For a while, Fulham looked like they might set avenge that FA Cup implosion at Old Trafford in March. Marco Silva insisted that neither he or Aleksandar Mitrovic had a point to prove after the meltdowns that saw the Whites surrender a glorious opportunity to reach the last four of the world’s oldest cup competition – focusing on setting a new club record top flight points tally. The Cottagers attacked from the outset, rewarded by Kenny Tete’s simple header from a Willian corner, but when Mitrovic saw a spot-kick saved by David de Gea, it felt pivotal.

Mitrovic, banned for eight games for his confrontation with Chris Kavanagh, struck his penalty hard and low towards the corner but de Gea, the scourge of Roy Hodgson’s side in Hamburg thirteen years ago, palmed it away peerlessly. The Stretford End roared their approval. The Serbian had already wasted a great chance from close range after Issa Diop had headed Willian’s ball back across goal – and Fulham paid for his prolificacy after Tom Cairney had been tripped by Casemiro.

The hosts were galvanised by de Gea’s first penalty save at Old Trafford in nine years and threatened twice through teenager Alejandro Garnacho, who had broken Fulham hearts in stoppage time at Craven Cottage before Christmas. The lively winger rattled the crossbar after latching onto a pass from Tyrell Malacia before a purposeful run from Bruno Fernandes created the equaliser. He surged away from Sasa Lukic before slipping in Fred. Before the Brazilian could pull the trigger, Tete tackled him but with the ball broke kindly for Jadon Sancho to slot home.

The leveller altered the complexion of the contest and Silva’s side were relieved to hear the half-time whistle after surviving a late onslaught that saw Rashford inexplicably fail to convert a glorious chance after latching onto a through ball. Sancho, Fernandes and Dalot all also threatened – and there was little surprise when Erik ten Haag’s went ahead ten minutes into the second half. Fred made the goal with a brilliant bit of vision that put Fernandes through on goal, with the Portuguese midfielder lifting a lovely finish over Leno.

Fulham almost replied immediately with Mitrovic heading agonisingly wide from Harry Wilson’s corner before Cairney was denied a leveller by an alert bit of covering from substitute Scott McTominay after lovely hold-up play from Mitrovic. The Fulham skipper then saw a shot tipped away by de Gea after bright play from Manor Solomon. The Israeli tested the United goalkeeper’s reflexes and Fulham pushed to the end but couldn’t conjure up another goal.

That meant that the hosts finished third with 75 points – and got the preparation of a serious examination ahead of the FA Cup final against Manchester City. Silva has already talked about the importance of a busy summer – but both he and his players should be allowed to reflect on a wonderful return to the Premier League.

MANCHESTER UNITED (4-2-3-1): de Gea; Dalot, Malacia, Maguire, Lindelof; Fred (Eriksen 66), Caemiro (McTominay 67); Garnacho (Martial 67), Sancho, Fernandes (Pellestri 84); Rashford (Weghorst 77). Subs (not used): Butland, Wan-Bissaka, Shaw, Varane.

BOOKED: McTominay.

GOAL: Sancho (39), Fernandes (55).

FULHAM (4-2-3-1): Leno; Tete, A. Robinson, Adarabioyo, Diop; Palhinha, Lukic (Reed 66); Wilson (Solomon 66), Willian, Cairney (James 80); Mitrovic (Vincius 80). Subs (not used): Rodak, Cedric Soares, Reed, Dibley-Dias, Kebano, Solomon, Decordova-Reid, James, Vinicius.

BOOKED: Palhinha, Mitrovic.

GOAL: Tete (19).

REFEREE: Robert Jones (Merseyside).