Five things we learned as Red Devils win Elland Road thriller
Leeds United 2-4 Manchester United: Everything we learned from Manchester United’s Premier League victory over Leeds United at Elland Road
Manchester United beat Leeds United at a windswept and rain-soaked Elland Road on Sunday afternoon as they strengthened their challenge for a place in the Premier League’s top four.
The Red Devils were by far the better side during the first-half in fierce conditions in Yorkshire and took the lead midway through the opening period when Harry Maguire headed home a corner from England team-mate Luke Shaw beyond the reach of Leeds goalkeeper Illan Meslier.
That advantage was doubled just before half-time when Bruno Fernandes nodded home a superb Jadon Sancho pass, but a wild match was turned around in two second-half minutes as Leeds found their self-belief again.
A freak goal brought the revitalised home side back within one just after half-time when Rodrigo Moreno’s overhit cross flew over the head of David De Gea and into the net, before substitute Raphinha slid across the increasingly waterlogged turf inside the six-yard box to sweep home former United winger Daniel James’ cut-back.
The away side retook the lead again with twenty minutes to play as Fred lashed a shot passed Meslier at his near post, below fellow second-half substitute Anthony Elanga slipped a finish under Meslier a few minutes from time to secure the points.
Here are five things were learned from the match:
Two decades without a crowd hasn’t quelled rivalry at all
The ferocious weather at Elland Road was impressively matched by the noise both sets of fans created, as a wild football match was given the feral atmosphere it deserved.
The last time these two met in front of a crowd in the Premier League was in 2003 but the near two decades which have passed since then have done nothing to quell the animosity of this enduring rivalry, which was played out here in the manner of old-school Premiership football with a Mitre ball, ragged pitch and Des Lynham presenting the highlights on ITV.
There is nothing quite like football in the driving rain with full stands and relentless noise. You simply can’t beat it.
Resolute form can power United to top four
United have struggled to put together a significant run of wins since Rangnick replaced Ole Gunnar Solskjaer after the defeat away to Watford in the autumn, but one thing the interim boss has succeeded in achieving is making his side much more difficult to beat.
The Red Devils lost five times in 12 Premier League fixtures before the Norwegian’s departure, but have tasted defeat only once in 14 matches now under Rangnick.
This victory stretched their current unbeaten run to seven matches and extended their lead over their rivals for a fourth-place in the Premier League to four points. They may have threatened to throw this one away with a very poor start to the second-half, but showed enough strength of character to reset themselves and take the points in the end.
If they continue to persevere in difficult moments and ensure they suffer few losses, they will be strong favourites to secure a place in next season’s Champions League.
Sancho finding form at right time for United
The visitors’ second goal seemed to come at the perfect time.
Bruno Fernandes scored his fourth goal against Leeds in two matches this season when he nodded home from close range just before half-time in order to give United full control at the break.
The real star of the second goal, though, was Jadon Sancho. The England winger picked the ball up on the right-hand edge of the penalty after Victor Lindelof’s excellent run through the midfield, before he floated an exquisite pass over the heads of two Leeds defenders and directly into the path of Fernandes to gift his team-mate a relatively finish.
After Leeds’ resurgence in the second-half, Sancho collected the ball in the penalty area, stood up the defender facing him, and released the ball with perfect timing and placement for Fred to smash home and restore United’s lead.
Sancho has endured a tough debut season since joining from Borussia Dortmund, but now has this pair of assists to add to the goal he scored against Southampton two matchdays ago, and seems to be finding the consistent quality around the penalty area which defined his time in the Bundesliga just as the season enters its most crucial juncture and United could do with it most.
Leeds are in real relegation trouble
Leeds are now only five points above the relegation zone, and six points ahead of 19th-place Burnley, who have two games in hand to play.
This was their sixth defeat in nine matches and there is now a very serious danger that they could be relegated at the end of the season if they don’t turn things around quickly. A midweek trip to Anfield before a match against Antonio Conte’s rejuvenated Tottenham Hotspur next weekend will give Marcelo Bielsa cause for concern.
The Whites have been without some of the most important players, including Patrick Bamford and Kalvin Phillips, for the majority of the season, which has contributed significantly to their lowly standing in the table. But whatever the causes, Bielsa now needs to find some solutions quickly with the players he does have available, or there will be a very real possibility Leeds will be playing Championship football again come August.
Football still isn’t taking head injuries seriously enough
Robin Koch suffered a nasty head injury after an early clash with Scott McTominay as Leeds attempted to build an attack just inside the opposition half.
The German defender was side-swiped by the Scot and fell to the turf with a crunch, blood pouring from his head as he lay prone on the pitch. After strapping his head up with a bandage, Leeds sent him back onto the pitch.
Around 15 minutes later, when it was clear that Koch could not walk in straight line and could barely stand, he was withdrawn in place of Junior Firpo and escorted from the pitch by two physios.
With a head injury that severe, Koch should never have been sent back onto the pitch after the initial clash. He was quite clearly in no fit state to play on, and the consequences could have been severe.
Teams around the country are still regularly sending players back onto the pitch with significant head injuries, despite increasing medical knowledge showing the serious damage playing on with a head injury can cause. Today, Leeds were not good enough at protecting their player, and every team needs to take concussion a lot more seriously than they do at present.