Manchester United returned to the top of the Premier League table as Paul Pogba's stunning second-half strike earned them a 2-1 win over Fulham at Craven Cottage. Fulham have proven to be a tough out for big teams in recent weeks and gave United plenty to think about before and after Ademola Lookman's goal in the fifth minute.
Not for nothing have Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side earned the Premier League's best record, going without defeat in 10 road games so far this season. Once more they had to come from behind to earn victory but did so in impressive fashion: Edinson Cavani netting in the first half after Alphonse Areola spilled Bruno Fernandes' dangerous cross.
Fulham had seemingly been holding firm, creating chances of their own through the dynamic Ruben Loftus-Cheek, but lacked the remarkable quality that Pogba was able to display with a curling left-footed strike from the right corner of the box that earned United an eighth win from 10 away league matches this season.
United's stars rise to the moment
Fernandes would be absolutely entitled to be feeling a little bit exhausted. Since his arrival in the Premier League he had played 2,672 minutes, more than any attacker bar Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. So many of those minutes have come in the concertinaed period since the English game returned from its COVID-enforced break. Add to all that the Champions League and domestic cup minutes and it was no wonder that United's talismanic creator looked rather weighed down in the 0-0 draw against Liverpool.
That prompted Ole Gunnar Solskjaer to offer a swift dismissal of any possibility of fatigue. "He's not tired - no chance," said the United boss. Fernandes set about proving him right as he once more carried the burden for his teammates, particularly in the aftermath of Lookman's opener.
In the period between Fulham's goal and the equalizer he created with a dangerous cross for Cavani only United's full-backs touched the ball more frequently than Fernandes. The Portuguese schemer attempted one shot of his own, hitting the post from 21 yards out, and constantly menacing on the edge of the hosts' penalty area. Moments after drawing his side level he was back at it again, drawing a good save from Alphonse Areola with another shot from outside the box.
That in and of itself did not necessarily disprove the idea that Fernandes might be running a little light on fuel, something which would only be natural such has been the burden on him. There were occasions when he was a more marginal figure in the game but it is hard to tell in just 90 minutes whether that is to do with Fulham controlling the game more effectively or the player managing his energy levels.
Regardless of which is true when United needed Fernandes he entered the fray. The same could be said of Pogba, albeit in a different fashion. He was a befuddling presence for much of the first 65 minutes at Craven Cottage, giving away the ball all too often as he looked to force the tempo. But then when his side's attack hit the buffers the Frenchman was the man who provided moments of individual quality, first a wonderful cross from the right channel to an offside Fernandes.
That was nothing compared to the goal that won the game, a devastating example of his remarkable quality. With a flick of his right boot Pogba brought a high ball under his command. A quick turn took him beyond two Fulham defenders who came nearer to tackling each other than United's No. 6. Then off his weaker left foot a quite wonderful hit, the slightest hint of curl as the ball flew remorselessly beyond Areola. When this team have such individual quality bending games to their will they can be sure that they will not slip far from the Premier League summit.
Fulham's performance augurs well for relegation fight
Yet again there was an awful lot to admire about the way Fulham set about their task against a top-tier opponent. Having drawn at Tottenham and held Chelsea out for so long with just 10 men, Scott Parker's side saw no cause for fear in United and attacked the game in impressive fashion from the outset.
Lookman might be an undersized center forward but he had the acceleration and composure to pounce on a fine through ball from Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa, who this season has looked every inch the $40 million player Fulham thought they were getting in their doomed attempt to beat the drop in 2018-19. He dictated the rhythm of this contest in his best moments whilst protecting the solid back three behind him.
When they got on the front foot they looked like they had the quality to punish United's defense. Early in the second half Loftus-Cheek began finding space on the inside right channel and drove into it with aggression and quality, spinning Harry Maguire with just a flick of his heel before flashed a tempting across along the six-yard line that was crying out for a touch.
It took moments of real excellence to beat them and that is something that Parker will doubtless take pride in even if he might have preferred a scrappier performance and a point or three. For all that their performances have improved of late there remains a sizeable gap to make up, four points to Burnley and safety with the Clarets holding a game in hand against Liverpool tomorrow. A side that looked destined for the drop early in the season are fighting with real intensity and quality as they prepare for games away to relegation rivals Brighton and West Brom. It ought to serve them well.
Edinson Cavani: It is hard to believe he is turning 34 in less than a month. Not only was his movement instinctive and explosive in the box but when Fulham looked to counter the veteran Uruguayan would be haring after them like a player half his age. RATING: 8
Kenny Tete: Energy in defense coupled with real quality in his deliveries from wide on the right, Tete was a constant thorn in United's side. RATING: 7
Premier League outlook
United now hold a two-point lead over Manchester City and Leicester City, though the former have a game in hand. Liverpool are four points further behind before their game against Burnley on Thursday. Fulham will be hoping to see Jurgen Klopp's side victorious in that match as they trail the 17th-placed Clarets by four points having played a game more.