A much-changed Manchester United swept aside struggling Fulham to continue Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s excellent start as interim manager.
First-half goals from Paul Pogba and Anthony Martial began a comfortable afternoon for the Red Devils, with Pogba sealing the points with a second-half penalty.
Fulham started strongly and put United on the back foot for much of the opening exchanges, but Pogba’s opener set the tone for the remainder of the game.
United move into the top four ahead of Chelsea’s trip to Manchester City on Sunday, while Fulham remain in deep trouble in 19th place.
Fulham made two changes from the side that lost 2-0 at Crystal Palace, Andre Schürrle and Luciano Vietto coming in for Tom Cairney and Cyrus Christie.
Sergio Rico continued in goal, behind a defence of Maxime Le Marchand, Denis Odoi, Tim Ream and Joe Bryan. Calum Chambers and Jean Michael Seri occupied the deep midfield roles.
Further forward, Schurrle and Vietto formed a midfield three alongside Ryan Babel, supporting ever present striker Aleksandar Mitrovic.
Manchester United made six changes from the trip to Leicester last week, resting several players with next week’s Champions League visit of Paris Saint Germain in mind.
David De Gea continued in goal, protected with a largely new defence of Diogo Dalot, Phil Jones, Chris Smalling and Luke Shaw.
Regular midfield trio Nemanja Matic, Ander Herrera and Paul Pogba again kept their places, but United fielded an entirely changed forward line of Juan Mata, Anthony Martial and Romelu Lukaku.
Paul Pogba impresses again
One of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s greatest achievements so far is the upturn in form of talismanic Frenchman Paul Pogba.
The flamboyant midfielder had been used as a scapegoat by many for poor results that led to Jose Mourinho’s departure, but Pogba put in another man of the match display to see off Fulham.
Today’s brace brought his season’s tally to 11 Premier League goals, eight of which have come since the arrival of Solskjaer.
Pogba’s form is approaching the level that United expected when they shelled out £89 million to re-sign him. If he can maintain it, United have a very serious chance of finishing in the top four.
Though Claudio Ranieri had an instant impact when he arrived in November, it looks increasingly unlikely that Fulham will escape the drop.
Despite threatening United for spells, the Cottagers lacked the clinical edge needed to break through, and never looked like coming back after Martial put the Red Devils 2-0 up.
Fulham have registered just two league clean sheets all season; a huge factor in their struggles up to now, and though fans may not have expected to take anything from this game, the lack of fight shown when United went ahead is worrying.
United ready for PSG
In December, United’s Champions League last-16 tie against PSG looked an impossible mountain to climb. With the momentum the Red Devils now carry, it appears anything is possible.
The French champions visit Manchester on Tuesday for the first leg without the injured Neymar, likely to face a much-changed United outfit.
United were able to rest several key players against Fulham, many of whom will likely return on Tuesday. A fresh Marcus Rashford will play a pivotal role.
Clean Sheet for Smalling and Jones
Much maligned central defensive partners Chris Smalling and Phil Jones played as Victor Lindelof and Eric Bailly were afforded a rest, and the Englishmen repaid their manager’s faith with a clean sheet.
They rode their luck at times, looking tense in the opening exchanges and Ryan Babel hitting the post from impossibly close range in the second half, but this clean sheet will give both men a lot of confidence.
Diogo Dalot and Luke Shaw completed the defence, and showed a surprising depth to a squad whose quality was being seriously doubted just two months ago.
Ranieri booed for substitution
On a disappointing afternoon for Fulham, the match was made sour in the second-half when fans reacted negatively to Claudio Ranieri’s decision to replace Andre Schurrle.
Ranieri justified the decision as tactical, but it was ultimately irrelevant. There is little talk of the Italian losing his job, but fans are beginning to grow restless as the Cottagers regularly fail to earn the points they crave in their bid for survival.
The atmosphere at the club has been tumultuous this season, typified by the sensational reports of the training ground arrest of striker Aboubakar Kamara in January.
It may be a while before the atmosphere improves, and it looks increasingly likely that will be in the Championship.