Respite for Mourinho, home goal for Lukaku as Man United cruise past Fulham
MANCHESTER, England -- Three points on Manchester United's 4-1 win vs. Fulham in the Premier League.
1. Much-needed win for Mourinho, Man United
Manchester United can do routine after all.
There was no crisis and no spectacular comeback, just a comfortable win against a team they were expected to beat. The pressure on Jose Mourinho, who recorded his 50th league win in charge of the club, has eased. For a few days, at least.
Fulham fans in the corner of Old Trafford made sure Mourinho and his players did not get carried away with chants of "You're nothing special, we lose every week," but the truth is that, during a season when nothing for United has come easily, this was a welcome change of pace.
With Paul Pogba only on the bench for the second time in four days, the home side took the lead for a change instead of giving the opposition a head start. After 13 minutes, back-from-suspension Ashley Young nutmegged Denis Odoi on the right edge of the penalty area before curling a shot into the top corner to score his first goal in more than a year.
First-half goals have been hard to come by at Old Trafford this season, but United got another before 30 minutes were on the clock. Romelu Lukaku released Marcus Rashford down the left, and he squared for Juan Mata to steer in his fourth of the season.
Mourinho has complained that his team has lacked a killer instinct this season, and the importance of the second goal was not lost on the Portuguese coach, who celebrated with a fist pump on the touchline.
A third just before half-time -- a Lukaku tap-in after slick passes from Jesse Lingard and Mata -- was acknowledged with high fives among Mourinho and his staff. For the Belgian striker, meanwhile, it ended a goalless run at home that dated back to March.
Fulham threatened to make a game of it after the break, and United obliged by taking their foot off the gas, Aboubakar Kamara netting a penalty after Ander Herrera was harshly adjudged to have brought down the same player.
However, Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa was dismissed for a second bookable offence under a minute later to extinguish any lingering hopes for the away side, and Rashford capped United's biggest league win since November 2017 with a late fourth.
2. Lukaku enjoys home comforts again
It had been 252 days since Romelu Lukaku had found the net at Old Trafford, and perhaps he needed his goal vs. Fulham to come as it did: from two yards out and after two fantastic passes.
Mourinho has stressed that his side's lack of goals is a collective issue, but there is no getting away from the fact that his £75 million striker, who scored 27 times in all competitions last season, had only five in 19 games this term prior to Saturday's game.
If United are going to go on a run of wins to claw their way back into top-four contention, then Lukaku, the only out-and-out centre forward in the squad, must play a key role. His goal did seem to boost his confidence, and he might have had a second, but Sergio Rico denied him after a bulldozing run.
3. Ranieri reminded of the task he faces
With a win and a draw from Claudio Ranieri's first three games in charge, Fulham have had a bounce since his appointment as manager, but they are still conceding too many goals.
Ahead of kickoff at Old Trafford, the league's bottom club had conceded 36 goals in 15 games this season -- only Barnsley, with 40 in 1997-98, had conceded more at the same stage -- and this latest reverse set a club record of 20 top-flight fixtures without a clean sheet.
Frustration inside Old Trafford would have grown the longer the game remained goalless, and so to concede a soft opener after just 13 minutes will have infuriated their manager, for whom it is clear the main issue he must solve if Fulham are going to avoid relegation.
The general consensus is that Ranieri has made them more organized, but now comes a vital run. Fulham face West Ham, Newcastle, Wolves and Huddersfield before the year ends; even with half the season still to play, it is a run of fixtures that will tell a great deal about their chances of avoiding the drop.