Manchester United’s emphatic 5-1 win over Leeds United sets the mood for a season some pundits are tipping for silverware success.
How Did Manchester United Set Up?
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer selected what some fans may consider a conservative line-up. The deployment of an advanced Paul Pogba and the familiar faces of Scott McTominay and Pastor Fred, where not what many had hoped for with, Anthony Martial and a certain summer signing on the bench.
There were small changes to the system though as the double pivot looked axed for a more dynamic and fluid midfield, maybe a peek at things to come.
3 words to describe the game = INTENSITY, PRESSURE, ENCOURAGING.
The Team:Embed from Getty Images
David De Gea (GK), Aaron Wan-Bissaka (RB), Victor Lindelof (CB), Harry Maguire (CB), Luke Shaw (LB), Fred (CM), Scott McTominay (CM), Bruno Fernandes (AM), Daniel James (RW), Paul Pogba (LW), Mason Greenwood (ST)
Manchester United vs Leeds United: How It Went Down
It was evident that the pulses of the players were high, the pre-match announcement of Raphael Varane and a home game with a full stadium set the tone for a high-energy spectacle that did not disappoint a hungry crowd.
United pressed very high and stifled the opposition, similar to a big cat mauling its prey. Many 1,2 passing lots of small risks mixed with, fluid front 3 movement saw Leeds struggle to contain the players in red and it was making fans salivate.
Pogba missed an opportunity early on that many fans will agree was squandered, he moved into a good position and received the ball to the left edge of the box, but proceeded to combine a step-over and a shot with his weaker left foot….. naturally, this fell just wide of the post and left him looking slightly disappointed in himself and fans may argue, on the opening day of a new season it should be Execution > Flamboyance. Worry not though, it was the playful mood Pogba was in that helped United win this game, for later he would assist like it was going out of fashion.
The first 20 minutes of the match were fairly equal in terms of opportunities, Leeds carved themselves a few chances down United’s open left defence, Shaw’s position could be questioned in both situations, should he be as far forward as he is? Nothing came to fruition and United pressed on with an opening goal on the 30th minute.Embed from Getty Images
GOAL 1 (30th Minute) – After a quick drilled pass from McTominay into Pogba in the middle of the field, Pogba found Bruno’s arching central run, with a 1 touch lofted through ball. A delicate touch with the right foot and a powerful sweep with the left saw the ball ricochet through Meslier’s legs and into the net at the East Stand for the 1st time this season. The first half ends 1-0 and United need to build on this in the 2nd half.
GOAL 2 ( 48th Minute) – The 2nd half starts in the worst way; good mid-field build up play on the left from Leeds led to an open ball played across the end 3rd. The oncoming run of Luke Ayling saw a bullet shot, drill high past De Gee’s right glove and into the net. A fantastic goal from the Leeds right back but disappointing from United to led their lead slip with some poor positional play, Shaw, Pogba and Fred could all have been in better positions to falter the shot.
One might assume United’s reputation of clawing their way back into a game during the latter stages might be tested here but Leeds had only gone and poked the bear! The next 20 minutes saw United bang 4 Goals past the spectating Meslier. A dominant midfield display from a smiling Paul Pogba and the little magic of Bruno Fernandes was enough to send the returning fans into a frenzy.
GOAL 3 (52nd Minute) – A 40 yard low and bending through ball from Pogba met the precise feet of Mason Greenwood to slot home United’s 2nd only moments later, a great way to quell the noisy Leeds fans.Embed from Getty Images
Goal 4 (54th Minute) – Bruno adds his 2nd with an unreal approach to “In the box play” – He toys with the Leeds defenders and sends them all sliding with a fake shot, pulling the ball to a standstill, looks up and gently slots the ball past the 4 of them only to appear cleared off the line by Ayling. A few tentative seconds pass and the Referee blows to the centre circle, VAR shows it’s a goal!
GOAL 5 (60th Minute) – Bruno completes a hat-trick on a day where he looked the cream of the crop. A long punt from Lindelof at the back to Bruno saw him touch the ball down over his shoulder and harrow home the ball with a sweet volley!
GOAL 6 (68th Minute) – Fred plays a 1-2 with Pogba, makes an unchallenged advancing run through the heart of the midfield, splits the defenders and slots home what we be the final goal of the day.Embed from Getty Images
A few changes were made towards the last 20 minutes, we saw the introduction of Matic for the energetic McTominay, this added some maturity to the team and provided a calming presence a game that was full of excitement. James and Pogba came off for Martial and the home debut of new £73 Million signing Jadon Sancho. The game slowed drastically, was much more open and without Pogba dictating play seemed to draw out for some easy watching.
Final Score: 5-1
GOALS = Fernandes (x3), Greenwood (x1), Fred (x1) – Ayling (x1)
ASSISTS = Pogba (x4), Lindelof (x1)
Things to note
The midfield looks much better, even with the same players. Driving runs from central midfielders and dummy runs from the advanced players were pulling defenders around to aid the United attack. Moving players and creating space in the centre of the pitch was clearly in Ole’s game plan. It was welcoming to see a lot of off the ball movement when last year we looked static. Daniel James and Greenwood did this very well in the first half of the game. Could you question something being in the back of James mind with all the history of that failed Leeds move?Embed from Getty Images
Against bigger and tougher centre backs, Cavani should be preferred, though a clinical finisher and a player still crafting their trade, Greenwood’s lack of experience and slight frame was evident when his back was towards the goal.
Zonal marking has returned for the United defence, has the new set-piece nabbed from Chelsea improved anything yet? We didn’t seem to look any better on defending corners than last year and there were a few, “on the edge of your seat” moments at these times. I’m sure we’ll see more of the 6yrd box, rushing line over the course of the season.
With 7 goal involvements between them in 68 minutes, Bruno and Pogba oozed class, and all that can be, should be done to keep Paul from leaving on a free transfer in 2022, will a trophy be enough to keep him?
Man of the Match – Bruno Fernandes
Nothing can really be said to give them man the credits he deserves. Enigmatic? Incomprehensible? How he has such an impact on matches is beyond, analysts can and will break down his performance but like many other passionate fans, I prefer to just enjoy the magic. 3 shots on target and 3 goals.
It’s ridiculously early days to be predicting end-of-season outcomes however, Manchester United have announced they are here to challenge! If they can continue the intensity and desire shown in this game through the majority of the season, there’s nothing to say that can’t do exactly that. The last time Manchester United started a season with an opening day so well was in 2007, and we all know what happened that year.