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.
Manchester United returned to the top of the Premier League with a 2-1 win over Fulham at Craven Cottage on Wednesday evening.
Ademola Lookman gave Fulham the lead inside six minutes, latching onto Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa’s lofted pass and cooly slotting home.
United grew into the game and were level after 21 minutes. Bruno Fernandes’ cross was palmed into the path of Edinson Cavani by Alphonse Areola, and the Uruguayan striker made no mistake from close range.
The Red Devils took the lead in the second half with a moment of pure genius, Paul Pogba sending a stunning long range effort into the net.
Let’s get into some player ratings.
Alphonse Areola (GK) – 6/10 – Failed to deal with Fernandes’ low cross, palming it into the path of Cavani as United equalised. Made a good save moments later to keep out a Fernandes effort, and a fabulous stop in the second half to deny Cavani.
Kenny Tete (RB) – 6/10 – Big ask to handle both Martial and Shaw, but doggedly stuck to his task.
Tosin Adarabioyo (CB) – 7/10 – Popped up with an important block to deny Greenwood late in the first half and turned in a really tenacious display.
Joachim Andersen (CB) – 6/10 – Helped to hold a smart Fulham line, catching United offside on a couple of occasions.
Ola Aina (CB) – 6/10 – Confident playing out from the back and turned in a dogged defensive shift.
Joe Byran (LB) – 6/10 – Did a good job on Mason Greenwood, keeping the United winger relatively quiet.
Harrison Reed (CM) – 5/10 – Pogba got the better of him in the buildup to United’s second, with Reed affording the United man a little too much space on the edge of the Fulham box. Neat and tidy in possession.
Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa – 6/10 – Picked out Lookman with a perfect, floated ball in behind as the Cottagers took the lead. In the thick of the action, popped up with a couple of neat through balls.
Ruben Loftus-Cheek (RW) – 6/10 – A couple of flashes of quality in the second half, flicking the ball past Maguire, driving to the byline and putting in an enticing delivery. Could have levelled the scores, but was kept out by a good De Gea save.
Ademola Lookman (ST) – 7/10 – Gave Fulham the lead in the fifth minute with a clinical finish from close range, darting in behind and giving De Gea no chance.
Ivan Cavaleiro (LW) – 4/10 – Blew hot and cold – looked like he could have had the beating of Wan-Bissaka, but his first touch and decision making was lacking at times.
Aboubakar Kamara – 5/10
Mario Lemina – 5/10
Aleksandar Mitrovic – 5/10
David de Gea (GK) – 7/10 – Produced a crucial save to deny Loftus-Cheek in the second half.
Aaron Wan-Bissaka (RB) – 6/10 – Played Lookman onside for Fulham’s opener. Given a bit of a tough time by Lookman and occasionally lax in possession in the first half, much more assured defensively in the second.
Eric Bailly (CB) – 6/10 – Question marks over both of United’s centre halves for Fulham’s opener, Lookman gifted acres of space to run in behind unmarked.
Harry Maguire (CB) – 6/10 – Doubts over the United defending for Fulham’s opener given the ease at which Lookman drifted through on goal unopposed. Failed to hit the target with a free header from a corner.
Luke Shaw (LB) – 7/10 – Put in a couple of dangerous crosses in the second half and was assured defensively once more.
Fred (CM) – 6/10 – Typically tenacious and combative, giving Pogba and Fernandes the freedom to work their magic.
Paul Pogba (CM) – 8/10 – Sent in a fabulous ball to pick out Fernandes in the second half, before giving United the lead with a stunningly audacious solo strike from range. A thing of real beauty.
Bruno Fernandes (CAM) – 7/10 – Clattered the post with his first sight of goal with a sweetly struck first half effort, before his dangerous cross was turned into the path of Cavani for United’s equaliser.
Mason Greenwood (RW) – 6/10 – Drifted in and out of the game, sending in a couple of teasing deliveries and occasionally getting at the Fulham backline, but largely a bit isolated.
Edinson Cavani (ST) – 8/10 – Popped up in the right place at the right time to pounce on Areola’s spill and level the scores. Put in such a shift and caused Fulham all sorts of problems with his intelligent movement.
Anthony Martial (LW) – 6/10 – Rose highest and headed a half chance over towards the end of the first period.
Cristiano Ronaldo made history on Wednesday evening as he found the net for Juventus to overtake Josef Bican and become football’s all-time top scorer.
Ronaldo opened the scoring for Juventus during their Supercoppa Italiana clash with Napoli to take his combined club and country goal tally up to a staggering 760 – one higher than Bican’s 759.
The Czech striker retired in 1955, with his all-time goal scoring record standing for 65 years.
Ronaldo has spent much of his career sending goalscoring records tumbling, and the 2020/21 season has been no exception. He netted twice against Sweden in September to reach a century of goals for Portugal, and was on target against Udinese in January to leapfrog Pele and become football’s second highest goalscorer ever.
Ronaldo made the record his own on Wednesday evening just after the hour mark. Federico Bernardeschi’s corner wasn’t dealt with and the loose ball fell to the Portuguese international, who instinctively sent a half volley into the net.
