Leeds United 2, Manchester United 4
Manchester United held off a Leeds United comeback to emerge winners at their first game in front of fans at Elland Road for over 18 years.
Goals by Harry Maguire and Bruno Fernandes had given Manchester United an early lead at a rainswept Elland Road before Rodrigo and Raphinha levelled the game with a brace of goals within a minute.
But there was further drama to come as Reds subs Fred and Anthony Elanga came on to score the goals that saw off Marcelo Bielsa’s Premier League strugglers.
United’s fourth goal on the day set a league record of nine goals against the Lilywhites in a single league campaign.Embed from Getty Images
The game was certainly thunderous and the wind and rain lended both atmosphere and nostalgia as goals rained in, mud was everywhere, missiles flew in, and Scott McTominay was lucky to escape a second booking while a pair of inspired substitutes ended up winning the game which gave them a four point cushion to West Ham and Arsenal in fifth and sixth.
United captain Harry Maguire was glad to have grabbed United’s first set piece goal since April, admitting it was starting to weigh down on them.
He said: “We had to start the second half better, we had to fight back and stick together.
“We had to score more goals in the second half and we did that.
“I felt embarrassed every time we saw the [set piece] stat. As a team we’ve been nowhere good enough at those – if we scored more from set plays we’d be higher in the table.
“Conditions in the second half were not good.
“We tried to play like we did in the first half but we got caught too much, we had to battle and we came out on top.”
United boss Ralf Rangnick was also glad to have gotten the set piece stigma resolved, but also said it was important to experience the intensity of the game at Elland Road and win.
He said: “It was a fantastic game to watch if you were not a manager of either team.
“We could have been 3 or 4-0 up but within two minutes it changed.
“It was not easy – they were a bit lucky and it was 2-2.
“The five minutes after that were very intense but our team showed maturity.
“Most importantly, we showed a reaction in the last 20 minutes and we deserved to win.
“It was important not only for the three points but also for the experience of the team.
“It’s easy to say the substitutes were important. Paul [Pogba] was tired after his injury break and Fred and Elanga were energetic players.
He added: “It’s been nine months since we scored from a set piece, a great delivery and free header.
“We have to win most of the games we have to play in the future to finish fourth.
“We can’t afford to drop points, not least when we are winning.”
Rangnick made three changes to the side that beat Brighton on Tuesday.
There was an element of conservatism in both sides as they faced each other in front of a crowd at Elland Road for the first time in 18 years.
Jesse Lingard made his first Premier League start in two years and he was joined in the starting lineup by Paul Pogba and Aaron Wan-Bissaka.
Fred, Anthony Elanga, and Diogo Dalot dropped to the bench.
Raphinha was left on the bench after Leeds boss Marcelo Bielsa hauled him off at half time at the 3-0 defeat at Everton and he was replaced in the side by Adam Forshaw – the only change by the Chilean who was still missing key players including Patrick Bamford and Kalvin Phillips.
Jack Harrison went close in the early stages but the conditions were treacherous and Scott McTominay collided with Robin Koch with the Leeds man needing running repairs to a cut on his head.
Ronaldo was denied by Ilan Meslier from just 2 yards out after Pogba went past Forshaw and squared the ball for the United frontman who was just in front of it midway through the first half.
Koch couldn’t continue and had to be replaced by Junior Firpo after 31 minutes which made a mockery of the concussion protocol which presumably should have been applied on the initial injury.
Harry Maguire flicked home a curling Luke Shaw corner after 34 minutes from 6 yards out after outmuscling Diego Llorente – it was only his second goal of the season and his first in the Premier League.
It also put to bed the embarrassing statistic that United hadn’t scored from a Premier League corner since April after 138 failed attempts.
Sancho blazed over after a deflected pass found him but while Leeds were in disarray in the teeming rain with Lorente conceding another corner when intercepting a ball that Meslier could have collected.
And in the fifth minute of first half added time Victor Lindelof strode into midfield, exchanging passes with Sancho down the right before the England man lifted the ball over the waterlogged box to Bruno Fernandes who nodded past Meslier from 6 yards to silence the home crowd after he became the first Reds player to score four league goals against Leeds United in a single season.
Leeds United score twice to draw level before Manchester United secure victory at a stormy Elland Road
Joe Gelhardt and Raphina came on for Harrison and Llorente at the start of the second half – a tactical switch that saw Leeds pile forward.
Gelhardt immediately set up Mateusz Klich for a shot that was deflected wide by Shaw.
The playing surface was by now slow and waterlogged, Daniel James tried to set up Gelhardt but the pass was wayward, and Klich also shot wide as Leeds tried to create more chances.
Meslier saved from Ronaldo who was miles offside – a dangerous decision to keep the flag down in the onfield conditions.
The wind assisted a goal by Rodrigo after 53 minutes – the Leeds winger was looking to cross into the box for Raphinha but the ball looped in direct from the boot.
And the target of Rodrigo’s original cross equalised seconds later after Forshaw robbed Fernandes who tried to control a pass from Wan-Bissaka which led to the ball being fed into the six yard box by James where Raphinha slid in to level the scores just 24 seconds after Rodrigo had reduced the deficit.
A VAR check showed that Forshaw’s tackle was clean and the goal remarkably stood.
De Gea saved from Gelhardt before Sancho saw his shot deflected after Lindelof ventured upfield again and circulated the ball to him via Ronaldo.
Anthony Elanga and Fred were brought on after 67 minutes for Pogba and Lingard as the Reds sought to tighten up in midfield and both players played a full part in.
Fred restored United’s lead after he exchanged passes with Sancho to hammer the ball inside the near post just three minutes after coming on – his third goal of the season.
Elanga went down hurt as the home crowd started to throw missiles onto the pitch as the Reds players celebrated.
The young winger went on to test Meslier with a tame shot straight at him as he initially spurned the chance to kill off Leeds two minutes later.
By then the tackles were flying in and Klich fired an easy one to save for De Gea who also tipped over a dipping volley from the Leeds man inside the last 10 minutes as the hosts tried to get the equaliser.
Ronaldo was replaced with 5 minutes to go by Raphael Varane as United looked to defend their lead with Fernandes as the lone striker.
And the game was over with 2 minutes to go when Fernandes slipped the ball through to Elanga following a moment of skill after Pascal Struijk lost the ball leaving the youngster with just Meslier to beat for his second goal of the season and the best possible reply to the hooligans who tried to hurt him earlier in the game.
MATCH STATS – Leeds United 2, Manchester United 4
Leeds Utd: Meslier, Ayling, Llorente, Koch (Firpo 31), Struijk, Forshaw, Dallas, Rodrigo, Klich, Harrison, James
Leeds Utd subs not used: Klaesson, Roberts, Bate, Cresswell, Shackleton, Kenneh
Bookings: Struijk 61 (foul on Bruno Fernandes); Ayling 68 (foul on Bruno Fernandes); Raphinha 81; Firpo 90+2 (foul on Anthony Elanga); Klich 90+5 (foul on Scott McTominay)
Goals: Rodrigo 53; Raphinha 54
Man Utd: De Gea, Wan-Bissaka, Lindelof, Maguire, Shaw, Pogba (Fred 67), McTominay, Lingard (Elanga 67), Fernandes, Sancho, Ronaldo (Varane 85)
Man Utd subs not used: Henderson, Mata, Rashford, Dalot, Telles, Matic
Bookings: Ronaldo 56; McTominay 78 (foul on Joe Gelhardt); Shaw 90+2 (foul on Junior Firpo)
Goals: Maguire 34; Fernandes 45+5; Fred 70; Elanga 88
Referee: Paul Tierney