Paul Pogba, a man in superb form at the moment, gave Manchester United all three points with a stunning long shot, which took them back to the top of the league. Unsurprisingly, United came back after going behind to Fulham toclinch all three points away from home yet again.
Red Devils boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer put out an extremely strong line-up, in which emphasised the point he made in his press conference that Fulham could not be taken lightly. Mason Greenwood, Edison Cavani and Eric Bailly came into the side that drew at Anfield at the weekend. Anthony Martial switched to the left flank to accommodate Cavani, while Marcus Rashford was left on the bench. Both Greenwood and Martial have yet to kick on this season. Furthermore, this was seen as the perfect opportunity for them to do so.
First Half: Fulham strike early
Countless time this season Manchester United have begun games slowly and this game was no different. Fulham wanted to take advantage of United’s typical slow starts. This was seen minutes in when Aaron Wan Bissaka lost possession in his own half and allowed Fulham to get their first shot on target. Fulham forwards Ivan Cavaleiro and Ademola Lookman saw plenty of the ball in the opening exchanges. The latter opened the scoring in the fifth minute by beating United’s poor offside trap with ease before slotting home expertly. English fullback Wan-Bissaka, who looked complacent in the early stages, did not push up along with the rest of the defensive line and was the main culprit for this goal.
Evidently, the windy conditions at Craven Cottage disrupted the Red Devils possessional play. Whereas Fulham took advantage of the conditions to suit their direct approach.Despite this, United grew into the game and began to dictate play more and more. Brazilian midfielder Fred went down in the box, but nothing was given. Bruno Fernandes hit the post before Fulham keeper Alphonse Areola made a brilliant save to deny the Portuguese maestro.
United breach stubborn Fulham defence
Minutes later, following a cute exchange with Martial, Fernandes become provider as Areola fumbled the cross and Cavani pounced to level the game up. The goal had been coming and United’s patient approach paid off. From that point on it was inevitable that United would take the game to Fulham. The visitors took control of possession and the home side retreated more and more towards their own box. United were particularly dangerous from Luke Shaw’s inviting crosses. United captain Harry Maguire should have given United the lead considering his aerial prowess.
Unlike the first half, United came out of the blocks with greater urgency. There was greater tempo and aggressiveness in United’s play and Fulham now looked to defend rather than counterattack. Solskjaer didn’t tinker with his side or look to make any tactical changes and this reflected the faith he had in the eleven playing. The Red Devils got into many promising positions in the second half but were lacking that killer ball. Pogba was the main playmaker, in which he put in multiple dangerous balls into the box from the right-hand side. The Frenchman took matters into his own hands in the 65th minute. Calmly, he collected the ball, beat his man and then unleashed a rocket past Areola from 20 yards. After going ahead United found their feet and made countless opportunities to increase their narrow lead. Another crucial goal and excellent performance from the Frenchman.
Areola made another point-blank range to deny Cavani his second of the game, while Maguire missed another header. With minutes left United didn’t extend their lead and Fulham came to life. Fulham boss Scott Parker brought on Mitrovic and it was inevitable that he would cause United many issues aerially. David De Gea made a smart save to deny Loftus Cheek, but was left with little help when Loftus Cheek had all the time in the world to unleash another shot. However, Loftus Cheek did not time his shot well and his effort was miles off target. United were relieved to see Mitrovic’s ricocheted shot sail marginally wide. Manchester United held off Fulham’s late surge to claim all three points.
United see of Fulham but what is next?
Manchester United now turn their attentions to the mouth-watering FA Cup clash with rivals Liverpool. They then return to league action in a midweek clash with bottom of the table Sheffield United. It will be interesting to see what side Solskjaer picks against Liverpool and it will show where United’s priorities lie this season. Do United look to prioritise silverware in the FA Cup or look to make their title ambitions more of a reality?