David Moyes will have another stark reminder at Old Trafford on Sunday of the era of success that he has thus far struggled to continue. Rene Meulensteen, a key part of Sir Alex Ferguson’s backroom staff for 12 years before departing shortly after Moyes took the reins last summer, will bring his Fulham side to the home of the champions with both sides in desperate need of points.
As United have toiled under Moyes’s leadership this season, one of the criticisms leveled in his direction was the failure to retain any of Ferguson’s coaching staff. In the buildup to the match Meulensteen has claimed that it was a mutual parting of ways, while Moyes has previously stated that he offered the Dutchman a role in his team. Moyes, though, spoke warmly about the Fulham boss heading into this weekend’s encounter.
“He helped me when I first came here and got the job," he said, according to Manchester United’s official website. "I had several conversations with him and he told me about how the club works, how it's run and the players.
“I would have liked him to stay but he chose to go on his own. He took over at Fulham and changed the staff around there. It happens at football clubs. I’m looking forward to seeing him on Sunday.”
The encounter comes fresh from the news that another long-standing Manchester United servant will soon be departing the club. After eight successful years at Old Trafford, captain Nemanja Vidic will exit when his contract expires at the end of the season. Moyes explained that the Serbian’s departure was a mutual decision.
“It was something we mutually agreed together," he said. "Me and Nemanja. I think it was the right decision for both the club and the player.
"What I discussed with him will remain private but he has been a brilliant servant and captain for Manchester United. He is captain and will remain captain until the end of the season. He has been a great player for us and we will continue to play him."
Vidic looks set to be in the starting lineup against Fulham, with Jonny Evans ruled out with a calf strain suffered against Stoke City last weekend. Evans’s injury was just one of a number of disappointments for Moyes in a wretched 90 minutes that also saw Phil Jones go off injured and the side crash to their eighth defeat of the Premier League season. Jones could be fit for Sunday, but Marouane Fellaini is not yet ready for a return to try and help United close what is now a 10 point gap to the final Champions League place.
Arguably, Fulham come into the contest in even lower spirits. After an initial upturn in performances upon Meulensteen taking the reins, Fulham are now submerged in the mire, sitting rock bottom of the Premier League. A meek 3-0 defeat at home to Southampton last Saturday was followed up by a humiliating exit in the FA Cup at Craven Cottage to a Sheffield United side currently second from bottom of England’s third tier. Meulensteen is fully aware of the need for his side to produce a big response, and hopes that they will rise to the occasion at the Theatre of Dreams.
“We have to pick ourselves up, brush ourselves off,” he said, according to Fulham’s official website. “That’s what we’ve done in the last couple of days and we have to make sure we’re in the best possible shape to travel to Old Trafford on Sunday.
“After every poor performance you look for a response. My job is to make sure I manage that and make sure that response is going to happen. We need to grow; we need to grow as a team, we need to grow in strength. Sometimes bigger challenges can even result in bigger performances, and that’s what we need on Sunday.”
Big-money deadline-day signing Kostas Mitroglou could make his debut for Fulham, as could a player well known to Moyes, former Everton defender Johnny Heitinga.
Where to watch: The Barclays Premier League match will kick off at 11 a.m. ET on Sunday. Coverage will be provided by USA, with a live stream available on NBC Sports Live Extra.