LONDON — Manchester United eked out a stoppage-time win over Fulham in the Premier League on Sunday, with Alejandro Garnacho scoring in the 93rd minute to ensure the Red Devils left southwest London with all three points.
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Christian Eriksen scored his first goal for United on 14 minutes, ending a 19-game barren run since joining the club as a free agent in the summer. Daniel James netted against his former club just after the hour mark to drag Fulham level and breathe new life into Craven Cottage, but Garnacho’s late dramatics sent the home crowd disappointed.
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1. Garnacho makes biggest contribution yet
There may be doubts over his temperament, but any concerns over Garnacho’s talent are receding with almost every appearance.
Manchester United were staring at a disappointing result in the Premier League’s final match before the World Cup prior to Garnacho picking up the ball on the touchline in stoppage time, driving into the box and exchanging passes with Eriksen before sliding a low left-foot finish past Bernd Leno. It was a brilliant move, vaguely reminiscent of Cristiano Ronaldo’s winner in this fixture in 2007, another barely deserved 2-1 win settled by a moment of genius from the same area of the pitch.
Erik ten Hag has previously suggested “it depends on his attitude” as to how far this prodigiously gifted 18-year-old can go, but his first Premier League goal was proof of a tenacity and hunger that could propel a long career at the highest level. The domestic break has come at the wrong time for him: In November alone, Garnacho scored the winner against Real Sociedad, provided two assists in the Carabao Cup win over Aston Villa and now this at Craven Cottage.
Anthony Elanga may have started ahead of him here, but Ten Hag will find it harder to leave Garnacho out if he can pick up where he left off next month.
2. United leave it late again to keep pace in top-four race
What a difference a goal makes.
After Newcastle United, Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool all won earlier in the weekend, the table could have made for awkward reading had United lost further ground in the top-four race at Fulham. Garnacho’s dramatic intervention was the fifth goal United have scored in second-half stoppage time across all competitions and the second in four Premier League games, following on from Casemiro’s last-ditch equaliser at Chelsea.
Although they remain in fifth place, a three-point gap to fourth-placed Spurs with a game in hand will give Ten Hag’s midseason review a much more positive edge than it appeared for long spells here, given United needed David de Gea to make a string of fine saves in each half to keep Fulham at bay. Nine wins from 12 matches since losing at Manchester City on Oct. 2 gives United tangible evidence Ten Hag is making a real impact.
3. Eriksen marks his revival with first United goal
Eriksen has brought poise and intelligence to Manchester United’s midfield since signing on a free transfer from Brentford in the summer. On Sunday, he brought an end product: his first goal in United colours, finishing a slick counterattack that began with Casemiro’s excellent tackle, continued with Anthony Martial and Bruno Fernandes combining for the Dane to slide in a simple finish at the far post. The midfielder’s role in United’s late winner should not be underestimated, either: Two one-twos ending with a perfectly weighted through-ball enabled Garnacho to work his magic.
Eriksen has made no secret of his dream to represent Denmark at a World Cup after suffering a cardiac arrest at last year’s delayed Euros, and just before heading to Qatar, he created another small piece of national history: The 30-year-old became the first Danish player to score for United since Peter Schmeichel versus FC Rotor Volgograd in September 1995.
Fulham: Bernd Leno 7, Bobby Decordova-Reid 7, Issa Diop 7, Tim Ream 7, Antonee Robinson 7, Tom Cairney 7, Joao Palhinha 8, Harry Wilson 7, Andreas Pereira 6, Willian 7, Carlos Vinicius 6
Subs: Daniel James 7, Josh Onomah 6
Manchester United: David de Gea 8, Tyrell Malacia 5, Victor Lindelof 6, Lisandro Martinez 7, Luke Shaw 6, Casemiro 7, Christian Eriksen 8, Anthony Elanga 6, Bruno Fernandes 6, Marcus Rashford 6, Anthony Martial 5
Subs: Scott McTominay 6, Alejandro Garnacho 8
Best and worst performers
BEST: Joao Palhinha, Fulham. All-action performance from the Fulham midfielder, making a match-high nine tackles (nobody else on the pitch registered more than three), winning 12 of his 16 duels.
WORST: Tyrell Malacia, Man United. Asked to play as a makeshift right-back due to Diogo Dalot’s absence through suspension but was repeatedly targeted by Fulham and struggled to cope.
After the match: What the players and managers said
Eriksen on his first Man United goal: “About time! I owed a few, so I’m happy to be on the scoresheet in the last game before the World Cup. It’s been a good week.”
Fernandes on Garnacho: “He has a lot of talent, and his work rate, together with the talent, makes a big difference with us from the bench. It’s not the first time he makes a big impact for us. We are really happy for him and know he can give us goals, assists and prove the joy of football.”
Palhinha: “No words can explain what me and my team-mates feel in this moment. We are really disappointed with the result because I think we deserved to win this game. We did our best and we didn’t deserve this result. … Football is like this, sometimes the best team doesn’t win.”
Key stats (via ESPN Stats & Info)
– Two of Garnacho’s three career goals with Man United have been in the 90th minute or later.
– Garnacho became the second-youngest Man United player in Premier League history to score a stoppage-time game-winning goal. Only Federico Macheda (then 17 years, 227 days old) did so at an earlier age.
Fulham: The World Cup break awaits, and Fulham will return to action on Boxing Day, when they cross London to take on Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park.
Manchester United: United have arranged a pair of friendlies during the World Cup break, against Cadiz (Dec. 7) and Real Betis (Dec. 10) before resuming competitive play on Dec. 20, when they host Burnley in the Carabao Cup.