Ajax sealed Europa League progress last season and he bagged the winner on his first ever FA Cup appearance - at Southampton in 2011.

Key battle

The veteran outfield players at their respective clubs, Ryan Giggs and Giorgos Karagounis, will do battle for midfield supremacy on Saturday, with United's 39-year-old and Fulham's 35-year-old looking to dictate the tempo of the tie. Karagounis, who scored a stunning goal to salvage a draw with Blackpool in the last round, will sit alongside Steve Sidwell at the base of the Cottagers' midfield and will be tasked with protecting a defence that has not kept a clean sheet in 12 games.

Giggs, meanwhile, will be looking to exert the sort of control he demonstrated in a man-of-the-match display in the victory over West Ham; continuing to defy his years. The Welshman does not glide across the turf in the same way he once did but he has become a wily craftsman in midfield, linking up play effectively from defence to attack.

Prediction and bet

At 2/7 Manchester United are overwhelming favourites, though Fulham's price of 11/1 seems a tad unbelievable for a Premier League side. The draw is at 5/1, while Berbatov can be backed at 8/1 to score the first goal against his old club.

We think United's dominance against Fulham at Old Trafford is unlikely to abate, and the Premier League leaders should enjoy a safe passage to the fifth round, 2-0 to United is at 13/2 on bet365.

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