Paul Pogba produced a moment of magic as Manchester United came from behind to beat Fulham 2-1 and reclaim the Premier League lead, ending Manchester City’s short stay at the top.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s in-form team started the match third in the table after 24 hours of chopping and changing at the summit of the English top flight.
But United — unbeaten on the road in league games for a year — had to repeat their regular party trick this season of recovering from a deficit.
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Ademola Lookman punished the visitors for an untidy start before Edinson Cavani pulled them level with a poacher’s goal from close range.
Pogba — back in the starting line-up in recent weeks after a spell on the periphery of Solskjaer’s team — put United in front with a stunning left-foot curling effort from just outside the area in the second half.
The Premier League race is shaping up to be a thriller, with just eight points separating United from seventh-placed West Ham and a number of teams hitting their stride at the same time.
United knew they had to respond after City beat Aston Villa 2-0 earlier on Wednesday to leapfrog Leicester, who topped the table after their 2-0 win against Chelsea the previous evening.
But the defensive discipline shown by the Red Devils in their goalless draw against Liverpool on Sunday was absent in the early minutes and they paid the price.
United were punished in the fifth minute when Lookman sprang the offside trap, collecting a ball over the top from Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa.
The forward had time to pick his spot and gave Manchester United goalkeeper David de Gea no chance, striking the ball into the bottom corner with his right foot.
United’s defenders looked stunned but Aaron Wan-Bissaka had played him onside.
The away side settled and were level in the 21st minute through Cavani, moments after Bruno Fernandes had hit the inside of the post.
Fulham goalkeeper Alphonse Areola failed to hold a Fernandes cross from the left, spilling the ball into the path of the veteran Uruguayan, who made no mistake with a left-footed finish from close range.
Two minutes later, the increasingly influential Fernandes nearly put United ahead with another shot from distance but this time Areola made a fine save. United were now in charge and dominated the rest of the half without creating many clear-cut chances.
Harry Maguire and Anthony Martial might have done better with headers for the visitors while Ivan Cavaleiro wasted a rare chance for Fulham after a heavy touch inside the box.
Fulham made a bright start to the second period and Lookman had a chance to put them back in front but De Gea made a comfortable save.
United continued to enjoy the bulk of possession but again struggled to find openings against a solid Fulham backline.
But in the 65th minute Pogba produced an unstoppable drive past the diving Areola.
As the second half wore on, United appeared to be in control but De Gea was forced to make a smart save with his legs from Ruben Loftus-Cheek, who blasted another chance over the bar.
Defeat for Fulham leaves them third from bottom, four points behind Burnley.
SILVA GOAL STUNS FOOTBALL WORLD
Bernardo Silva fired Manchester City to the top of the Premier League — even if only for a couple hours — for the first time since August 2019 as his late, controversial strike inspired a 2-0 win against Aston Villa.
Pep Guardiola’s side found it hard work to pierce Villa’s stubborn defence at the rain-lashed Etihad Stadium.
Silva finally made the breakthrough with 11 minutes left with his first Premier League goal since July, with Villa boss Dean Smith sent to the stands after a furious complaint that Rodri should have been given offside in the build-up to the game’s opening goal.
Put under pressure by Rodri, Villa goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez cleared the ball up the field with a little over 10 minutes left and the scores level at 0-0.
With Rodri now behind the defensive line, Silva won the ball in the air; connecting with a looping header back towards the Villa goal intercepted by centre-back Tyrone Mings.
Rodri — coming back from an offside position — pounced on Mings’ first touch, before playing in Silva, who finished brilliantly to put City ahead.
Villa players protested, but VAR had no problem with the goal that had broken the deadlock, because according to the rule book, a new phase of play was initiated when Mings took his touch.
“That is a loophole that needs to be closed off quickly, because that cannot happen,” Michael Owen said post-game. “That is going to have, or could have, the most unbelievable consequences in this title race that we’ve seen in a long, long time.”
Ilkay Gundogan’s penalty ensured City made it nine successive wins in all competitions as they extended their unbeaten run to 16 matches.
The correct call or not, Smith was unwilling to accept what had happened post-game, telling reporters it was a “farcical decision”.
“I’ve not seen a goal like that given,” he said. “It needs to be looked at. I don’t think anyone in this stadium thought it was a goal.
“Are we just going to leave players behind the line then? He was 10 yards offside and come back and tackled our player, it’s a pathetic law and a pathetic decision.”
During the protest that led to his dismissal, Smith revealed he was shown a yellow card by referee Jon Moss for bizarrely asking fourth official David Coote “if he got juggling balls for Christmas”.
“It wasn’t swear words. He (Moss) came over and said he was interpreting the laws of the game. I said, ‘Well you should have done that earlier in the game’,” Smith said.
“I think I got treated rather unfairly. I’ve heard a lot of worse things said to Jonathan Moss before and he’s not dealt with it like that. It looks like he couldn’t wait to give me a red.”
Villa remains in 11th place but could look to climb as it makes up missed matches.