The forward has scored 658 goals at club level for Sporting CP, Manchester United, Real Madrid and Juventus, in addition to the 102 goals he has netted for Portugal. Over half of his goals came during nine extraordinary years at the Bernabeu, where he scored a ridiculous 450 goals in just 438 games.
Last season, Ronaldo became the first man to score a half century in Serie A, the Premier League and La Liga.
Pele is third on the all-time goalscoring record charts with 757 goals for club and country (but we don’t doubt that he’ll be piping up promptly to dispute this figure).
Brazil’s Romario is fourth with 743 goals and Barcelona’s Lionel Messi completes the top five with 719 goals – but he is two years Ronaldo’s junior.
Cristiano Ronaldo became the all-time leading goalscorer in footballing history as Juventus won the Supercoppa Italiana on Wednesday night.
After a tepid – really, really, tepid – first half, the game finally sparked into the life in the 65th minute when Ronaldo latched onto a loose ball in the six-yard box to volley home is his 760th career goal.
Juve dominated thereafter until a clumsy challenge from Weston McKennie on Dries Mertens gifted Napoli a chance to draw level. And it was a chance that Lorenzo Insigne did not take, as he curled he result penalty kick well (welllllll) wide of the post.
As Napoli pushed forward in search of the equaliser in the dying embers of the game, La Vecchia Signora snatched a second via Alvaro Morata and a swift counter attack.
Here are the player ratings.
Wojciech Szczesny (GK) – 0/10 – Made probably the best save of the season so far to deny Hirving Lozano a certain goal in the first half, and then made the second best save of the season with his feet in the 93rd minute. He’s just so damn good.
Juan Cuadrado (RB) – 8/10 – By quite a distance, Juventus’ best creative outlet this season. Another great performance.
Leonardo Bonucci (CB) – 6/10 – Seemed to finally find his passing range again on Wednesday evening.
Giorgio Chiellini (CB) – 6/10 – Looked much more like his old self on the night.
Danilo (LB) – 6/10 – Caught out at the back post by Lozano in the first half but solid thereafter.
Weston McKennie (RM) – 6/10 – Never, ever, stops running. Ever. Quality wee footballer but did give away a penalty in the second half, which he was lucky to see Insigne curl wide of the post.
Arthur Melo (CM) – 6/10 – He is a lot better than Adrien Rabiot…although I probably am too.
Rodrigo Bentancur (CM) – 5/10 – Nowhere assertive enough in possession. Hugely gifted player but needs to command the midfield much more effectively.
Federico Chiesa (LM) – 4/10 – He didn’t really get involved, and clearly more suited to playing on the right flank. Hauled off at half-time.
Dejan Kulusevski (ST) – 6/10 – Sparked into life on the hour mark, and began to cause Napoli problems with his movement.
Cristiano Ronaldo (ST) – 8/10 – Had a few sighters in the first half and finally got his goal in the 65th minute.
Federico Bernardeschi – 6/10 – Lively when he came on and could’ve (probably should’ve) scored but scuffed his effort on goal from just five-yards out.
Alvaro Morata – 6/10 – Scored a swift counter-attacking goal in the 96th minute.
Adrien Rabiot – N/A – Always N/A.
David Ospina (GK) – 6/10 – He didn’t have to make a single save in the first half. Not one. Then inside the first few seconds of the second half he was forced into a miraculous one, keeping out a Bernardeschi effort from point blank range. Could do nothing about Ronaldo’s goal.
Giovanni Di Lorenzo (RB) – 6/10 – Contained Chiesa well – although it wasn’t particularly hard – in the first half. Bernardeschi caused him one or two more problems, but overall a decent performance from Di Lorenzo.
Kostas Manolas (CB) – 6/10 – Saw a decent headed effort fly just over the bar in the first half. Solid as always defensively.
Kalidou Koulibaly (CB) – 5/10 – Solid in the first half but caught napping for Ronaldo’s opener.
Mario Rui (LB) – 5/10 – Worked hard on the left flank but ultimately a forgettable performance from notably forgettable footballer Mario Rui.
Diego Demme (DM) – 6/10 – Whipped a brilliant cross into the box for a Lozano diving header. Decent performance.
Tiemoue Bakayoko (DM) – 5/10 – Sat in front of Koulibaly and Manolas all night, and did alright. Nothing to write home about and yet here I am, writing about it.
Piotr Zielinski (AM) – 4/10 – Careless in possession. Simple as that.
Hirving Lozano (RW) – 5/10 – Denied a goal in the first half by a miracle save for big Woj.
Andrea Petagna (ST) – 4/10 – Enjoyed the physical battle against Chiellini – especially when he elbowed him (unintentionally) in the face – but struggled to hold up the ball effectively.
Lorenzo Insigne (LW) – 2/10 – Well…his penalty was one of the worst penalties we’ve seen in a while…
Elif Elmas – 5/10.
Dries Mertens – 6/10 – Won a penalty.
Matteo Politano – N/A.
