MANCHESTER: Bruno Fernandes scored a hat trick and Paul Pogba set up four goals as Manchester United thrashed Leeds 5-1 Saturday to make a statement about its Premier League title credentials.
On a day when Jadon Sancho made his debut off the bench and Raphael Varane was presented as the club’s second big signing, a packed crowd at Old Trafford was treated to a midfield clinic by United’s two most high-profile players against a fierce local rival.
Pogba set up Fernandes for United’s 30th-minute opener and, after Luke Ayling equalized with a long-range strike in the 49th, played in Mason Greenwood for a low, angled shot that regained the lead for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side.
Fernandes was the beneficiary of another through-ball from Pogba before cutting inside and driving in a low effort that just went over the line before being cleared away by Ayling.
And after Fernandes completed his first hat trick for United by running onto a long pass by Victor Lindelof and rifling a shot high into the net, Pogba made it four assists for the match — one more than he managed in the whole of last season — by providing the cross that Fred swept home in the 68th.
“Today, we gave him the freedom of roaming wherever he wants to go, and get on the ball,” Solskjaer said. “Paul is one of those players who can create moments out of nothing.”
Solskjaer said he couldn't ask for any more from his players in their opening match, with Pogba — the subject of plenty of transfer talk during the offseason — laughing and joking with Fred after the final whistle while Bruno walked off with the match ball.
“For me, this is the way I want to see the team play,” he said, “not just because it’s Leeds but because of the running, going forward, taking risks.”
Sancho, signed from Borussia Dortmund for $100 million, was given the final 15 minutes as a substitute to soak in the Old Trafford atmosphere in front of 72,722 fans, who had earlier seen Varane walk onto the field holding a team jersey and take a selfie in the centre circle before the match after finalizing his move from Real Madrid.
United beat Leeds 6-2 at home last season, though there were no fans inside the stadium to see it.
Leeds was blown away in an eight-minute spell from the 52nd when United scored three times in response to Ayling's fierce long-range strike.
“The succession of three goals in such a short space of time overcame us," Leeds manager Marcelo Bielsa. “To have lost the way we lost can’t be described as just a blip.”