A Bruno Fernandes hat trick helped Manchester United ease to a 5-1 victory at home to bitter rivals Leeds United.
A tense first half was torn open by a 20-minute spell of ruthless finishing, helped by a creative masterclass by United’s maverick wide man Paul Pogba.
Fernandes opened the scoring in the first half before Luke Ayling fired Leeds level just after the break with a stunning effort.
Mason Greenwood immediately restored the lead before Fernandes added a quickfire second.
Fernandes then completed his hat trick on the hour mark before Fred swept home a tidy finish to complete the rout.
Story of the Match
The pre-match excitement of the return of fans was somehow overshadowed by the unorthodox announcement of new arrival Raphael Varane, as he paraded around the Old Trafford pitch shirt-in-hand.
The roaring atmosphere at kick-off carried onto the pitch as United started the game in an unfamiliarly quick fashion, pinning Leeds in their own half.
Just two minutes in, star man Bruno Fernandes combined with workhorses Dan James and Scott McTominay in a neat triangle on the edge of the box before playing the latter in on goal down the right. McTominay took his effort well but saw his effort denied by a strong sliding challenge.
Minutes later, United came forward again with a deft flick in the centre of the pitch releasing McTominay to burst forward and find Mason Greenwood with his back to goal around 30-yards out. The youngster spun well, darted towards goal grifting slightly to the left before firing a fairly tame shot down low, forcing Illan Meslier into a save down to his left.
As the minutes ticked into double digits, the visitors almost became architects of their own downfall as a pass back from Luke Ayling left Pascal Stuijk running towards his own goal, chasing the ball under pressure from Greenwood. The striker then dangled a leg to block his pass, inadvertently looping the ball up and over Meslier, who recovered just enough to tip the ball wide.
The pressure continued minutes later as the ball broke kindly to Greenwood through the middle who drove forward 20 yards before feeding Paul Pogba down the left. Faced with the onrushing Meslier, Pogba produced a glorious step-over on the run before firing with his weaker left foot, just wide of the near post.
Despite this, Leeds ensured they broke with regularity, stamping their influence on the game. One such break came as Fred found himself 20 yards out of position, allowing Klich a free run through the middle. As he reached the edge of the box, he cut inside onto his right foot before curling a low effort towards the far corner, forcing a trademark outstretching save from David De Gea.
Following more pressure from the hosts, they won the ball back on the halfway line from a poor goal kick from Meslier. Aaron Wan-Bissaka brought the ball forward before finding Pogba centrally in the gap behind the Leeds midfield. Pogba then chipped a ball through to Fernandes on the run, whose first touch took him away from goal before striking a left-footed effort which fumbled underneath Meslier and into the net to break the deadlock, met by an eruption of noise from the capacity crowd.
Within a minute, United broke forward again as Pogba slipped Luke Shaw in behind down the left flank. With no one to aim at inside the box, Shaw travelled inwards with impressive speed and power. As he reached the corner of the box, he rifled a shot towards goal which flashed inches wide of the near post, thrashing the net on its way past.
The goal had clearly sparked United into a newfound rhythm as they broke again down the left. Shaw again drove inside, looking to feed Fernandes in behind unsuccessfully before picking the loose ball back up. He then found James in space on the right who took a touch before sending his effort narrowly wide of the near post, leaving Meslier stranded on his goalline.
As the half drew to a close, the pace of the game naturally slowed as the initial adrenaline visibly faded. The last chance of the half fell, as it had all half, to the hosts who again rushed forward with Greenwood. He then pulled it back to Pogba on the edge of the box, who in turn found James on the left of the box. The Welshman looked inside, feigning to shoot twice before firing an effort devoid of substance, trickling harmlessly towards Meslier.
The second half proceeded a Leeds change, with Rodrigo coming off in place for new arrival Junior Firpo for his debut, allowing Stuart Dallas to move back into his favoured midfield role.
After a quiet opening few minutes, the half was thrown open by a moment of brilliance. A well-worked Leeds throw-in found Dallas in the middle, who turned and found Ayling on the run. The full-back then thumped a first-time effort from 25 yards which flew past De Gea and into the top left corner like a bullet.
However, the Leeds celebrations were cut short just two minutes later as Pogba picked the ball up deep in his own half before spraying an inch-perfect pass out left to Greenwood. The pace of the youngster took him past Struijk and into the box before firing a low effort which beat Meslier and clattered off the far post, nestling into the back of the net.
Pogba’s dominance on the game was set in stone just a minute later when another ball from deep found Fernandes on the right-hand side of the box. Fernandes then checked back inside, leaving his marker and the goalkeeper on the floor before firing a low effort goalward. Initial impressions suggested Ayling had recovered remarkably to block off of the line, however, after a consultation with his watch, Paul Tierney pointed to the centre circle, Fernandes had his second and United their third.
The rout continued on the hour mark, this time the pass from deep came from Victor Lindelof, who held onto the ball before sending a looping ball over the defence and perfectly into the path of Fernandes, who had made a darting run in behind the defender. Without even touching the ball, Fernandes watched it float over his shoulder, allowing it to bounce once before rifling his effort into the roof of the net, leaving Meslier with no chance. The goal sealed an emphatic hat trick for the Portuguese magician, his first for the club.
In the five minutes that followed, the United crowd were treated to the sight of Jadon Sancho warming up, a move which brought a wave of cheers from the home fans. On top of that, they were treated to yet another goal, and another Pogba assist, his fourth of the game. Another quick break forward from Greenwood allowed him to sweep the ball out wide to Pogba who was running the left channel. He then sent the ball first time to the edge of the box with his left foot which was met first time by Fred, darting forward from midfield. The Brazilian, not known for his finishing ability, took his effort in stride and placed it calmly into the far corner with the class and composure of a cultured striker. United were well on their way to repeating the six-goal feat they managed against Leeds at Old Trafford last season.
With fifteen minutes remaining, Sancho was introduced to the Old Trafford faithful to a rapturous reception, alongside Anthony Martial with Dan James and Paul Pogba making way.
United began to coast from there on in, passing the ball around the defence to a well earned round of “Ole’s” from the crowd.
The victory sees United take the top spot in the meantime, while the introduction of Sancho and Varane only strengthen the positivity around the ground.
Man of the Match – Paul Pogba
Everything that makes Pogba such a majestic player was on show today. Four assists speak for themselves, but his ability to control the game from his wide-left position deserves real recognition. His ability to combine intricate playmaking with contributions from deep left him effectively unplayable. Had his creative effort resulted in a goal at 0-0, this would have been one of, if not the best individual performance this legendary stadium had ever seen.