Ferguson's side started in a 4-4-2 shape with Carrick and Giggs fairly deep switching the play and Young and Valencia in the wide positions with Welbeck and Rooney up front. Fulham started in a 4-1-4-1/4-5-1 shape with Pogrebnyak leading the line up front with Frei starting on the left and Duff on the right.
Man United's general game plan was clear from the start, dominating possession, switching from one side to the other, trying to penetrate between the lines with passes to the forwards dropping deep and use 1v1 ability in the wide areas. They played solely in Fulham's half in the opening minutes, with the away side sat deep on the edge of their area and trying to make it compact. Because of how deep their midfield line was, Jol's players often found it difficult on the transition and United were able to keep the pressure up in Fulham's half, though struggled to create chances.
For a while United looked comfortable with Fulham not protecting the centre well enough when United switched it to the wide areas and not enough pressure on the ball from the midfielders, allowing passes between the lines for Welbeck and Rooney. United were also able to press aggressively, with Fulham playing too shorter passes and with static movement making it hard to build attacks; only Frei and Duff looked to support Pogrebnyak in attack in the early stages.
After a while however, Fulham started to push up the field and they created numerical superiority in the centre very easily with Dembele and particularly Dempsey moving in between the lines. With United not compact enough in midfield, Fulham created some good situations high up though were unable to capitalise on them.
Their big problem for the whole game was stopping sustained United pressure, mainly down to limited pressing and not getting out of their box quickly enough. This was the main fault for United's goal just before half time but was a big problem throughout the game, even before the goal.
They didn't learn from this and just before half time they again failed to clear their area quickly enough with United working it back to Rooney who was not under enough pressure which allowed him to play it behind for Young who was just offside. The danger was there though.
United started the second half just as they had done the first, controlling possession with Fulham too deep to cause a threat. Valencia, who became a bigger influence at the end of the first half, had an early chance in the second, with a great run behind Fulham's slow defence, with his shot saved by Schwarzer in goal for the away side.
Fulham still did not put enough pressure on United and were particularly vulnerable between the wide areas and the centre for the whole match because of this, with the midfielders not covering the wide players well enough.
|Areas where Fulham didn't protect well enough|
Man United's speed of play between the lines was also a threat, as was the fact that they continually created numerical superiority in the wide areas.
Clearly Fulham needed a change in their game and Martin Jol brought Ruiz on for Frei, changing the system to a 4-4-1-1/4-2-3-1 with Ruiz operating behind the striker and Dempsey moving to the left, though drifting between the lines.
This did improve their game, pressing higher up with Ruiz and Pogrebnyak up front and looking to play higher up the field to cause a threat for United's defence.
Meanwhile Ferguson brought Javier Hernandez on for Welbeck; a clever move, with the Mexican forward giving length to their play while Rooney got more space between the lines as he dropped deeper. United had the opportunity to go clear with a chance for Ashley Young at the far post but good goalkeeping and last ditch blocks from Fulham kept it at 1-0.
Scholes was then brought on for Rooney, presumably to slow the tempo down though it didn't prove very successful - United failed to limit the away team's transitions and Fulham were playing higher up the pitch though they were vulnerable with United's pace on the counter attack.
United were very sloppy in possession giving away a number of passes in the last 15 minutes and were often too ponderous in pressing which made them vulnerable down the centre. Fulham's penalty claim after good movement from Pogrebnyak to take the centre back away and create space for Murphy was waved away but Fulham still looked a threat with Duff, Ruiz and Dempsey between the lines and they continually won many of the second balls which maintained pressure. In the end they were possibly unfortunate not to get an equaliser.
United made it difficult for themselves late on though Martin Jol's changes made a difference to give Fulham a threat in the last few minutes. Overall United did probably deserve to win even though it was tight at the end and they now lead Man City at the top of the table by three points in a very interesting title race.