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Manchester United 5 v 1 Leeds United
Barclays Premier League
Saturday, 14th August 2021 Kick-off 12:30
Leeds suffer at the Theatre of Nightmares
Sunday, 15th Aug 2021 12:38 by Tim Whelan

After all the anticipation, Leeds went down to another painful defeat to Manchester United, with the absence of two key players turning out to be all important.

The day began with a few clashes around Manchester City centre, but around the stadium it was a lot calmer, even though a terrific atmosphere was building up for Old Trafford’s first capacity crowd for 18 months. The 3,000 Leeds fans more than played their part, undaunted by the unfolding nightmare in front of them on the pitch.

There were a couple of key absentees from the Leeds starting line-up, with Llorente out with an injury and Phillips deemed not to be up to Bielsa standards of fitness after his post-Euros break. Kock was moved forward to the defensive midfield role, and Dallas began at left back, with new signing Junior Fipro having to make do with a place on the bench.

We began the game with plenty of spirit, though even in the early stages there were worrying signs of how easily Man U would cut through our defence. Koch was looking out of sorts in his unfamiliar role, and not just because of his dodgy new moustache. His biggest problem was that Pogba chose this game to actually turn up and put in a performance, combining with Fernandes to produce a series of moves that would have troubled almost any defence.

Their first chance was a bit of a fluke, with a clearance from Struijk bouncing up off Greenwood and almost looping over Meslier. But our noble custodian managed to stretch up to palm the ball away, and we gave thanks for him being a full 1.93m in height (according to Wikipedia) whatever that works out at in feet and inches.

Then Pogba should have scored when a superb though ball set him free in the area, but he could only stab the ball wide as Meslier closed him down. We did have a few moments of our own. Harrison sent a volley straight at De Gea, but Klich tested him with our best effort of the half, a shot that was curling into the far corner before the Spaniard turned it away.

There was also a free kick that Rodrigo headed wide from a good position, and by then I’d forgotten that he was playing. That may well have been the only time he touched the ball during the entire game. And just as we were congratulating ourselves on getting through half an hour with the score goalless (having been three down at the same stage last year) Man U went and took the lead.

Pogba chipped an excellent ball into the area to find Fernandes, who controlled it well to turn and shoot. Meslier got a foot to it, but the power of the shot meant that the ball still bounced into the corner of the net. But at half time we were still in the game, and in the first few minutes of the second period it looked like that we could come back and get a result.

At the interval the anonymous Rodrigo was taken off, so that Junior Fipro could make his debut at left back, with Dallas moving into central midfield. And amidst all the gloom and doom about the final result, let us pause for a moment to reflect on the beauty of the 48th minute. Luke Ayling was allowed to advance until he was 25 yards from goal, where he unleashed an unstoppable shot into the top corner of the net.

Strangely enough, his last goal had been the spectacular effort against Huddersfield, which was our final game in front of a full crowd before lockdown. Obviously playing in front of empty stands didn’t suit his shooting boots. For a couple of minutes our confidence seemed to be restored, but it wasn’t to last.

In the 53rd minute another superb ball from Pogba sent Greenwood racing down the left, and he had the pace to get past Struijk and send a shot across Meslier into the far corner. And it got worse two minutes later, as Fernandes cut back inside the back before sending his shot under our keeper. It looked as though Ayling had kept it out, but goal-line technology ruled that the whole of the ball had crossed the whole of the line.

And on the hour these new-fangled contraptions worked against us again, as Fernandes narrowly beat the offside trap to race through and complete his hat-trick. Apparently VAR is using thicker lines this season and this wouldn’t have counted before, which is a bit galling after the number of goals we had chalked off in similar circumstances last year.

The fifth arrived in the 68th minute as Fred came to the party, converting yet another assist from Pogba. In response to the scoreline Bielsa sent Roberts and Costa into the fray, in place of Bamford and Harrison, as if that would do anything to get us back into the game. There was a case for bringing Phillips on to limit the damage, but in the closing stages Man U were kind enough to take their foot off the gas and spare us from further embarrassment.

Roberts did at least fall over for an optimistic penalty shout, but our best chance late on fell to Raphinha, who could only send the ball across the goal and a fair way wide. He could have given me some much needed fantasy points on a shambolic weekend, and a goal would have meant we weren’t bottom of the table on Saturday night.

But 5-1 it remained until the ref put us out of our misery with the final whistle, and the moaning on social media could commence. Plenty of concern about the ‘second season’ syndrome, which seems to have been a Yorkshire thing in recent seasons, featuring Hull, Huddersfield and Sheffield United. But we should be better than that, especially once we get Phillips, Llorente and Fipro up to full fitness.

Most of the games to come won’t be against such talented and motivated opposition, and on Saturday we will have the chance to get the season back on track against Everton, in front of our own enthusiastic post-lockdown crowd. MOT!


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