The Red Devils were rampant. It feels like a throwback statement but then this was something of a throwback game as, for the first Premier League meeting between Manchester United and Leeds United since 2004 and the return of one of the great fixtures of British football, they rolled back the years.
Beyond being a gloriously bonkers match, what does it mean? United are back in the top four and with a game in hand which is almost as unpredictable as this encounter and while Leeds conceded half a dozen goals it could have been more. But then they could also have added to their total.
It was incredibly open as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer celebrated his two years as United manager so far with the most goals they have scored in the league since beating Arsenal 8-2 in 2011. And a handsome win over an old rival and a feted coach in Marcelo Bielsa.
Can United be title challengers? It seems unlikely but this is a crazy campaign and – just maybe – this formula of playing a bit faster and looser and with more attacking intent might just serve them well even against defensively stronger teams. There was a late concern when the outstanding Scott McTominay limped off injured.
Defences were, most certainly, not on top with five first-half goals. United struck twice in the first 170 seconds with both goals coming an unlikely source (or is that McSauce given his nickname?): McTominay. In fact the midfielder became the first player in Premier League history to score twice in the first three minutes of a game. Both were also exceptional finishes although, as with all their concessions, Leeds played a significant part in their own undoing.
For the first Rodrigo lost the ball and Bruno Fernandes was allowed to stride forward and square to McTominay who struck a superb first-time shot from the edge of the penalty area that swerved away from Illan Meslier and into corner of the net. For the second there was a throw-in with Anthony Martial running across the face of the area before slipping a pass to McTominay. With Mateusz Klich failing to track his run, McTominay deftly controlled it and beat Meslier with a low shot back across the goalkeeper.
Leeds will always threaten – and United will always give up chances – and Patrick Bamford should have halved the deficit when he was put clear by Rodrigo, catching out Victor Lindelof, only to side-foot wastefully wide. Soon after and Bamford did beat David De Gea but was rightly pulled up for offside.
Leeds were stung again. Once more Rodrigo lost the ball with a slack pass that was intercepted by Daniel James – making a surprise start against the club who tried to buy him before he moved to Old Trafford – and United broke with Fred picking out Martial. As the striker shaped to shoot Luke Ayling poked the ball away but only to Fernandes who drove another powerful first-time shot to beat Meslier.
Leeds continued to attack and Aaron Wan-Bissaka was beaten in the air by Bamford – much to De Gea’s anger – only to head over. From a corner De Gea then reacted superbly to thrust out a leg and turn away Raphinha’s shot before United hit back. This time Bamford lost the ball and a corner was eventually conceded. Shaw took it, it was flicked on by Martial – with neither Bamford nor Stuart Dallas reacting – and Lindelof stole in at the far post to side-foot home with Kalvin Phillips failing to track him. It was also yet another set-piece goal conceded by Leeds.
But then they claimed one of their own and it was United who were culpable as Raphinha’s corner was met by Liam Cooper who steered his header goalwards. De Gea got hand to it but could not keep it out although the bigger issue – literally – for Man United was why a 6ft 2in centre-half was being marked by the 5ft 7in midfielder Fred?
Bielsa made changes at half-time but was soon shown his frustration as Dallas, pushed into midfield, lost possession and inside the Leeds area Martial cut inside only to curl his shot narrowly wide. At the other end De Gea produced a stunning save to deny Raphinha as he volleyed Rodrigo’s cross with the ball spinning up and striking the base of the post before being put behind for a corner.
It continued at a relentless end-to-end pace with Martial’s close-range shot deflected into the side-netting before De Gea made another smart save, again from Raphinha, turning his low drive away for a corner.
Just as Leeds pushed it would be United who struck again as McTominay broke forward, held off Rodrigo and picked out James whose first touch him past Ayling and in on goal before he struck a shot between Meslier’s legs and into the net. It was the winger’s first league goal since August 2019.
United claimed another and it came from the penalty spot after Martial was caught by substitute Pascal Struijk as he lifted the ball over his leg. Fernandes took it and stroked the ball past Meslier.
It was Fernandes last act. He and Rashford were taken off, job done, but United looked for more goals and Martial was only denied by Meslier with an outstretched leg from McTominay’s pass. Neither do this Leeds side give up though and when Raphinha cushioned the ball into Dallas’ path he took a touch and bent a shot from 25 yards around De Gea and high into the goal.
Leeds continued to attack and Harry Maguire blocked a goal-bound shot from Jack Harrison before Ayling headed over from a corner and United countered with Meslier repelling an effort by substitute Edinson Cavani and also James’s follow-up. Soon after he beat out an angled effort by substitute Alex Telles and excelled in denying Fred.
There was a terrible miss by Harrison after Raphinha’s cross ran all the way through to him at the far post and he side-footed back across goal and wide. There were eight goals. There could have been a lot more.