It was a breathtaking game between Manchester United and Leeds United. No opponent has opened up quite so much as Leeds. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer got his team selection right and his team ripped Marcelo Bielsa’s apart with emphatic ruthlessness.

It is hard to pick three best players in what was an illustrious performance from United. So here are two, and then a smattering more who thoroughly impressed.

Anthony Martial

That Manchester United scored four goals in the opening 37 minutes and none of them were from Anthony Martial was utterly unfair given the quality with which the Frenchman played. Martial was at his sparkling best in the first half, but in a way that has been rarely seen in his half-a-decade at Old Trafford.

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 20: Anthony Martial of Manchester United in action with Rodrigo and Liam Cooper of Leeds United during the Premier League match between Manchester United and Leeds United at Old Trafford on December 20, 2020 in Manchester, England.
(Photo by Matthew Peters/Manchester United via Getty Images)

Martial appeared a world-class veteran in that first half. His hold-up play was stunningly good; confident, skilful and efficient. His timing of the pass was spot on, and his decision-making incomparably excellent. It’s rare you can be so emphatic in praise for Martial. Normally a caveat exists. Not on Sunday. Sensaitonal.

Scott McTominay

McTominay hopped out of the Old Trafford tunnel with a fresh haircut. He looked like he meant business. And then he swiped across the ball with precision and watched it swerve beautifully into the bottom right corner. A great goal.

Within two minutes, he had ran onto a Martial pass and scored again. He let the ball flow beneath him with a graceful step over, controlled it well and finished well into the same corner. McTominay is the first player to ever score twice in the opening three minutes of a Premier League game.

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 20: Scott McTominay of Manchester United celebrates after scoring their sides second goal during the Premier League match between Manchester United and Leeds United at Old Trafford on December 20, 2020 in Manchester, England. The match will be played without fans, behind closed doors as a Covid-19 precaution.
(Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)

With the confidence inspired by those early goals, he spent the next 90 minutes bossing Leeds. He won the ball back well, he dribbled past his marker with panache and style and he created chances and dominated the game. Take the assist for the Dan James goal.

Forget whether he meant the ball for James or not, but the confidence with which he touched down the ball, drove forward and maintained possession was world-class.

 

A groin injury dropped him onto the sideline for the final few minutes. That’s a great shame and a swift return is essential for United. A McTominay in this form is undroppable.

Fred, Dan James and Bruno Fernandes impress for Manchester United vs Leeds

How can you decide between these three, all of whom performed so well? They were tenacious but full of quality. Fred offered that tenacity in deep midfield, winning the ball back well and going into challenges hard from the start. It was on-the-ball quality that was better than usual.

He took full advantage of the space offered by Leeds’ open man-marking system. Fred played the ball ahead of his teammates, allowing them to run onto it and break quickly. They did, and with great success.

When they did, James offered the pace that Solskjaer clearly wanted from him. He worked so hard, on and off the ball. James offers more than his own quality. The simple threat of his pace, just his existence, is enough to force teams to rethink their defensive plan.

The thought always has to be in the back of the defender’s man that Dan James could be running in behind. That’s not always useful for United, but in this case it was.

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 20: Daniel James of Manchester United celebrates scoring their fifth goal during the Premier League match between Manchester United and Leeds United at Old Trafford on December 20, 2020 in Manchester, England.
(Photo by Matthew Peters/Manchester United via Getty Images)

His goal was well-taken, too. Unlike what we have seen on other occasions, James was composed and chose the right route to goal. He paused, and directed it through Meslier’s legs rather than trying to lash it past him.

Fernandes was his usual great self. It was the little things that were so good from him. Slight touches to keep the counter-attack going, the well-timed lay off for McTominay’s first goal. And of course, two good finishes from close range. The first, United’s third goal, was an attack that began at such speed because of a little outside-of-the-boot touch from Fernandes. That’s why it’s important.

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