It is an understatement to say Manchester United had been slow starters at Old Trafford this season. They had a solitary win, just three goals and only one in open play. And then, in a flash, Scott McTominay made the fastest start in the division's history. United, who conceded six at home to Tottenham, scored half a dozen. In different ways, this was both the opposite of that and of last week's uneventful Manchester derby.
No one had struck twice in a Premier League game’s first three minutes until McTominay renewed Manchester United’s rivalry with Leeds in dramatic fashion. Leeds had won on their previous visit to Old Trafford, in the FA Cup in 2010, but their wait for a league victory, which dates back to 1981, goes on as, for the first time, they conceded four times in the opening 45 minutes of a Premier League game.
This was a blistering, brilliant beginning to an action-packed game that left Leeds looking naïve. Neither neutrals nor Manchester United had cause for complaint as their open brand of football allowed them to be picked off by a quick, newly potent side.
Their conquerors climbed to third. The Mancunian United are very much in the title race, despite previously wretched home form. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side had been raining goals on the road. The surprise was that it was McTominay who wrenched the floodgates open at Old Trafford. Bruno Fernandes added a brace and Victor Lindelof and Daniel James got further goals. The Welsh winger was a symbolic figure: a man who almost joined Leeds, who was a surprise selection by Solskjaer and who justified his choice. The Norwegian picked his fastest team so they could outrun Leeds.
Leeds’ games have contained a surfeit of drama but never quite as quickly. They ended with the division’s worst defensive record, despite Illan Meslier making a host of saves, as their man-to-man marking game broke down. Other managers had frustrated Manchester United at Old Trafford by defending deep and in numbers but Marcelo Bielsa predictably did the opposite. Leeds’ more ambitious approach backfired as the first and third goals stemmed from swift breaks, when they lost the ball and their hosts attacked an undermanned defence. They played into their hosts’ hands.
United have often begun too passively too often. Not yesterday. Raphinha lost the ball, Manchester United advanced and Fernandes passed. McTominay cut across the rolling ball, connecting sweetly and sending it spinning into the far corner of the Leeds net. Meslier was motionless; given the quality of the strike, he would probably have been powerless anyway. Three months had passed since Donny van de Beek scored United’s previous home league goal in open play. Less than two minutes elapsed before the next one. Anthony Martial supplied a defence-splitting reverse pass and the on-running McTominay had the presence of mind to step over the ball and the calmness to guide his shot in.
For the third, James intercepted Rodrigo’s pass, Fred led a surge upfield and, while Luke Ayling got a foot in, the ball fell for Fernandes to drill his shot in. Set-piece problems have been a constant in Leeds’ campaign. They conceded from another corner, which Luke Shaw took, Martial flicked on and Lindelof met at the far post.
The greater surprise, perhaps, was that Leeds scored from a corner, Liam Cooper heading in after Raphinha took it. The winger drew three fine saves from David de Gea, who did wonderfully to tip a close-range volley on to the post, as Leeds displayed a capacity to fashion chances against anyone. Patrick Bamford has a habit of converting them on the road. He had a hat-trick of opportunities in the first 25 minutes but when he converted one, his volley was ruled out because he was offside.
Stuart Dallas scored Leeds’ spectacular second after moving into midfield when the usually pivotal Kalvin Phillips went off in a half time double change. Pascal Struijk took over in the holding role but he tripped Martial and Fernandes converted the penalty.
That was Manchester United’s sixth goal. James scored the fifth, shooting through Meslier’s legs after a pass from McTominay. The Scot may have been aiming for Fernandes. He found James instead and he found the net.