United up to third with a stunning win over Leeds
Manchester United are up to third in the Premier League table - five points off the top and with a game in hand - after a remarkable 6-2 victory over historic rivals Leeds United at Old Trafford.
This ‘War of the Roses’ fixture had not been played in the top flight since 2004 and, with both teams preferring to attack, it was always felt that goals would be scored – yet nobody expected this stunning and unpredictable encounter.
Scott McTominay scored twice inside three minutes with a couple of brilliant finishes, before Bruno Fernandes and Victor Lindelof got in on the act to build a 4-0 lead by the 37th minute. Liam Cooper pulled a goal back for Marcelo Bielsa’s men to conclude an all-action first half in Manchester.
Daniel James and Fernandes (penalty) made it 6-1 after the break, before Stuart Dallas restored a little pride for Marcelo Bielsa's high-pressing team with a brilliant long-range finish, capping an exciting affair at the Theatre of Dreams.
United's next Premier League match is against second-placed Leicester City on Boxing Day and a victory at the King Power Stadium would lift Solskjaer's side up to second. Before then, however, is the Carabao Cup quarter-final at Everton on Wednesday evening.
ALL-ACTION FIRST HALF
United have been guilty of starting slowly this season, but the Reds were out of the blocks like Usain Bolt on Sunday and were ahead after two minutes, thanks to an unerring finish from McTominay, whose powerful strike from a Fernandes pass was something to behold.
Seconds later, the Scotland international channeled his early adrenaline by surging up the pitch to provide an overlapping run for Anthony Martial and, after an intelligent step-over to control the Frenchman’s pass, he hit a firm finish into the far corner. That made McTominay the first Premier League player ever to score twice in the opening three minutes of a game and, incidentally, the first player to score twice in this fixture in the league since Ole Gunnar Solskjaer bagged a brace at Elland Road in 2002.
Those early goals required a response from Leeds and Bielsa’s side missed an excellent opportunity when Patrick Bamford opened up his body to shoot wide on seven minutes. The striker successfully found the net 12 minutes later, but the linesman correctly ruled it out for offside.
Before they knew it, the visitors were 3-0 down following a lightning-fast counter from United that began with former Leeds transfer target James intercepting possession near the halfway line. His pass to Fernandes led to Fred dribbling up the pitch to find Martial and, when presented with a loose ball, Bruno struck a low shot past the helpless Leeds goalkeeper Illan Meslier.
United were running riot by this point and made it 4-0 with 37 minutes on the clock: Luke Shaw’s corner was flicked on by Martial and Lindelof was on hand at the back post to finish with ease. The Swedish international admitted in the official programme that he is playing through the pain of a back injury and his commitment to the cause deserves plenty of praise.
Leeds were in dangerous territory on a weekend when a 7-0 win was registered, but they managed to pull a goal back before the break, courtesy of Cooper’s towering header from Raphinha’s in-swinging corner, which wrapped up a sensational first half.
GOALS GALORE AT OLD TRAFFORD
With Leeds needing to push men forward, attack was United’s best form of defence in the second half and a fifth goal was almost scored upon the restart, as Martial found space inside the penalty area and slipped a right-footed shot just wide of the post from close range.
When compared to the first half, the action at the start of the second was a little more conservative - but there were still plenty of chances for both teams and David De Gea was called into action in the 51st minute, producing a stunning save to parry Raphinha’s volley onto the post.
Any hopes of a Leeds comeback were seemingly extinguished after the hour-mark and McTominay was at the heart of the action again, twice beating his marker to find James, who controlled the ball with his right foot and finished with his left to register his first Premier League goal of the season.
Fernandes made it 6-1 with a nerveless penalty into the bottom-right corner after 70 minutes, after a foul on Martial, but this absurd match wasn’t finished there: moments later, Leeds went up the other end and scored a brilliant riposte via a Dallas shot that soared into the top corner.
United pressed for a seventh goal with substitutes Alex Telles, Donny van de Beek and Edinson Cavani all adding urgency to the play, while Jack Harrison missed a sitter for Leeds, but, in the end, supporters had to be content with a 6-2 success. Although a late injury for McTominay took a little gloss of the result, this was still an excellent victory.
United: De Gea; Wan-Bissaka, Lindelof, Maguire (c), Shaw (Telles 60); McTominay, Fred; James, Fernandes (van de Beek 71), Rashford (Cavani 71); Martial.
Subs not used: Henderson, Bailly, Mata, Matic, Pogba, Greenwood.
Goals: McTominay 2,3 Fernandes 20,70 (pen) Lindelof 37, James 66
Leeds: Meslier; Dallas, Ayling, Cooper (Davis 72), Alioski; Phillips (Strujik 46), Raphinha, Klich (Shackleton 46), Harrison; Rodrigo, Bamford.
Subs not used: Casilla, Poveda-Ocampo, Casey, Helder Costa, Hernandez, Roberts.
Goals: Cooper 41, Dallas 73
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer: “The effort they put in today, the boys, all the running they had to do, the closing down, and the moving to get away from our markers, with our fans in the stadium, it would have been even easier for them. We found a way of getting them going, Just imagine if that had 75,000 people here, it would have gone down in history as one of the better Man United performances against Leeds here at home.”
Scott McTominay: “For us, it was a good game. For me, I’m used to playing high-energy, high-tempo football matches and obviously for us, as a team, we played really well today. I thought it was well deserved, the six goals. I think everyone knows Leeds as a team, they’re an amazing team with an amazing coach, you know. I feel like the detail, on and off the ball, is high, and we know it as well. We’ve done a lot of video analysis on them as well so, for me, the manager got us to do a job today and it paid off when we got six goals.”
Victor Lindelof: “It gives you confidence. We're on a good run now, we've been performing good on the pitch, so hopefully we can just keep on going because we know, in this period, there's a lot of games. We have to recover well and be ready because some important games are coming up.”
Daniel James: “It’s always nice to score the first goal but, from then, we’ve got to go on and keep doing what we’ve been doing in training all week. We got that comfortable lead at half-time – we conceded but still had that comfortable lead. That second half was about doing exactly the same. We knew it was going to be a tough game and we did very well today.”
Marcelo Bielsa: “In the first half we had similar chances to the ones they had but we weren't able to score. Our attacks came from combination play and their attacks came from the fact we were losing the ball in attacking positions, and they would transition from defence to attack. Our return was slower than their transition.”
MAN OF THE MATCH
In recognition of his stellar display, McTominay received 85 per cent of votes that were cast in our Man-of-the-Match poll – which is one of the biggest margins we have ever seen.
Bruno Fernandes, our other two-goal hero, finished second in the poll with 10 per cent of the result and the voting was spread evenly thereafter, with six other players all earning one per cent each (David De Gea, Victor Lindelof, Fred, James, Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial).