Mata & Rashford provide Mourinho's Man United with much-needed relief
A side previously looking devoid of any confidence did a lot right in Saturday’s 4-1 victory, which eases some pressure on their under-fire manager
After months of struggles and recrimination, Manchester United finally delivered a performance worthy of the shirt in seeing off Fulham at Old Trafford on Saturday.
While the Cottagers turned in one of the worst displays by a visiting team at the Theatre of Dreams in many a year, and it was hardly a complete 90-minute performance, a United side previously looking devoid of confidence did a lot right in their 4-1 victory, which eases some pressure on under-fire manager Jose Mourinho.
Coming off the back of four league games without a win, including three consecutive draws, a win of any description would have been welcome. But the manner of their performance, particularly in the 30-minute period leading up to half-time, will have pleased Mourinho more than anything.
With Romelu Lukaku coming back into the starting XI in place of the injured Anthony Martial but Paul Pogba still not recalled, the Portuguese would have been looking for a statement from his players and he got exactly that.
After a tentative start, Ashley Young opened the floodgates by staying alert enough in the area to beat Denis Odoi and whip a shot high across Sergio Rico. United had last scored the first goal in a Premier League game back in October, and Young’s strike was just the lift they needed.
Thereafter, they were bordering on scintillating at times running up to the interval.
Juan Mata, the creative influence too often overlooked for more direct options in the attacking third, was on hand to sweep home from Marcus Rashford’s cut-back, after Jean Michael Seri had let to Spaniard run into space on the edge of the box.
One thing missing still for United was a confidence-boosting goal for Lukaku, but that arrived soon after as he got on the end of a move involving Young, Jesse Lingard and finally Mata to tuck home.
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At 3-0, the only drawback about United’s display was the fact they fell away in the second half and allowed a dreadful Fulham side back into the contest. Having offered so many different options and attacking angles before the break, they retreated and switched off after the turnaround.
Fulham were back in it after a reckless challenge by Ander Herrera, with Aboubakar Kamara converting from the spot, but within seconds Andre-Frank Anguissa’s overly-physical tackle on Rashford perhaps harshly resulted in a second yellow card.
Rashford would close the game off with a fourth when driving a shot hard at the near post from the corner of the area having earlier skied better opportunities, and it was the least his display had deserved. Just like Mata, he seemed to revel in the greater responsibility and space afforded him.
United fell just short of chalking up five goals for the first time in 206 Premier League fixtures since the retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson, but given the lack of belief around Old Trafford pre-match they will gladly have taken a comfortable 4-1 win.
After the midweek trip to Valencia comes an Anfield date with Liverpool, and United will be asked far more questions in almost every match they play between now and the end of the season but they needed to start somewhere.