Manchester United 4 Fulham 1
Ruthless Manchester United saw off struggling Fulham at Old Trafford to register the Reds' biggest win of the season.
A blistering first half was illuminated by goals from Ashley Young, Juan Mata and Romelu Lukaku, as United swept aside the Premier League’s bottom club in style.
Fulham clawed a goal back from the penalty spot, through Aboubakar Kamara, but a Marcus Rashford stunner made it 4-1 late on as United finally enjoyed themselves again and put on a goal show. It was 21 years since a Premier League side had conceded as many as Fulham had in the opening 15 matches of a Premier League campaign. Not since Barnsley in 1997 have a team shipped so many as the 36 let in by the Londoners before this match.
The Cottagers had gone 19 matches without keeping a clean sheet but United had only scored once in the opening 15 minutes of games all season. So the hosts' start against the beleaguered capital club was exactly what was called for. It was decisive and ruthless.
The Stretford End might not have been too happy that Fulham forced the Reds to attack the famous stand in the first half rather than their favoured traditional second-half viewing, but they weren’t complaining when United took a 2-0 lead under their noses before the half hour.
With United’s first serious moment of danger of the match, captain Young opened the scoring. He took on his marker Denis Odoi and, with a mix of footwork and muscle, forced his way past before curling a right-foot shot into the far top corner. It was his first goal of the season and it set the tone for pretty much one-way traffic in the opening 45 minutes.
Fulham have had a difficult return to the Premier League, forcing them to bring in Ranieri four games ago, and United went 2-0 up after 28 minutes with Mata scoring his fourth of the season. Lukaku fed Rashford and the Mancunian looked up to cut the ball back to a free Mata, who swept a low shot home.
Rashford forced a great save from Sergio Rico from a thumping free-kick as the Red tide kept bearing down on goal.
It was all United and, just before half-time, it was 3-0. Once more, it was a crisp passing move that cut through Fulham, with Jesse Lingard sliding a ball into Mata’s run down the left and the Spaniard’s cross was met by Lukaku’s left boot to steer the ball in from close range.
Ranieri was labelled 'the Tinker Man' during his time at Chelsea but he had no option than to shake things up at half-time to attempt to claw something back.
He swapped Aleksandar Mitrovic for Kamara up front and brought on another striker in Luciano Vietto for Tom Cairney. It wasn’t so much the Fulham change in personnel but more United’s own struggle to restore the imperious first-half form that led to a quiet opening after the interval.
Mourinho was forced into his first change after 58 minutes when an injured Chris Smalling made his way to the dressing room to be replaced by Marcos Rojo. After a rising shot from Andre Schurrle had encouraged the rallying visitors, United got back some of their swagger and Ander Herrera came close as the Reds seized on a poor clearance from goalkeeper Rico.
But United had generally gone off the boil and paid the price for the tepid start to the second half when Fulham got themselves back into the game. Herrera was adjudged to have brought down substitute Kamara in thebox. He pleaded his innocence but referee Lee Probert was having none of it and Kamara duly outwitted David De Gea from the spot to make it 3-1 after 67 minutes.
Fulham’s hopes that they might launch an unlikely looking comeback suffered a major blow when Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa, who had already been booked, was red-carded for a wild lunge at Rashford a minute after the penalty.
It had taken some time but United finally got our mojo back, led superbly by Rashford, who firstly danced his way into the box but had his shot saved, then he coolly slid in a pass for Lukaku who, again, was thwarted by keeper Rico.
Having been denied at close range Rashford decided to have a go from further out and how it paid off. From an unlikely position, he struck a venomous shot that beat Rico at his near post for a spectacular fourth in the 82nd minute.
It was an eye-catching finale to send the Old Trafford crowd home happy in the last game here before Christmas.
United: De Gea; Dalot, Jones, Smalling (Rojo 58), Young (c); Herrera, Matic; Mata, Lingard (Fred 72), Rashford (McTominay 83); Lukaku.
Substitutes: Romero, A. Pereira, Fellaini, Pogba.
Scorers: Young 13, Mata 28, Lukaku 42, Rashford 82
Fulham: Rico, Sessegnon, Odoi, Mitrovic (Kamara 46), Cairney (Vietto 46), Ream, Schurrle (Cisse 73), Bryan, Seri, Mawson, Anguissa
Subs not used: Bettinelli, Kebano, Johansen, Christie
Scorer: Kamara 67 (pen)
Booked: Anguissa, Seri
Sent off: Anguissa