Paul Pogba rocket launches United back to the top of the Premier League as they dispatch a feisty Fulham side
Being a fixture sandwiched by clashes with Liverpool, it would have been easy to write off a visit to low-lying Fulham as a foregone conclusion. In the Premier League however, no fixture is a certainty and United had to flirt with failure on their way to securing three points at Craven Cottage.
There had been no leniency from Ole Gunnar Solskjaer in his chosen lineup, as only three changes were made from the tense meeting at Anfield. Edinson Cavani, Mason Greenwood and Eric Bailly all found starting berths in a rotation that speaks volumes of the quality of this Manchester United squad.
United, brimming with ability and confidence as they were, still managed to fall into the familiar trap of conceding an early goal away from home at Craven Cottage.
The entire defensive line failed to track Ademola Lookman’s run with only five minutes on the clock, and Lookman left them desperately calling for an offside decision as he took on David De Gea and beat the Spaniard with a drilled effort.
An unexpected turn of events perhaps, but nothing that this United side have not previously dealt with multiple times this season. Further Fulham attacks were dampened out until United could firmly take the game by the scruff of the neck, and as the momentum turned in the visitor’s favour a goal seemed inevitable.
So often at the heart of United’s comebacks, Bruno Fernandes pulled a shot from nowhere to test Alphonse Areola from the edge of the box. As play advanced Fernandes again found the ball at his feet in the wide area, and gave Areola yet another problem with a driven cross that the PSG-loanee could only fumble.
His former teammate Cavani had no issue in punishing his error and swept the ball home, having positioned himself perfectly for such a gift.
After an early shot of hope Fulham’s morale began to wane. United turned the screws on the hosts and though they failed to fire home a second before the first half drew to a close, it was clear that play was now in United’s favour.
Half-time: Fulham 1 – 1 Manchester United
Scott Parker’s half-time tactical adjustments primarily materialised in the increased involvement of Chelsea loanee Ruben Loftus-Cheek, who burst forward minutes after the restart only to blast the shot straight at De Gea.
Paul Pogba then fared ever-so-slightly better at the other end.
Picking the ball beautifully out of the air with a gentle touch, Pogba skirted past Fulham’s defence until he found himself approaching the edge of the box. As he wound up an effort with his weak foot, few could have expected the explosive effort that easily beat Areola at the far post.
— Manchester United (@ManUtd) January 21, 2021
Fulham looked as though they might collapse when Cavani fired a header towards Areola’s top corner, but the ‘keeper atoned for his earlier mistake to deny the Uruguayan at full reach.
The save preserved the host’s hope, and United had to endure a few nervous moments as Loftus-Cheek again popped up with chances to snatch a point. Again, his finishing was found wanting.
Eric Bailly was his usual busy self as the seconds wound down, and a few frantic blocks were sufficient to seal yet another victory on the road for Manchester United.
United have Pogba to thank about the victory, though fans must be struggling not to feel bittersweet about his sensational form. His undeniable ability has appeared only in patches throughout his United career, and with the constant speculation thrown up by his agent few can be certain that he will continue to deliver for Manchester United.
With so much still to compete for this season worries of Pogba’s future should be temporarily cast aside. Instead, we should focus on the growing optimism about the opportunities this team are creating for themselves.
After all, United have a fresh chance to scalp Liverpool this weekend.
Full time: Fulham 1 – 2 Manchester United
Man of the Match: Paul Pogba