Saturday takeaways: Manchester United not turning the corner yet, Fulham inexplicably bad

Jamie McDonald

Manchester United and David Moyes' Everton sides have both been billed as slow starters that finish strong. United supporters better hope that trend doesn't change, because they still look bad. That and other takeaways from Saturday.

Manchester United still have work to do

David Moyes' men have won four Premier League games in a row, but they've hardly looked impressive in their last two. Fighting injuries and fatigue after a wild 3-2 win over Hull City on Boxing Day, David Moyes was forced to use a team that he hasn't played yet this season, and they looked poor in a 1-0 win over Norwich City. Danny Welbeck's goal was just about the only bright spot for the team.

Without Phil Jones, Darren Fletcher and Marouane Fellaini in midfield, the United center was overrun. Tom Cleverley and Michael Carrick certainly aren't poor players, but neither has been much of a ball-winner, and they struggled mightily in the first half. David de Gea was forced into three tough first-half saves, while United didn't get a shot on target until first-half stoppage time.

Shinji Kagawa finally got a turn as the main man in attack, playing his preferred central attacking midfield role with Javier Hernandez in front of him and Ashley Young and Ryan Giggs flanking him. Strangely, he tried very few through balls for his wingers or center forward and was brought off in the 69th minute to negative reviews, despite completing 98 percent of his passes.

With Fellaini, Robin van Persie and Wayne Rooney all suffering from injuries, Manchester United are going to have a tough time sustaining their current form -- at least until March -- without some new purchases. They've done well against poor sides in recent games and could benefit from the tactical naïveté of Tottenham manager Tim Sherwood on New Year's Day. If Saturday's game is any indication, though, they're in for a rude awakening when they go to Stamford Bridge on January 19.

Fulham are the worst side in the league

Mere days after appointing Alan Curbishley as technical director, Fulham went and lost 6-0 to Hull City, who are doing their best to steer well clear of a relegation battle. Surely these things are unrelated, right?

Jokes aside, Fulham absolutely fell apart in embarrassing fashion on Saturday. While the first two goals they conceded might have been scored against any below-average team, the four that followed appeared to come as a direct result of a lack of effort on their part. Fulham defenders and midfielders were neither closing down Hull players nor holding any kind of shape.

As bad as Fulham goalkeeper Maarten Stekelenburg has been this season, Rene Meulensteen probably can't wait to get him back after the performance that backup David Stockdale turned in. He made a very good save on a shot by Tom Huddlestone that preceded Hull's fifth goal, but was unbelievably slow on fairly routine shots for the other five. In fairness, it's not like Stockdale was getting any help from the players in front of him.

In addition to the horrible defending and goalkeeping, Fulham lost the possession battle despite playing five in midfield. They generated just five shots and two shots on target, none coming from a striker.

Jordon Mutch for England!

While Jordon Mutch might not be quite as good as Jordan Henderson at the energy midfielder role, it's tough to think of another English midfielder that's in his class. He was utilized in a double pivot next to holder Gary Medel by interim Cardiff City manager David Kerslake and turned in a man of the match performance in a 2-2 draw against Sunderland.

Mutch was yellow carded for a dive in the box on a borderline play that could have gone his way in the 1st minute, barely whizzed a header over the bar in the 3rd minute, then went on to score on a powerful shot from the edge of the box in the 6th minute. He also set up Frazier Campbell's goal, surging past a defender before finding his striker with a pinpoint cross.

The 22-year-old has improved with every game this season and does things that the midfielders Roy Hodgson has picked during his tenure don't do. Can't England sacrifice Scott Parker or Gareth Barry for a bit of energy?


Michael Steele/Getty Images

This is going to be the greatest relegation battle ever

The entire bottom half of the league is within seven points of each other. The 11th-placed team in the league is just five points off the drop. Every team in the bottom half has a negative goal differential, but none of them are in free fall. The bottom seven teams, in particular, look virtually inseparable. It will be shocking if 20th isn't within reasonable striking distance of 14th come April and if there isn't a ton at stake on the final day of the season.

There are a lot of teams in the Premier League that stink, but none like last year's Reading and Queens Park Rangers teams that are already doomed. The relegation battle is shaping up to be one of the most dramatic in Premier League history.

Let's all be happy that Fabio Borini seems okay

The Sunderland forward, on loan from Liverpool, fell ill in the dressing room at halftime and was taken to the hospital. Thankfully, The Guardian is reporting that he is currently conscious. Hopefully he gets well soon.

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