Manchester, England – The fourth goal, which indicated victory had turned into defeat, was the most important goal. Manchester United coaching staff trained from the bench. On the sidelines, several celebrated by the rangers standing at empty Old Trafford stalls. And on the field, the players smiled, smiled and roared from ear to ear.
Most of them, of course, will be too young to remember the last time Manchester United met Leeds United in the Premier League. Scott McTominay is a top scorer Two goals in the first three minutes On Sunday, for example, he was eight then. Marcus Rashford was seven years old. Daniel James was six years old. David de Gea may have better memories of it, but it is unlikely that when he was 13 years old in Madrid, he especially cared about it.
This has always been one of the fiercest competitions in English football: for all the enmities Alex Ferguson enjoyed and endured and often kindled in his time at Old Trafford, he had always considered the Leeds match to be somewhat different, and a little more toxic, a little bit more toxic. more stronger.
But 16 years have passed since they last shared an oath when they could have recently been considered peers: enough time for both teams, both clubs, both cities to change beyond recognition. Time for an entire generation of fans to grow up without first-hand experience of common hostility.
Yet it remains. Even in the silence of an empty stadium, even without a crowd of 76,000 people explaining exactly what that means, even in a game between two groups of players who – except for one or two – the rivalry must be abstract, distant and vaguely historical thing, Manchester United did not want to win. Not only, but humiliation.
Players celebrated when four were five, and five at six, strongly suggesting that their joy was rooted not only in their success but in their opponent’s failure and embarrassment.
It will be little or no consolation for Leeds fans – a decade and a half of waiting for this game to appear on this stage again, and that’s their reward – but it was a strange kind of embarrassment and a curious kind of defeat. Marcelo Bielsa’s players conceded six goals, but they may have scored so many themselves. They were blown up again and again, but they kept coming back. Put it this way: Only when Manchester United scored their fifth and sixth goal in quick succession was the outcome completely certain. At four, I felt there was little chance.
This says a lot of what is already known about Leeds – arrogant, adventurous, flawed and vulnerable, all at once, and captivating her – but, if anything, it reveals more about the nature of the conqueror.
Raw data tells one story. The scoreboard says: Manchester United 6, Leeds United 2. The Premier League table that found Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s team in third place, five points behind Liverpool, and after playing one game less. Earn that, and the gap decreases to two. Winning is something United have done a lot lately: six of their last seven league matches, the only exception being a reliable home draw against Manchester City.
But none of it tells the whole story. The distorting impact of time on the pandemic is well documented. When every day feels the same, the week can go on forever, but a year can pass, or the better part of it, in no time. Tracking the disparate fortunes of Manchester United under Solshire has a similar effect.
This season alone, he lost 6-1 at home to Tottenham Hotspur and broke the club’s record for most successive away wins. It fell to the bottom half of the Premier League standings, but laid the groundwork for what could prove to be a true title challenge. He took advantage of a superb vein in terms of shape and at the same time, he was knocked out of the Champions League.
I found a way at the same time to be remarkably consistent but chronically unpredictable. It is a team that can be stubborn and smart in defense, but then also allow Demba Ba to run unopposed, From inside his half of his stadium to score. It’s an aspect that seems to develop a clear identity for a while and then loses it, as if it vanished into the fog.
At the heart of all this, of course, is Solshire himself. It has been two years since he was called up to the leadership of a club who served him with such distinction as a player. However, it seems impossible to assess how successful he is, whether it is a good fit for the job, whether these are the problems arising from something bigger, something better, or whether this is the extreme of what Manchester United might be.
There is evidence, irrefutable evidence, to support both sides of the argument, but the conclusion remains elusive. Leeds’s Destruction can also be read in two ways.
The first is direct: Solshire sent a team that revealed every weakness of Bielsa’s team: choosing James, a buzzy, reckless winger, to counterattack was a heavy blow. Directing McTominay and Fred to bypass Leeds’ smooth midfield was another. It is absolutely true that we read this as a relentless victory.
The second is complex: Solshire, effectively, sent his team to defeat Leeds for being Leeds, by matching Bielsa’s team in terms of strength, effort, speed of movement and thinking. The result was some sort of organized chaos, and an endless round of punches and counterpunches.
Both teams had an abundance of opportunities – by conservative estimate, Leeds could have scored five goals with a marginally better finish – and the most important factor in determining the outcome was not the talent of the managers but the ability of the players.
When James celebrate After scoring the fifth goal for Manchester United, he did so with UEFA Champions League winner Juan Mata, and UEFA Champions League semi-finalists Donny Van de Beek, who was preparing near the corner mark. After the sixth, Solshire sent on Van de Beek and Edinson Cavani.
Leeds is perhaps the clearest example in European football of a team being trained to be greater than the sum of its parts. Manchester United is not, but its parts are very talented and very expensive, and most of the time this is enough: enough to overcome an obstacle, win the game and even, as is the case here, to humiliate the opponent.
There are days when neither of these explanations is correct: whether or not Manchester United’s victory over Leeds is owed to Solshire or not is insignificant compared to the fact that they beat Leeds.
In the long term, however, these questions must be answered. Whether this is the beginning of something, or whether this is. Whether more is needed, or if this is sufficient. However, after two years in Solshire, there is no close answer.