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Manchester United 6-2 Leeds United: McTominay nets brace in feast of attacking football

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United will sit third at Christmas.

Manchester United v Leeds United - Premier League Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images

Manchester United continued their unlikely charge up the Premier League table with a 6-2 thrashing of Leeds United at Old Trafford on Sunday. It was a feast of attacking football, in which United triumphed through a combination of smart attacking football and defensive blind luck. Despite some excellent offensive play, the scoreline rather flatters Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s side, who will sit third in the table at Christmas.

From the very first kick of the match, United’s passing was crisp and their movement fluent. After just a couple of minutes, Bruno Fernandes found a pocket of space between Leeds’ midfield and defence, and picked out Scott McTominay making a deep run to his right. The Scottish international struck the ball sweetly, straight into the bottom corner of Illan Meslier’s goal.

Within a minute, McTominay had a second. With both sides bunched up on the touchline for a throw-in, the midfielder made a deep run from the opposite side of the field, and was slipped into the penalty area by an Anthony Martial slide-rule pass. McTominay opened up his body, and tucked the ball inside Meslier’s far post for two.

Despite their brilliant start, United were given a couple of early reminders of Leeds’ attacking threat. In the eighth minute, Patrick Bamford slipped between a gaping hole in United’s defence, only to slot wide. A few minutes later, the former Chelsea man struck a brilliant volley past David de Gea, but it was correctly ruled out for offside.

Leeds’ defending left much to be desired, and after 20 minutes United had a third. It was the result of some fine play from Fernandes, who flicked the ball off to Fred before receiving it again on the right side of the Leeds box. His low drive left Meslier with little chance, and the Reds sailed into a comfortable advantage.

After the third, United took their foot off the pedal, and Leeds began to see more possession in their opponents’ half. The visitors continued to pose a danger, and Bamford should’ve done better when he wriggled free of Aaron Wan-Bissaka to head a floated cross over the crossbar.

When United added a fourth shortly before halftime, it was slightly against the run of play. It proved the simplest goal of the lot, coming as a Luke Shaw corner was flicked across the face of goal by Martial, and tucked in at the back post by Victor Lindelöf.

But United’s hopes of being home and hosed by the break were ruined minutes later, when Leeds pulled one back. Theirs too came from a corner, with Liam Cooper shrugging off pressure from Fred to flick a header inside De Gea’s far post. Against any other side, a 4-1 halftime lead would’ve looked comfortable, but against Marcelo Bielsa’s Leeds, it was a reminder that anything was still possible.

Predictably, the visitors came out after halftime with renewed vigour. They almost netted a second within five minutes of the restart, when Rodrigo floated a deep cross over the top of Wan-Bissaka for Raphinha at the back post. He struck a sweet volley from close-range, and only a smart reaction save from De Gea preserved United’s three-goal advantage.

Nerves were calmed five minutes past the hour, when United added a fifth. From out on the right, McTominay found Daniel James, who skipped past a defender and into the area, firing — somewhat fortuitously — through the legs of Meslier. It was his first league goal since August 2019.

Both sides had given up on defending, and instead appeared to be focusing on scoring as many as possible. Within a couple of minutes, the hosts netted a sixth. Martial was felled in the area by a clumsy Pascal Struijk, and Fernandes stepped up to convert the penalty with a hop, skip and a jump. It could’ve quickly been seven, but Martial was denied by Meslier from a good position.

Instead, it was Leeds that netted next, with Stuart Dallas curling a wonderful shot into the top corner of De Gea’s goal from outside the penalty area. It proved the final strike of a veritable goalfest, though only thanks to some last-ditch United defending, which prevented Leeds from scoring a couple more in the final few minutes.