After what has felt like forever, Old Trafford was once again packed to the brim on Saturday afternoon. Ready for the occasion, Ole Gunnar Solskjær‘s Manchester United threw the fans a welcome back party.
The atmosphere inside of the Theater of Dreams was once again electric. Every dribble, shot and tackle was emphasized a little extra due to rivals Leeds United being in town. It felt almost like no matter what happens on the pitch, the fans would not let the Reds lose.
The potential of a Jadon Sancho debut had a positive anxiousness ringing through the stands. And the surprise emergence of Raphaël Varane from the depths of the stadium sent every Red in the stadium into an endless euphoria. That was one way of getting everyone up for it more than they already were.
And as the fans got reacclimated, United’s intentions from the get go were crystal clear: Make a statement. And that they did. With a squad that is yet quite some way from full strength, the Reds put on the style and put Marcelo Bielsa‘s side to the sword 5-1. There were standout performances aplenty, but as you may expect, it was Bruno Fernandes who stole the show — again. Aided by the perfect co-star performance from Paul Pogba, the Portuguese midfielder bagged his first hat-trick in United colors to send a loud statement of intent to the rest of the league.Embed from Getty Images
Story of the game
It all started off with a slight hint of caution. United perhaps not fit as Solskjær would like kept their hand on the pulse and assessed the Leeds approach before imposing themselves on the game. The first bright moment came inside of the first 30 minutes when Mason Greenwood showed off with a clever nutmeg on the halfway line before sliding Pogba through, only for the Frenchman to miss narrowly. But that got the fans going. The opener was coming.
Moments later, it was the man that you would expect breaking the deadlock. This time, Pogba turned provider as he lifted a glorious no look ball into the path of Fernandes who was running in behind. United’s No. 18 did extremely well to control with his right before slotting past Illan Meslier with his left to send Old Trafford into a frenzy.
It’s still safe to say that we had lift off in the first half. But what happened after the break blew the roof completely off.
A moment of concern occurred just three minutes after the interval as Luke Ayling latched onto a loose ball in midfield before rifling a thunderous effort right into David de Gea‘s top corner. It was a wonder strike that demanded hats to be taken off. The once again bouncing away end erupted. But their joy was short-lived.
The next ten minutes once again belonged to Pogba. United’s No.6 was the director of what eventually turned out to be an euphoric movie. First, the Frenchman played a marvelous ball in behind, inviting Greenwood into a foot race with Ayling. Leaving the Leeds full back in the dust, Greenwood bursted into the box before drilling a low left footed strike past Meslier in front of the Stratford End. His performance deserved that goal and the sensational 19-year-old took it expertly.Embed from Getty Images
And that was only the beginning of the fiesta. Two minutes later, Pogba once again found himself in the danger area and he could simply do no wrong. He slipped Bruno in behind once again and after faking a shot, the United talisman did the rest to put the Reds up two. At that point, the match ball must have felt that Bruno might be taking it home. It was just that type of a day.
Right on the hour, the inevitable became reality. A wonderful trademark Victor Lindelof ball — bypassing the midfield — found another terrific run of Fernandes in behind the visitors back line. The red hot midfielder went on to catch it flawlessly on the bounce, rifling it into the roof of the net. Hat-trick hero. His first in as a Red. In front of the Stratford End. Don’t let anyone tell you that football is not poetic.
United were in dreamland. Leeds were absolutely blown away. But every good party has a cake with a cherry on top at the end. And the only way this performance could get any better from a United standpoint was if Fred got involved. And he did. The energetic Brazilian rounded off the scoring in the 68th minute after being found by a glorious Pogba cutback from the left wing. Greenwood was once again instrumental in the build up.
A five star performance. The perfect start that finally slayed the demons of last years losing start against Crystal Palace. A terrific display by Solskjær’s men from top to bottom and with plenty of reinforcements still to come.
Sancho, Rashford, Varane and Cavani still yet to comeEmbed from Getty Images
Solskjær will undoubtedly be delighted with the result and the performance. Most of the players on the pitch on Saturday had barely one pre-season game under their belts. And the battering of rivals Leeds will surely taste even better considering the sheer caliber of the reinforcements that are still yet to come.
Jadon Sancho got a 15-minute cameo debut. The ovation the Englishman got was rousing. Everything about the winger screams excitement. Varane didn’t even kick a ball and we already got a taste of what his debut will feel like. And if that wasn’t enough, a fresh Marcus Rashford will return in a couple of months. Not to mention the imminent training introduction of Edinson Cavani.
For the first time in a while, there is a real world class flavor in a United squad. Solskjær has patiently put together a very good team — despite many still crying out for a defensive midfielder. Of course, beating Leeds has to be taken with a pinch of salt. It was only the first game, too. Two consecutive away games now await. But it sure does feel like this team may just be up to something special this season.