Friday 18 October 2019

United end long wait with rout of Fulham

Manchester United 4 Fulham 1

Influential: Marcus Rashford. Photo: AFP/Getty
Influential: Marcus Rashford. Photo: AFP/Getty

Paul Wilson

If only Manchester United could play Fulham every week people might begin to take them more seriously. The joke before kick-off at Old Trafford was that Liverpool had done United a favour by winning so handsomely at Bournemouth, because goal difference might be important in the battle for eighth place.

Enter the Premier League's bottom club, with a performance to prove that the table does not lie, and suddenly United are not just above Bournemouth but up to sixth. Admittedly Everton do not play until tomorrow but José Mourinho will take what he can at the moment. "We are unbeaten in four league games," the allegedly happy one said beforehand, which was one way of putting positive spin on the fact that United had not picked up a league win since the start of last month.

Fulham were also kind enough to let United boost their goal difference with their biggest win of the season, and although a significant gap remains to the top five, Mourinho and his players are at least in the right place to be pushing for a Champions League spot. On the edge of the European positions sounds a lot better than mid-table obscurity. If United can keep up the good work at Liverpool next week their manager will be more than happy, he will be delirious.

It goes without saying that Liverpool will not roll over quite as willingly as Fulham, whatever their Champions League encounter with Napoli takes out of them. Claudio Ranieri's strugglers were far too easily dominated here, with the manager reduced from an early stage to standing on the touchline with a resigned look and extended right hand to show his players the direction they were supposed to be playing. With Aleksandar Mitrovic ploughing a lonely furrow up front it didn't happen, and Fulham looked beaten from the moment Ashley Young opened the scoring in the 13th minute.

The United captain looked set to cross when he took the ball high up on the left wing, but once he nutmegged Denis Odoi to find space in the area he caught sight of goal and found Sergio Rico's top corner with a curling right-foot drive. Juan Mata scored United's next, applying a confident finish after Marcus Rashford cut the ball back from the goal-line. Romelu Lukaku was criticised earlier in the week for not doing much except trying to score goals, so he should be quite proud of the pass that played Rashford behind the Fulham defence. Rashford then had the awareness to pick out Mata at the back of the penalty area, and when his shot beat Rico's dive the contest was as good as over. The Fulham fans certainly seemed to think so. "You're nothing special, we lose every week," was the chant from the travelling support.

Rico produced a good stop to keep out a thunderous free-kick from Rashford, before United increased their lead just before the interval with a slick triangular passing move that clearly pleased Mourinho. Jesse Lingard found Mata, whose first-time ball along the six-yard line was neatly tucked away by Lukaku.

Manchester United's Romelu Lukaku scores their third goal. Photo: Phil Noble/Reuters
Manchester United's Romelu Lukaku scores their third goal. Photo: Phil Noble/Reuters

Evidently enjoying the odd sensation of being in full control of a game, United began the second half brightly, with Rashford and Lukaku bringing saves from Rico.

Fulham showed a little more life after Ranieri made two half-time substitutions, though their best chance fell to Andre Schurrle following a weak clearance by Diogo Dalot, and the winger skied his shot from the edge of the area. It summed up the visitors' afternoon when less than two minutes after Aboubakar Kamara had pulled a goal back from the penalty spot, following a foul on the substitute by Ander Herrera, they went down to 10 men when a needless studs-up challenge on Rashford by Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa brought a second yellow.

Any hopes of United running up a cricket score were dashed when Rico managed to save from Rashford and then Lukaku, although the goalkeeper was beaten at his near post as Rashford scored an audacious fourth from the corner of the area. Had Fred not tried a risky pass rather than a straightforward one in stoppage time United might have hit five in the league for the first time since Alex Ferguson stepped down. In the end Fulham were not quite that obliging, but it was close.


Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho celebrates after Juan Mata scores his side's second goal. Photo: Barrington Coombs/PA Wire
Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho celebrates after Juan Mata scores his side's second goal. Photo: Barrington Coombs/PA Wire

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