The Italian newspaper Gazzetta Dello Sport once described Paul Pogba as an ‘NBA athlete with Brazilian feet.’ This was the portrait that sprang to mind as the French midfielder stamped his name all over this fixture, scoring twice and elevating Manchester United into the Champions League places.
This was Pogba at his all-conquering best, a domineering presence that bestrode midfield, at one point casting off Fulham’s Maxime Le Marchand with such derision that the defender was left on his backside but also controlling the game with masterful technique. He now has eight goals and five assists since Ole Gunnar Solskjaer took the reins.
This was not only another reminder of Pogba’s talent. It was another spell-binding audition for Solskjaer, another day where his grip on United’s future felt ever tighter. In front of the attending co-chairman Avram Glazer, Solskjaer made six changes to his line-up but still won at a canter even without Victor Lindelof, Jesse Lingard and Marcus Rashford in the side.
For Solskjaer, the records keep coming. This was United’s fifth consecutive Premier League away win for the first time since 2012 and the first time they have won six away games in all competitions for a decade. United will remain in the top four if Chelsea lose at Manchester City today.
Solskjaer welcomed Glazer and executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward into the dressing room. The Norwegian said: ‘I’ve just spoken to him [Avram Glazer] outside, he came into the dressing room, they’re all happy after winning the game. The top four is a big thing. The next league game is Liverpool. So let’s make sure we stay in the top four.’
This was, also, another of those days to attract those comparisons that so irk Jose Mourinho. Anthony Martial, the player Mourinho lobbied Woodward to sell last summer, was irresistible from the left-flank and liberated from the straightjacket of the former manager, he scored a goal that underpinned the joy and expression in United’s play.
Three goals up inside 65 minutes, United’s comfort was such that Solskjaer could afford to take off Pogba and Martial with twenty minutes still on the clock. Lingard and Rashford were not used at all, with Tuesday evening’s Champions League match against Paris Saint-Germain firmly in the manager’s mind.
Those who entered the pitch nearly added goals of their own. Alexis Sanchez was only denied by an excellent Sergio Rico save and Scott McTominay headed over.
As for Fulham and Claudio Ranieri, the outlook could hardly be bleaker. When Cyrus Christie came on to replace Andre Schurrle, Fulham supporters responded with resounding chants of ‘you don’t know what you’re doing’. The home crowd then sang the name of teenager Ryan Sessegnon, who has fallen out of favour.