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(BBC SPORT) Bruno Fernandes scored an opening-day hat-trick as Manchester United swept Leeds aside with a devastating second-half display.
The Portugal midfielder opened the scoring on the half-hour mark at a packed Old Trafford, but Luke Ayling’s thunderous strike drew Leeds level early in the second half.
Mason Greenwood restored the hosts’ lead with a crisp finish less than two minutes later, before Fernandes’ low shot was ruled to have crossed the line by referee Paul Tierney after a check of goalline technology. The 26-year-old quickly completed his hat-trick with a thumping finish from Victor Lindelof’s pass, before Fred added United’s fourth goal in 14 minutes from Paul Pogba’s cross – the Frenchman’s fourth assist of the afternoon.
It was Fernandes’ first hat-trick since he moved to Old Trafford in January 2020 and only the second by a Red Devils player since Robin van Persie’s title-winning effort against Aston Villa in 2013.
But the game was also a personal triumph for Pogba.
The France midfielder’s future has been the subject of intense debate as he enters the final year of his contract. But his four assists included a sublime pass for Greenwood’s goal, and he left the field to a standing ovation 15 minutes from time as £74m new-boy Jadon Sancho was introduced for his debut.
Bruno Fernandes on scoring his first hat-trick for Manchester United in Leeds win
Fernandes’ last hat-trick was for Sporting Lisbon in an 8-1 hammering of Belenenses in front of just over 5,000 in May 2019. Although the Portuguese has assumed hero status since moving to England, this was only the fourth time he had played a Premier League game in front of capacity crowd at Old Trafford.
After a disappointing Euro 2020, any concerns about his impact at domestic level have been completely dispelled. His opener was excellent as he ran on to Pogba’s first-time pass, controlled a bouncing ball in the Leeds area, then put enough power into his shot to take it into the net despite Illan Meslier’s half-save. Another Pogba pass offered Fernandes the opportunity to sit Meslier on his backside as he turned sharply before hitting a low shot goalwards that referee Tierney was correctly informed had crossed the line before Ayling cleared.
Fernandes’ third was route one. Lindelof’s pass fell perfectly for the forward, who allowed the ball to bounce before crashing it into the net. It meant he followed Anthony Martial as the only Manchester United player to score a Premier League hat-trick since Van Persie – and the first to do it in front of fans.
Leeds swept away
The volume for an already noisy crowd was turned up another notch by Raphael Varane’s introduction just before the teams emerged. Manchester United’s new £34m defender will be tasked with bringing greater stability to a back four that, even here, looked shaky at times.
Skipper Harry Maguire was almost embarrassed in a foot race with Patrick Bamford which he started with a clear advantage and poor marking should have been exploited by Rodrigo, who was off target with his header after being allowed to meet Raphinha’s curling free-kick unopposed.
For a team whose league record at Old Trafford is poor – Leeds have not won here since 1981 – and who conceded six in the corresponding fixture last season, it did not bode well. Ayling did offer some hope when he was afforded far too much space to shoot – presumably on the basis he had never previously scored a Premier League goal – and promptly found the corner from 25 yards. But it was only the prelude to a Manchester United onslaught from which there was no chance of recovery.
Trouble before the game
This was always likely to be a tinderbox fixture on the first weekend of full Premier League stadiums for 19 months. Trouble in the city centre, in which Greater Manchester Police said there were “isolated incidents of disorder”, briefly gave way to unanimity at the stadium as supporters joined together to applaud figures from both clubs who have passed away during the coronavirus pandemic. But that did not last.
Amid the mutual loathing was one chant about the Munich air disaster among the visiting support, which BBC Sport has been told was in response to a Turkish flag being dropped into the Leeds fans from a higher tier of the stand. For Leeds this is massively inflammatory as it references the two fans who were killed in Istanbul in 2000 before the Uefa Cup semi-final with Galatasaray.
Later, substitute Jadon Sancho was told he “let his country down” as he began his first warm-up – a reference to his missed penalty for England in the Euro 2020 final against Italy. Given the chaos of United’s end to last season, when a home game against Liverpool had to be abandoned after home fans broke into the stadium, club officials will probably be relieved there was no threat to this fixture, although there was an anti-Glazer chant to underline that the issues with the owners have not gone away.