Manchester United’s title challenge gathered momentum as they ran out 2-1 winners over Fulham on Wednesday evening.
The result ensured the Red Devils returned to the Premier League summit, two points clear of rivals Manchester City in second (who have a game in hand) and Leicester in third and six points clear of Liverpool (who also have a game in hand).
It’s a position that seemed unthinkable when they were being hit for six by Jose Mourinho’s Tottenham in October or when Demba Ba was making a mockery of them for Istanbul Basaksehir in November – and a large debt of thanks to the position they currently find themselves in is owed to Bruno Fernandes.
The midfielder has been the catalyst for change at Old Trafford since his arrival from Sporting CP last January, and he has dragged United up the table this term with 11 goals and seven assists in the Premier League.
Fernandes was typically good again against Fulham on Wednesday evening, playing a pivotal part in United’s equaliser as his teasing delivery was palmed into the path of Edinson Cavani by Alphonse Areola and popping up with his signature flicks and deft touches.
But it was Cavani and Paul Pogba who shone brightest for United, demonstrating that the Red Devils do have another dimension to them.
Fulham had taken the lead inside six minutes through Ademola Lookman. Fulham, the side who tend to win when they go ahead under Scott Parker versus Manchester United, the side who have made a habit of sparking a comeback and winning from losing positions. Something had to give. Fulham gave.
Cavani equalised with an instinctive, smart poacher’s finish and really looked the part up top for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side, his goal capping off a thoroughly impressive all round performance from the Uruguayan. His work rate was exceptional; he chased back, he harried, he flew into tackles and he didn’t give the Fulham backline a moment’s respite.
Going forward, Cavani’s movement was smart and unpredictable. He almost gave United the lead in the second half with a darting near post run and header, only a strong Areola save keeping him out.
Areola could do nothing to keep out Pogba’s scorching strike minutes later. It was a thing of pure beauty from the United midfielder, cutting inside on the edge of the box and then sending an ridiculously audacious strike into the Fulham net.
It was a moment of world class, match winning quality from Pogba where – just like against West Ham in December – he demonstrated his ability to change a game with a single flash of brilliance.
Fernandes is world class, but against Fulham the Red Devils demonstrated that they have more strings to their bow.