Bruno Fernandes scored a hat-trick and Paul Pogba provided four assists as Manchester United beat Leeds 5-1 on Saturday in a packed Old Trafford to jump-start their Premier League season.
In front of 73,000, the biggest football crowd in the UK since March 2020, United rioted with their two midfielders and raised hopes of challenging for a first league title since Alex Ferguson retired as manager in 2013.
Fernandes gave the home side a deserved lead at half-time, but Leeds tied the score early in the second half with a stunning strike from Luke Ayling.
With Pogba in sparkling form, however, United could not be denied as the Frenchman defeated Mason Greenwood, Fernandes and Fred, while Fernandes completed his first United hat-trick in a thumping fashion.
“People talk about Paul’s quality, but his quality is not up for discussion,” Fernandes said. “We know what he can do and today he showed it. He is an important player for us.”
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s men finished a distant second to Manchester City in the Premier League last season in hopes of a title challenge undone by their poor record to an empty Old Trafford.
The Theater of Dreams was transformed into a cacophony of noise by a packed house, resulting in a similar transformation on United’s pitch.
The home fans were already on their feet before a ball was kicked to welcome Raphael Varane as the French central defender paraded onto the pitch following his arrival from Real Madrid for a reported £40m ($55m).
Varane was not signed up in time to make his debut, while United’s other big money earner of the summer Jadon Sancho started on the bench.
“We know the quality of the players that have come in, but the team was already very good. We showed that last season,” Fernandes added. “We didn’t win any trophies, but the team grew up. With this mentality we will achieve something.”
POGBA shrugs off speculation
United were also without Marcus Rashford and Edinson Cavani, but that allowed Pogba to thrive in his favored role on the left of a front three.
The 28-year-old has again been the source of speculation in recent weeks after he starred for France in an otherwise disappointing European Championship 2020 for the world champions.
But Pogba finally produced his international form for United as he surpassed his assist count for the entire 2020/21 league season in just 90 minutes.
Pogba’s dinked ball over the top selected Fernandes perfectly and opened the scoring in the 30th minute as Illan Meslier couldn’t hold off his powerful effort despite putting his foot on it.
Leeds were lucky to get just one goal behind at half time and appeared to have regrouped at half time when they tied the score in stunning fashion three minutes into the second half.
Ayling strode from right-back and unleashed an unstoppable effort from 25 yards into the top corner for his first-ever Premier League goal.
However, the cheers of Leeds’ traveling support were short-lived thanks to Pogba’s vision four minutes later.
Greenwood was the receiver of the defence-splitting pass this time as he sprinted clear of Pascal Struijk and shot accurately from the far post.
Fernandes then shot in his second of the afternoon on another Pogba pass before completing his first United hat-trick in style with a thumping finish into the roof of Victor Lindelof’s long ball.
Pogba’s fourth assist of the afternoon saw Fred score a rare goal from the edge of the box.
Solskjaer could then afford the luxury of giving Sancho his debut with the win as the £73million winger and Anthony Martial were introduced in the final 15 minutes.
They couldn’t increase the score, but United’s job was already done when they sent an early warning to their title rivals.