Manchester United 2 (Berbatov 12, Valencia 32) – Fulham 0
Por Paul Wilson
Manchester United’s Dimitar Berbatov celebrates after scoring against Fulham Photograph: Jon Super/AP
Sir Alex Ferguson appealed for the famous fighting spirit to see Manchester United through the crucial games that remain. However, there was really no need for it against Fulham, who were about as convincing as their new statue and, perhaps, not quite as frightening.
United are now 10 points clear with six games to play and, like this match, the title race no longer appears much of a contest.
This was more like a lap of honour – an undemanding stroll in the sun in front of warmly appreciative supporters in their shirt-sleeves. United have not won anything yet, though it certainly feels as though the league is in the bag.
Despite making eight changes from his Champions League line-up, and playing with only one up front, Ferguson still saw his side collect the points while barely breaking sweat.
For all that, when United took the lead in the 12th minute it was almost against the run of play. Fulham had not been causing the home defence any great problems, yet, even by that early stage, they had managed three decent goal attempts, Tomasz Kuszczak saving from Gaël Kakuta and Moussa Dembélé before Bobby Zamora blazed wide when he should have at least hit the target.
Dimitar Berbatov’s 21st goal of the season put an end to all that, confirming that, even with only the Bulgarian playing up front, United carry a valid goal threat. Once behind, Fulham accepted their lot quite meekly.
Berbatov was in at the beginning of the move that brought his goal, though he had taken up a position as a spectator on the edge of the box as Nani beat a couple of players in an attempt to score one of the solo goals of the season. While Berbatov was only just level when the ball broke to him after Nani’s shot rebounded off Chris Baird, the flag stayed down and the striker made short work of beating Mark Schwarzer with a shot into the bottom corner.
There was also a suspicion of offside when Nani set up United’s second, racing onto Patrice Evra’s pass to beat the offside trap and evade Schwarzer’s desperate rush from his area. The goalkeeper having sold himself too early, it was a simple matter for Nani to weigh up his options from near the goalline, though there was still a pleasing elegance about the way he calmly chipped the ball across goal to allow Antonio Valencia to nod in from close range. At least it appeared that way at first – replays suggested Nani had been trying to shoot and the ball reached Valencia via Aaron Hughes’s attempted goalline clearance.
Fulham barely bothered to protest any of the borderline decisions, possibly because they were relieved United had not stirred themselves enough to go further ahead.
Even with Wayne Rooney suspended, Ryan Giggs rested and Javier Hernández on the bench, the home side had chances.
Anderson should have scored when Berbatov whisked past Brede Hangeland and cut the ball back to him, and when Nani once more evaded Baird, and the rest of the Fulham cover, on the left, his final delivery missed all three of the red shirts awaiting a cross on the six-yard line.
Fulham improved when Eidur Gudjohnsen came on in the second half and the substitute came closest to scoring with a drive from outside the area that flew only inches wide, until Zoltan Gera missed an even better chance 10 minutes from the end.
With Zamora also putting a free-kick narrowly wide, Fulham had enough opportunities to take something from the game as United coasted, though they seemed fearful of increasing the urgency in case the hosts also stepped up theirs.
If the title race ended early with last weekend’s results – as many suspect may turn out to be the case – then here was an early end-of-season game.