Paul Pogba produced another moment of magic as Manchester United came from behind on the road again to move top of the Premier League with a hard-fought 2-1 win at Fulham.
Pogba’s spectacular left-footed drive midway through the second half claimed a vital three points that saw Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side reclaim top spot from rivals Manchester City – but they were pushed all the way at Craven Cottage.
United, notorious slow starters on the road, were behind inside five minutes when Ademola Lookman ruthlessly exploited a chasm in the visiting defence to hand Scott Parker’s side the lead and needed Edinson Cavani’s fourth away goal of the season to restore parity.
After Pogba’s stunner Fulham threw everything at United in search of an equaliser but fell agonisingly short as Ruben Loftus-Cheek squandered two second-half chances before substitute Aleksandar Mitrovic saw a last-gasp header deflect inches wide off Eric Bailly.
The victory sees United equal the club-record 17-game unbeaten away run set by the 1999 Treble-winning side and restores their two-point lead at the top of the table ahead of City and Leicester. Fulham remain third from bottom, four points from safety, after a 10th defeat of the season.
Fulham: Areola (6), Tete (6), Aina (6), Andersen (6), Tosin (7), Bryan (6), Reed (6), Anguissa (7), Lookman (7), Loftus-Cheek (6), Cavaleiro (6).
Subs: Kamara (5), Lemina (5), Mitrovic (n/a).
Man Utd: De Gea (7), Wan-Bissaka (6), Bailly (6), Maguire (6), Shaw (6), Fred (6), Pogba (8), Fernandes (6), Greenwood (5), Martial (5), Cavani (7).
Subs: McTominay (n/a), Rashford (n/a), Matic (n/a).
Man of the Match: Paul Pogba.
Pogba provides Man Utd moment of inspiration
Fulham got off to the perfect start inside five minutes as Lookman capitalised on non-existent United defending to latch onto Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa’s lofted pass before clinically rifling the opener past David de Gea.
United were aggrieved not to be handed the chance to respond swiftly, with Loftus-Cheek’s challenge on Fred in the area going unpunished by referee Martin Atkinson and VAR.
It took United 20 minutes to get talisman Bruno Fernandes into the game, but when they did, they instantly arose from another slow start on the road.
Moments after the Portuguese unsettled the Fulham defence with a 20-yard drive which rattled the post, his teasing cross from the left was spilled by goalkeeper Alphonse Areola at the feet of Cavani, who converted the rebound to haul United level.
United went in search of a quick-fire second as Fernandes tried his luck from a similar distance, but Areola atoned for his earlier error with a fine fingertip save around the post, before the unmarked Harry Maguire headed a gilt-edged opportunity wide from a corner.
Fulham hadn’t lost a game during Parker’s reign in which they had scored the first goal, and they should have restored their lead within seven minutes of the restart when Loftus-Cheek squared for Lookman, but he drilled a shot straight at De Gea.
- Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Joe Bryan replaced suspended duo Bobby Decordova-Reid and Antonee Robinson as Fulham made two changes the defeat to Chelsea.
- Eric Bailly, Mason Greenwood and Edinson Cavani returned as Man Utd made three changes from Sunday’s goalless draw at Liverpool.
With United in need of inspiration up stepped Pogba with another crucial away goal as he glided in off the right flank onto his left foot and unleashed an unstoppable effort which flashed past Areola into the top corner.
United could have put the game to bed on 63 minutes but another brilliant save from Areola preserved Cavani’s towering header from opening up a two-goal cushion.
United’s one-goal lead grew increasingly perilous as the game went on but Loftus-Cheek failed to salvage a point for the hosts as he was thwarted by De Gea before blazing his second presentable chance over.
With seconds remaining, substitute Mitrovic looked to have headed a late Fulham equaliser only for his effort to deflect wide off Bailly, and United escaped with their victory intact as they returned to the Premier League summit.
Opta stats – United win away, again
- Manchester United have won seven Premier League games having gone behind this season – only Newcastle in 2001-02 (10) and Man Utd themselves in 2012-13 (9) have done so more in a single campaign.
- Manchester United are unbeaten in their last 17 Premier League away games (W13 D4), equalling their longest ever unbeaten run on the road in top-flight history (17 between December 1998 and September 1999).
- This was the 41st different game in which Fulham had led in all competitions under Scott Park, but the first time they had lost such a game (W34 D6).
- No side has conceded more goals in the opening five minutes of Premier League games this season than Manchester United (4).
- Since his return to the club in 2016, no Man Utd player has scored more league goals from outside the box than Paul Pogba (6).
- Ademola Lookman has been involved in more Premier League goals than any other Fulham player this season (6 – 3 goals, 3 assists).
- Bruno Fernandes has gone three Premier League games without a goal or assist for the first time since his Manchester United debut in February 2020.
Man of the Match – Paul Pogba
Who else? The Frenchman is developing a knack of scoring big goals in big moments – and boy was it needed on the banks of the Thames.
United failed to truly kick on after Cavani had rescued them from another poor start and it was the kind of evening where something special was required to see off a spirited Fulham.
Just as he did at Burnley, Pogba delivered, sending a stunning long-range into the far corner off his unfavoured left foot with a moment of inspiration which could well propel United to the title.
Fulham host Burnley in the fourth round of the FA Cup on Sunday at 2.30pm before travelling to Brighton in the Premier League on Wednesday at 7.30pm.
United host Liverpool in the fourth round of the FA Cup on Sunday at 5pm before entertaining Sheffield United in the Premier League on Wednesday at 8.15pm.