Following a cold Wednesday night at West Manchester London Manchester United, a fierce fight ensued to win 2–1 against an impressive, flamboyant Fulham team.
The result leaves the United top of the Premier League table, and equals their all-time club record, taking away their unbeaten 17 runs. At best it came thanks to a moment of the highest quality from Paul Pogba, a quietly majestic presence in midfield.
It always looks a stricter test than the tables suggested by visitors. With the fog of dense January rain above the skeleton of the new stand, United were forced to dig deep into their own reserves against well-organized opponents.
“We needed a win and found it the hard way,” Pogba said later, although his winning goal after the hour mark was nothing but sweetness, a shot cuffed off, right on to the space. From a moment that drew a stunned glee from the joint bench.
Ole Gunnar Sölskjur had sent a team that looked ready to play, with almost the entire team to choose from, an injury-free run that has formed part of this team’s mid-season bounce. Solsjour spoke of the need for extreme physical conditioning in his first season. All of these jointings fit regularly, combatively.
Edinson Cavani and Mason Greenwood resumed the attack, and Pogba fell into the deep midfield, a progressive move in the absence of serious Scott Mactomin. Fulham kicked with a cool breeze on his back. He looked hungry from the bandh. Admola Lookman had an early skimmed shot from 25 yards, and then stood blank with the opening goal on five minutes.
It took a solo long pass from the impressive Andre-Frank Zambo Anguisa to make the cut at the United Open. Lookman finished brilliantly, single-handedly causing damage to the right side of the area before spanking a low hard shot into the far corner. The time and place to play the pass will surprise. But his team immediately created pressure, with Pogba rolling the ball well though midfield.
First Bruno Fernandes hits a shot against the leg of the post from outside the box. A moment later he crossed from the left side, the ball was fired by Alphons Arola and Cavani, who leaped to the right, ending neatly. Cavani celebrated with Jayakare. This was his first post-ban goal.
Pogba ran the game in patches in the first half. Prior to kick-off United’s star midfielder offered encouragement with his teammates. Here he passed victorious at first, but appeared so calm and artisanal on the ball that his command spread to the red shirt.
Aaron Van-Bissaka made good ground several times down the right, crossing Anthony Marshall’s head in just half an hour. By now the game had settled into the predictable press of the Red occupation. But Fulham’s midfield axis proved to be an aggressive, hard-pressed obstacle, with Lukman always busy at the break.
Fulham were also bright at the start of the second half, with Harrison Reid shooting mighty over the bar after more good work from Harrison. United saw the alert team several times, even hugging the ball, when Harry Maguire and Eric Baillie were positioned 20 meters behind the red line in front of them and rarely stepped up to allow the midfield to advance.
Loftus-Chick showed some fine touches to the right, teeing Lookman for a shot, which David De Gay comfortably saved. Pogba produced a beautifully whipped deep cross. And with 64 minutes left the game looked 1–1, with Fulham still showing real discipline in midfield.
At what point, enter Pogba, who drove the ball out of the sky from the right, strayed inside, saw the space in front of him and placed an amazing curling shot inside the far post. The ball created an exciting fizz as soon as Pogba dropped the boot, and a clang uplifted the net. At this point at the midpoint, clearly, any of these teams can go over the top. But it was a piece of champion skill.
Fulham pressed hard and soon had a chance to equalize, with Loftus-Chiak saving his low shot well by De Gay. Another fine driving run opened up a chance that he kept blazing for miles on the bar.
United were thankful for a good save challenge from Van-Bisaka at the time of death. It was a win for Perseverance on a miserable night, and for those deep gear provided by an increasingly impressive star midfielder.