English FA Cup
January 26, 2013
History favours United in Cottagers Cup clash
caption:Dimitar Berbatov returns to Manchester United for the first time since leaving in August, while Ryan Giggs is expected to start at Old Trafford
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.
Manchester United player to watch - Javier Hernandez. Having been an unused substitute in the Premier League draw with Tottenham, Chicharito can be expected to feature against Fulham. Robin van Persie's sparkling form has left Hernandez battling for game time this season, but his record of eight goals from 14 starts is an envious one that shows he should not merely 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.
Fulham player to watch - Dimitar Berbatov. The Bulgarian arrived at Craven Cottage from United in August to much fanfare, having won the Premier League Golden Boot only 15 months earlier. Five goals in his first seven games seemed to justify Martin Jol's claim that Berbatov was "the biggest signing in the history of Fulham" but he has added just two goals since November. A meeting with his former club will be a major incentive for Berbatov, who scored in this fixture in three successive seasons as United comfortably beat Fulham each time. Despite being out of form, the silky striker's old team-mates recognise the threat he possesses, with Phil Jones saying this week: "It'll be great to see Berba back at Old Trafford, technically he's a fantastic player."
Key battle: Ryan Giggs vs Giorgos Karagounis
The veteran outfield players at their respective clubs, Giggs and 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.
Trivia: Damien Duff's strike for Fulham last August's 3-2 defeat to Manchester United was the fastest away goal ever scored at Old Trafford in the Premier League, timed at two minutes and 20 seconds.
Stats: In the past 50 years, Manchester United have only lost five of their 31 home FA Cup fourth-round matches - the most recent defeat coming against West Ham in 2001, courtesy of Fabien Barthez's famous gaffe.
Odds: At 1.28 with bet365, Manchester United are overwhelming favourites, though Fulham's price of 12.00 seems a tad unbelievable for a Premier League side visiting Old Trafford. The draw is at 5.00, while Dimitar Berbatov can be backed at 10.00 to score the first goal against his old club.
Prediction: Manchester United's dominance against Fulham at Old Trafford is unlikely to abate, and the Premier League leaders should enjoy safe passage to the fifth round.
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