As Manchester United finally scored from a corner, they may have turned one. Even as they showed familiar flaws, losing a lead and their way, they recovered to prevail in an extraordinary game. Their reward is a four-point cushion in fourth place after what may rank as Ralf Rangnick’s best win to date.
“It was important not only we won but the way we reacted to conceding the equaliser,” said the interim manager. “It was the best possible answer, perfect in regards of maturity and unity.” He is entitled to feel he was a gamechanger.
A double substitution introduced two goalscorers, and five of his replacements have already struck in his brief reign. Fred and Anthony Elanga transformed a disappointing draw into a 4-2 galvanising victory against Leeds on Sunday.
“I didn’t bring them on to score goals,” Rangnick admitted. “It was about getting more energy into the team.”
His decision to replace the excellent Paul Pogba with Fred veered from the contentious to the inspired within three minutes. Fred looped a run around Jadon Sancho to complete a one-two and then rifled in a shot from an angle.
If Fred has been one of the beneficiaries of the interim manager’s arrival, Sancho has been another, and he ended with two assists.
Elanga was struck by an object thrown from the crowd as he celebrated United’s third goal. Crowd trouble was sadly predictable in this fixture but, given Leeds’ chequered disciplinary record, they should expect sanctions.
Elanga nevertheless constructed the ideal response, side-footing in United’s fourth after Bruno Fernandes robbed Pascal Struijk.
Ill-feeling abounded. Scott McTominay somehow escaped a red card for a litany of offences, starting with a challenge on Robin Koch that left the Leeds man bloodied, and soon needing to be replaced.
If McTominay felt too aggressive, United showed their self-destructive tendencies in a crazy minute; just 59 seconds separated Leeds’ goals, though a stirring comeback eventually counted for nothing and their week, containing meetings with Liverpool and Tottenham, could be damaging.
In contrast, the other United have consecutive wins. In mustering 15 shots, nine of them on target, they got four goals in a game for the first time under Rangnick.
It could have been more: Illan Meslier made a stunning point-blank save when Cristiano Ronaldo ought to have scored. Instead, they broke the deadlock in unusual fashion with their belated first goal of the league campaign from a corner.
Perhaps it was a case of 139th time lucky for United. Or maybe it was simply a consequence of playing Leeds, whose set-piece frailties have been an issue in Marcelo Bielsa’s reign.
Certainly the hapless Diego Llorente’s defending was unconvincing and unsuccessful. He was too consumed with trying to wrestle Harry Maguire to jump when the visiting captain headed in Luke Shaw’s corner. “We have to defend better,” said Bielsa, whose side have now conceded 50 goals this season.
Fernandes has four of them, adding to his opening-day hat-trick by heading in Sancho’s chipped cross. It should have been comfortable thereafter, but Rangnick’s sports psychologist Sascha Lense is talking to the squad about their habit of losing leads. It may not be an advertisement for his work that the problem is getting worse; this time they lost a two-goal advantage.
Leeds’ first was freakish, Rodrigo’s cross sailing over David de Gea. Then Adam Forshaw robbed Fernandes – United’s latest display of dissent brought Ronaldo a booking – and Dan James set up Raphinha, who eluded a dozing Shaw. Strangely benched, he was brought on but two more scoring substitutes were to follow and Rangnick could look up. “I hope the way we win will give us new additional energy,” he said.