Fernando Llorente – N/A – Still a footballer. Good for him.
Manchester City wound up eventual 2-0 winners in a hard fought contest against Aston Villa, sending them to the top of the Premier League for the time being.
Villa started brightly and were keen to take the game to City during the first 10 minutes, but quickly cooled off. City maintained control of possession throughout the first half, but couldn’t make good on countless corners and passing spells with the visitors producing a fine defensive display.
Pep Guardiola’s side continued to dominate after the break and saw a number of shots go everywhere but the back of the net. Joao Cancelo hit the crossbar and Ilkay Gundogan could’ve had a brace, but the missed chances allowed Villa back into the game.
The game opened up in the final 20 minutes and Dean Smith’s side came mightily close through Bertrand Traore and Douglas Luiz, but the missed chances resulted in a lapse in concentration at the back. Bernardo Silva won the ball and rifled it past Emi Martinez in the 79th minute to give his side the lead despite offside calls, before Ilkay Gundogan secured the points for City with a 90th minute penalty.
In a game that had more chances than ever, here’s how the players rated at the Etihad Stadium.
Ederson (GK) – 6/10 – Ederson had little to do at times, but had to be on his toes with Villa looking dangerous in flutters. His four saves were key to three points.
Kyle Walker (RB) – 5/10 – Walker struggled with an injury but persevered until having to come off just shy of the half hour mark.
John Stones (CB) – 6/10 – After scoring a brace last time out, Stones was keen to pile forward and be the man to break the deadlock.
Ruben Dias (CB) – 8/10 – Dias kept things tight at the back and stopped any counter attacks with City piling men forward.
Joao Cancelo (LB) – 6/10 – Looked dangerous on the overlap and caused Villa a headache down the left flank. Rattled the crossbar in the 54th minute after switching wings.
Kevin de Bruyne (CM) – 6/10 – Struggled to impose himself at times, but grew into the game with some exceptional long passes. Pulled off around the hour mark in favour of a system change, with Gabriel Jesus being introduced.
Rodri (CM) – 7/10 – Rodri was the calming influence at the base of City’s midfield.
Ilkay Gundogan (CM) – 7/10 – Gundogan was a constant threat for City and denied a goal by Villa defending that was nothing short of heroic. A tireless presence and so unfortunate not to score.
Bernardo Silva (RW) – 8/10 – The Portugal international scored a wonderful, and incredibly, important goal.
Raheem Sterling (ST) – 5/10 – Sterling struggled to assert himself as the false nine and continually rotated with Bernardo Silva, but to no avail. After getting back in the goals in the previous game, this was one to forget.
Phil Foden (LW) – 7/10 – Turned Matty Cash inside out several times during the first half and continued to look threatening beyond the break. Foden looks dangerous with every touch of the ball.
Oleksandr Zinchenko – 5/10 – Zinchenko was on after half an hour to replace an injured Kyle Walker, but didn’t offer the same attacking presence as Cancelo did down the left.
Gabriel Jesus – 6/10
Riyad Mahrez – 6/10
Emi Martinez (GK) – 7/10 – Made a fine, point blank save to deny Bernardo Silva after just three minutes. Could do nothing to stop Silva’s goal.
Matty Cash (RB) – 5/10 – Was worked tremendously hard by Phil Foden throughout the first half and was caught out a few times. Gave away the penalty in unfortunate fashion – a bad day at the office.
Ezri Konsa (CB) – 8/10 – Exceptional performance from Konsa who was everywhere. The 23-year-old read the game supremely will to snuff out danger several times. The goal was by no means his fault.
Tyrone Mings (CB) – 6/10 – Dominant aerially and a leader at the back for so long, until a lapse in concentration saw him dispossessed with ease and allowed City to score.
Matt Targett (LB) – 7/10 – City’s strongest attacks came from the left side, but Targett did well when called upon and kept them quiet from the right. His influence grew after the break when the onslaught came from all angles, but was eventually forced off with injury.
Douglas Luiz (CM) – 6/10 – The better of Villa’s double pivot, Luiz was a menace against his former employers.
John McGinn (CM) – 5/10 – Worked hard off the ball, but lacked his usual tenacity and drive in possession from deep. An unusual amount of passes went wayward from McGinn.
Bertrand Traore (RM) – 6/10 – Traore is full of confidence following an impressive streak of form and looked dangerous on the counter, but lacked the composure in front of goal.
Ross Barkley (AM) – 6/10 – Barkley was keen to influence the game for Villa, but lacked a sharp final ball having been out of action for so long. An encouraging 70 minutes or so in the tank after a long spell out. Jack Grealish (LM) – 6/10 – Wasn’t at his usual, influential best to the surprise of many. Grealish did grow in influence as the game drew on, however, feeding colleagues through on the counter attack with nice passing.
Ollie Watkins (ST) – 6/10 – Barely saw the ball with Villa for most of the game, but came to life in the final 15 minutes with several composed and accurate crosses for teammates.
Anwar El Ghazi – 5/10
Jacob Ramsey – 6/10
Neil Taylor – N/A