Two football clubs, both alike in dignity, in fair Manchester (where we lay our scene), from ancient grudge break to new mutiny, where civil blood makes civil hands unclean.
On Saturday, Manchester United and Leeds once again fought for points, pride, and bragging rights. Old Trafford was positively rocking. This rivalry is popularly believed to have originated from the Wars of the Roses in the fifteenth century and the flames of hostility between the fans showed no signs of dying down. Pre-match fighting, chants of Rashford and Sancho letting the country down, shit top-knot haircuts, even shitter half-and-half scarfs, sarcastic cheering, new signings, a packed stadium, and goals galore. This fixture offered fans everything they could want from the first Saturday afternoon of the Premier League season. Well, apart from Leeds fans, whose afternoon was certainly death-marked.
Let’s be honest, if Fred is scoring against you then you are having Weston Super-Mare.
The afternoon began with Manchester United unveiling their new £41 million signing Raphaël “Champions League” Varane to 76,000 fans inside the Theatre of Dreams. His suit was certainly cooler than his halfway line selfie, but it turned out to be an inspired decision by Solskjær, who gave the home fans an extra injection of adrenaline before kick-off. Manchester United were comfortably the better side and it took only half an hour for the Red Devils to take the lead through Bruno Fernandes after a delightful through ball from Paul Pogba, both of whom were in delicious form for the duration of the afternoon. The first half ended 1-0 and the Reds appeared to be in cruise control.
However, every battle involves a bit of fight, and it took just three minutes after the break for Luke Ayling to slap his laces into what I believe is known as a ‘thunderbastard’, drawing the game level, and sending Leeds into ecstasy. Shortly after, the away fans brought back an old favourite chant of ‘let’s go fucking mental’ and that’s exactly what their defence did next. Five minutes later, Leeds United were 3-1 down. Mason Greenwood and Bruno Fernandes quickly silenced the away end, and it wasn’t long before United fans were cantillating ‘you’re not singing anymore’; another much missed fan classic.
It went from bad to worse for Bielsa’s side, as Fernandes completed his hattrick and then Paul Pogba, delivering his fourth assist of the afternoon, set up Fred’s third goal for the club (and let’s be honest, if Fred is scoring against you then you are having Weston Super-Mare). In the seventy-fifth minute, Solskjær introduced United’s new £73 million signing Jadon Sancho, who had an opportunity to find his feet on his new stomping ground before the fixture eventually ended 5-1.
Leeds have not enjoyed themselves in their last two visits to Old Trafford. Last season they also lost by a four-goal deficit when they were stuffed 6-2 and they are without a league win there since February 1981. Marcelo Bielsa has often been praised for being unwavering in his attack-minded tactics. Is it genius, as many seem to suggest? Or stubborn, naïve stupidity? It certainly makes great viewing. For Manchester United fans!
It was great to see that atmosphere inside Old Trafford was laced with optimism once again. This positivity hasn’t been felt by Reds since Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s opening months or even when José Mourinho took over from Louis Van Gaal. In Mourinho, United fans were sold by promises of a guaranteed winner. He delivered on trophies, but never really came within touching distance of the Premier League title. There is no doubt about it; this season is crunch time and Solskjær must win a trophy. Last season, United’s first team looked knackered. There was a lack of trust in certain players and Ole’s stars were overused. This season, with the addition of Jadon Sancho and Raphaël Varane, the optimism is justified. It’s important to recognise that this was also a Manchester United starting line-up without Edinson Cavani, Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial. We all know a shiny new signing doesn’t necessarily make your dreams come true, but the manager has been slowly building something here. Hitherto, Solskjær hasn’t had the confidence to unleash a side that he could call his own.
This was a formidable performance that Ole would’ve been delighted with on Saturday, but now Manchester United need to approach every game with the same level of conviction. Can they deliver? Well, with the season underway, this is now the nine-month traffic of our stage, the which if you with patient eyes attend, you might just find out.