MAN UNITED 4, FULHAM 1
Manchester United posted their biggest Premier League victory for 13 months against newly-promoted Fulham, further evidence of recent green shoots of recovery.
After the spirited showing in the 2-2 draw in midweek against Arsenal, also at Old Trafford, United were far too strong for the bottom-of-the-table Cottagers.
There has been an energy in the last two games that was conspicuous by its absence earlier in the campaign.
Goals from Ashley Young, Juan Mata, Romelu Lukaku and Marcus Rashford earned the points that lifted the Reds from eighth to sixth place.
It was the first time United had scored four goals in a game since the FA cup tie against Yeovil last season.
Indeed, United carved out 20 goal attempts with 11 on target, evidence that they have found the cutting edge that eluded them in earlier games.
Reds’ manager Jose Mourinho was pleased with his side’s showing, saying: “The first half was good at every level.
“It was a good result and there were good individual performances and for Rashford and Lukaku, who have had no goals for some time, it was good for them.”
Mourinho praised new Fulham manager Cluadio Ranieri for changing the game at half time to nullify them.
He added fatigue also told, especially with hard working midfield pair Nemanja Matic and Ander Herrera.
“It was only natural the intensity was down as you cannot run like they did for two games coming so quickly together,” he said.
United made four changes from the side that drew 2-2 against Arsenal in a hugely entertaining game to make it a remarkable 50 for the season in Premier League games.
Eric Bailly and Anthony Martial were enforced through injury while Marcos Rojo was on the bench and Matteo Darmian not included in the matchday 18.
There were call ups for Phil Jones and Young at the back, Juan Mata in the middle and Romelu Lukaku up front.
There was still no place in the starting line up for Paul Pogba who was again on the bench.
Luke Shaw was injured in the pre-match warm up so his place on the bench went to Andrea Pereira.
After an uneventful opening, United took a 13th minute lead with their first chance of the game.
Overlapping left-back Young cut in from the left past Denis Odoi and fired high into the far top corner of the net, a fabulous individual goal, his first of the season and first at Old Trafford since May 2016.
United doubled their advantage in the 28th minute through Mata’s fourth goal of the season.
Lukaku and Rashford linked on the left and the latter squared a pass to Mata as the Spaniard swept home a shot from 18 yards low to the left of keeper Sergio Rico.
The lively Rashford could have made it 3-0 when his 35-yard piledriver free kick was well kept out by Rico.
A third goal soon arrived following another fabulous move.
Jesse Lingard split open the Fulham defence with a sumptuous pass to release Mata on the left and his low cross was easily converted by Lukaku, his sixth of the season. It was Mata’s 50th assist in the Premier League.
And Lukaku had a chance to add a fourth goal shortly before the break, but Rico save well low to his left.
United began the second half on the front foot as Rashford and Lukaku twice went close to increasing the lead further.
Mourinho made their first change just short of the hour when Chris Smalling made way for Rojo.
United ought to have had a fourth goal after a poor clearance from Rica to Lukaku who released Mata who in turn set up Herrera who shot narrowly wide.
Fulham got on to the scoresheet midway through the second period after Herrera conceded a penalty for a trip on half-time substitute Aboubakar Kamara who slotted home the spot kick.
If Fulham thought a comeback was on the cards, it was quickly cut short as they were reduced to 10 men one minute later when Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa was sent off for a foul on Rashford, his second yellow card.
United made a second change with 17 minutes left when Jesse Lingard was replaced by Fred.
The Reds almost restored a three-goal lead when Rashford forced a diving save from Rico who moments later denied Lukaku.
But it was soon 4-1 as Rashford scored a superb solo effort,cutting in from the left before shooting low inside Rico’s near post, only his third goal of the season.
It was Rashford’s last action as he was immediately replaced by Scott McTominay as the game petered out in the latter stages.