A double from Paul Pogba, either side of a brilliant Anthony Martial goal, propelled Manchester United into the Premier League’s top four, as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side ran out 3-0 winners against Fulham at Craven Cottage.
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On his return to the starting line-up, Martial looked dangerous whenever he was on the ball and running at defenders. Our no.11 tried to play Paul Pogba in a couple of times when it looked like a better option to shoot. But his persistence paid off; his weighted pass perfectly timed for Pogba to run on to and emphatically fire a left-footed, first time shot past Sergio Rico to give United the lead inside the opening quarter of an hour.
It could have been 3-0 just before half-time, but Phil Jones’ long-range effort was tipped over by the Fulham stopper.
Admittedly, Aleksander Mitrovic and former Liverpool winger Ryan Babel had decent opportunities to get a goal back for the home side, with the latter hitting the post when arguably he should have scored. But by that point, Pogba had scored his second and United’s third goal of the afternoon with a clinical penalty.
The build-up to the spot-kick featured Lukaku turning well just inside Fulham’s half, leaving two defenders in his wake. His pass found Mata, whose touch deceived Le Marchand and the Cottagers defender brought the Spaniard down. Paul Tierney pointed to the spot and his namesake duly obliged in putting the ball away, low to the keeper’s right, after his usual penalty prelude. Pogba continues to enjoy playing under Solskjaer; the Frenchman has been directly involved in 13 goals in his last nine Premier League appearances, scoring eight and setting up five.
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Alexis nearly grabbed a fourth goal for United shortly after replacing Martial but his effort, after astutely anticipating a header between the Fulham centre-back, was saved.
Mitrovic’s frustration at being unable to beat De Gea led to him – and the Spanish goalkeeper – being booked after a clash in the closing moments but that unlikely caution couldn’t take the gloss off a second consecutive clean sheet for the Reds’ no.1.
This comfortable 3-0 away win and that prized return to the top four, which will last at least until Chelsea visit Manchester City on Sunday, will send the Reds into Tuesday’s Champions League last-16 tie against Paris Saint-Germain in confident mood.
United: De Gea (c); Dalot, Jones, Smalling, Shaw; Herrera (Bailly 85), Matic, Pogba (McTominay 74); Mata, Lukaku, Martial (Sanchez 69).
Subs not used: Romero, Young, Rashford, Lingard.
Booked: Matic 43, De Gea 90.
Scorers: Pogba 14, 65; Martial 23.
Fulham: Rico, Odoi, Le Marchand, Ream, Bryan (Sessegnon 80), Chambers, Seri, Schürrle (Christie 53), Vietto, Babel (Cairney 77), Mitrovic.
Subs not used: Kebano, Ayité, Zambo Anguissa, Fabri.
Booked: Bryan 25, Chambers 38, Mitrovic 90.
Referee: Paul Tierney.