Manchester United 6 Leeds United 2 - ‘Theatre of fever dreams’ for Marcelo Bielsa

Liam Cooper warned in the summer that Leeds United could find themselves on the wrong end of a few big scorelines, but for this game to be one of them was unthinkable.

Manchester United's Bruno Fernandes (centre) celebrates scoring his side's third goal of the game. Picture: PA
Manchester United's Bruno Fernandes (centre) celebrates scoring his side's third goal of the game. Picture: PA

To be beaten 6-2 by anyone is painful but for it to happen at the hands of Manchester United is unthinkable.

Unthinkable, but not inconceivable – Marcelo Bielsa admitted afterwards the chances that begot the goals scored by Manchester United were all things he had imagined possible.

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Getting done on the counter attack was well within the bounds of possibility, as it was against Leicester City and Crystal Palace.

Leeds United's Stuart Dallas scores his side's second goal. Picture: PA.

But for it not only to happen, but happen so often and with such devastating effects was about as 2020 a scenario as any Leeds fan could experience.

It was the theatre of fever dreams.

A nightmare, complete with all the monsters that lurk in the shadows for this Leeds team.

Pacey ball carriers, clinical finishers, a goal from a set-piece, sloppy passing and wastefulness at the other end – it was a full house in bingo from hell.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer set up to counter attack and it worked a treat, Leeds giving up two chances inside three minutes to shoot themselves in both feet.

Two losses of the ball, two chances, 2-0 down. Scott McTominay, a player with six previous career goals, got both.

Had Leeds enjoyed such clinical finishing themselves, they would have hit back before the game was 10 minutes old, their pressing causing confusion in midfield, Rodrigo playing in Patrick Bamford who sidefooted wide. It was a day when chances just could not go begging and this one, a good one, did.

It might have been an encouraging sign, had too many Leeds players not set the tone for themselves with poor touches and passes. Even Rodrigo, one of Leeds’s most technically excellent players in possession, was guilty and when he failed to find Gjanni Alioski, Manchester United struck again, decisively and easily, Luke Ayling’s desperate block falling to Bruno Fernandes who drilled past Illan Meslier.

Leeds did have moments of promise, but knowing what would happen when they lost the ball made each attack a tightrope.

So they wobbled.

A sloppy touch from Bamford sent red shirts charging into wide-open spaces and from the corner they won, Victor Lindelof ghosted away from Kalvin Phillips to prod in number four.

The hosts weren’t so much a hot knife cutting through butter but a red hot poker, inflicting agony with each prod.

There was, at least, a swift response from Leeds to that goal, Cooper getting up to head Raphinha’s corner past David de Gea. Bielsa responded at the break, too, replacing the ineffective and overrun Phillips and Mateusz Klich with Pascal Struijk and Jamie Shackleton.

The latter went to right-back and Stuart Dallas went into midfield, in what Bielsa hoped would shore things up.

Not because he intended to defend and restrict further damage, but because he intended to attack just as much.

Raphinha looked for all the world to have pulled another back with a volley from Rodrigo’s deep cross, de Gea somehow keeping it out.

The keeper came out on top of their next duel too, palming the Brazilian’s shot round his post.

From the corner that followed, Leeds’s attack broke down, Manchester United broke and Dan James took Ayling out of the game with a sharp touch before shooting through Meslier’s legs.

With 20 minutes to go it was no longer simply watching-through-fingers bad, it was switching-off-and-forgetting-football-until-after-Christmas bad.

Marcus Rashford teased defenders, Martial tempted Struijk into a challenge and fell over, Fernandes scoring the penalty and the Red Devils’ sixth.

At 6-1 down it still, somehow, got worse, Cooper limping off from a knock sustained just before the fifth goal, Leif Davis coming on to give Leeds a central-defensive pairing of a right-back and a left-back.

The scoreline, at least, got a little better, Dallas curling in a fine goal from distance that on any other day would have merited much more fanfare.

The same can be said for any chances and half-chances that followed, the game long-since lost as Bamford and Harrison had shots blocked from close range.

Bielsa urged his men forward, again and again, refusing to give up. Mercifully, his goalkeeper showed similar spirit, coming into his own to make save after save.

There was a late chance for Harrison to add what would not have been anything like a consolation, but in sidefooting wide of the far post from a few yards out he summed it all up.

“Leeds play the same way whether they’re 4-0 up, 4-0 down or at 0-0,” said Solskjaer afterwards and doing it at 6-2 down proves that expecting Bielsa to change is a waste of time and energy.

If you could numb yourself to the pain of this result and look at it without emotion, Leeds did have chances to make a difference but got only three of their 17 on target.

The hosts had 26 shots, 14 on target. When Bielsa said the home side’s clinical finishing was the difference, he was right. But conceding six in a defeat, by this opponent, for the first time since 1959, is still unthinkable.

Manchester United: de Gea, Wan Bissaka, Lindelof, Maguire, Shaw (Telles 60), McTominay, Fred, James, Bruno Fernandes (van de Beek 71), Rashford (Cavani 71), Martial. Unused substitutes: Bailly, Pogba, Mata, Henderson, Matic, Greenwood.

Leeds: Meslier, Dallas, Ayling, Cooper (Davis 72), Alioski, Phillips (Struijk 45), Raphinha, Rodrigo, Klich (Shackleton 45), Harrison, Bamford. Unused substitutes: Poveda-Ocampo, Roberts, Casilla, Helder Costa, Hernandez, Casey.

Referee: A Taylor (Cheshire).

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