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Tuesday, September 28, 2021

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United 5-1 Leeds: Fernandes nets hat-trick as Reds start season in style

Manchester United made a dream start to the new Premier League season, defeating Leeds United 5-1 in Saturday’s curtain-raiser at Old Trafford. A hat-trick from Bruno Fernandes was supplemented by goals from Mason Greenwood and Fred, as the Reds wiped the floor with their old northern rivals.

The game got off to a pulsating, end-to-end start, as might be expected when Marcelo Bielsa brings a team to town. But for all their industry, Leeds looked a little rough around the edges, and a dodgy backpass from star man Raphinha almost gifted Greenwood the opening goal inside a quarter-hour.

Within a couple of minutes, United went close again, with Greenwood dropping deep to buy space for the onrushing Paul Pogba. The Frenchman shuffled free of the visitors’ defence, and tried to stab the ball over the top of goalkeeper Illan Meslier, but — to the surprise of just about everyone in the ground — could only hit the side-netting.

Despite their notorious willingness to throw men forward, Leeds looked a little blunt in attack, and only once managed to test David de Gea before halftime. Mateusz Klich worked the ball onto his right foot, and called the Spaniard into a sprawling save with a long-range shot curled towards the bottom corner.

United finally took a deserved lead just past the half-hour. A Meslier goal-kick was intercepted, and the speed and precision with which United moved the ball forward caught Leeds all out of position. Scott McTominay laid the ball off to Pogba, whose crisp, first-time chip found Fernandes rushing between the visitors’ centre-halves. He stuck the ball through Meslier’s legs, and scored the first goal of United’s campaign.

Leeds were left hanging on for the remainder of the first half, with Luke Shaw looking particularly dangerous. He lashed a shot into the side-netting from the left side of the box, minutes before offloading to Dan James, who could do no better out on the right. Yet Solskjær would have been delighted with United’s first half showing, which bore no traces of a pre-season hangover.

If the first half was largely a story of missed chances, the first few minutes of the second half brought a flurry of goals. The first was a brilliant Leeds equaliser, coming as defender Luke Ayling found some space 25 yards out, and smashed an unstoppable shot straight into the top corner of de Gea’s goal.

But the visitors’ joy was short-lived, and within moments, United’s advantage was restored. Pogba was again at the heart of things, playing a wonderful, curling 40 yard pass in behind defender Pascal Struijk. Greenwood picked it up, and under pressure from the Dutch defender, slid a low shot inside Meslier’s far post for 2-1.

By the hour mark, Bruno Fernandes had completed his hat-trick, netting goals two and three in the space of seven minutes. If the first had an element of fortune, mere millimetres from behind hacked off the line by Ayling, the second was nothing but class. Victor Lindelöf played a fine pass in behind the Leeds defence, which Fernandes caught on the half-volley, rifling past Meslier for 4-1.

There were still over 20 minutes left when Fred added United’s fifth. Greenwood sent Pogba scampering down the left, whose low cross was turned in by the Brazilian midfielder from the edge of the area. With the damage done, Solskjær rung the changes, introducing Anthony Martial and debutant Jadon Sancho for James and the outstanding Pogba, who finished the day with a remarkable four assists.

Despite the late additions, United didn’t manage to add a sixth — not that the Old Trafford faithful would have been too upset. It was a terrific start to the new season, and one that promises much.

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