Roy Hodgson has spent more than three decades coaching in European football and he has never seen a better team than Manchester United's current incarnation.
The Fulham manager made that assessment after watching United eviscerate his team at Craven Cottage on Saturday night, inflicting the heaviest defeat of his 14-month tenure despite, as he said, Fulham playing reasonably well.
But they were no match for a United team who opened Fulham up at will in cruising to a 26th FA Cup semi-final 100 years after the club's first such appearance. The only concern for Sir Alex Ferguson was the sight of Rio Ferdinand limping on to the team coach with his ankle encased in a protective boot, after going over on the joint shortly before the interval.
Ferguson admitted that, with a Champions League second-leg tie coming up against Internazionale on Wednesday, "Ferdinand is a concern". But a scan yesterday showed no serious damage and Ferdinand believes he will be fit. If he is not, Jonny Evans will deputise.
Such is Evans' progress this season, Ferguson will still feel reasonably confident of keeping a clean sheet which, said Hodgson, would be a problem for their Italian opponents. The former Inter manager said: "Your only chance against United is to go a goal up. If they get into the lead, if it's Fulham, or if it's Inter or Liverpool, it's very difficult to get back into it because they know how to defend a lead, and how to pressurise and soak up pressure. And then when there is space in the counter-attack they know how to use it and they did that against us.
"They are as good as any team I've seen. Technically they are very, very good. Ours is a very difficult pitch yet the quality of their technique was quite fantastic, and their movement is very, very good."
What makes that movement even more impressive is the constant rotation of United's squad. Aside from the replacement of Jimmy Bullard and Zoltan Gera with Dickson Etuhu and Clint Dempsey, Fulham have fielded the same first-choice XI almost all season. They should be able to read each others' play and their neat passing could be expected.
United change personnel and formation regularly yet, such is the quality of the work on the training ground, and the excellence of the players, the joins never show. At the final whistle, they were clapped off by the home support, who knew they had been in the presence of greatness, even with Cristiano Ronaldo given the weekend off and Dimitar Berbatov joining Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes as unused substitutes.
The odds are now 6-1 about a quintuple and, said Park Ji-Sung, "We are concentrating on games one at a time, but we feel we can win all five [trophies]." Having won 13 of their last 15 matches – the exceptions being the first-leg draw in Milan, and the Carling Cup final (which they nevertheless won on penalties) – United's confidence is as intimidating as their advance billing. "We were playing against the best team in the world," said an admiring Etuhu.
Fulham snatched at their chances, then buckled under the weight of pressure to concede bad goals. Paul Konchesky was outjumped at the far post by Carlos Tevez. The Argentine was then allowed to run unchallenged before lashing in from 25 yards. The unusually tentative Brede Hangeland gave Etuhu a risky pass he failed to control before Wayne Rooney struck. After both managers withdrew players to rest them, Gera passed straight to Park for the fourth.
Tevez's two goals are unlikely to win him a place in the starting XI on Wednesday, despite Patrice Evra insisting: "Carlos has given the boss a problem. He does not play every game but when the boss puts him on the pitch he is a different class, an unbelievable player."
Whether United are prepared to stump up the £32m his owners, whoever they are these days, want to make the loan deal permanent remains to be seen.
"My biggest concern is picking the right team," Ferguson said. "I'm leaving out great players all the time and that's not easy." For much of this season he has made the right choices; Internazionale provide a new problem but he has everyone, except Owen Hargreaves and possibly Ferdinand, fit, which at this stage of the season is a testament to his rotation and United's medical staff.
Hodgson was asked if he would be offering Inter – he is close friends with the club's president, Massimo Moratti – any advice. "I have friends at Manchester United too, so no," he said.
Given that Hodgson's normally resolute Fulham have shipped 10 goals without reply in three games against United, Jose Mourinho is unlikely to be calling anyway. And, pity Fulham, United are back at Craven Cottage in a fortnight.
Goals: Tevez (20) 0-1; Tevez (35) 0-2; Rooney (50) 0-3; Park (81) 0-4.
Fulham (4-4-2): Schwarzer; Pantsil, Hangeland, Hughes, Konchesky; Davies, Etuhu, Murphy (Dacourt, 57), Dempsey; Zamora (Gera, 67), Johnson (Kamara, 60). Substitutes not used: Zuberbühler (gk), Nevland, Stoor, Kallio.
Manchester United (4-4-1-1): Van der Sar; O'Shea (Eckersley, 52), Ferdinand (Evans, 46), Vidic, Evra; Fletcher, Carrick, Anderson, Park; Rooney (Welbeck, 64); Tevez. Substitutes not used: Foster (gk), Berbatov, Giggs, Scholes.
Referee: M Dean (Wirral).
Booked: Fulham Pantsil, Dacourt.
Man of the match: Carrick.
Attendance: 24,662.Reuse content