Manchester United opened the 2021/22 Premier League season with a 5-1 thrashing of rivals Leeds at Old Trafford and aren’t yet even at full strength.
Bruno Fernandes picked up where he left off last season and scored three sublime goals, with Paul Pogba racking up four assists and proving that his head and heart are still with United, regardless of any uncertainty surrounding his future at the club.
Harry Maguire, Victor Lindelof and Luke Shaw played well, Scott McTominay was outstanding for 69 minutes at the base of the midfield, despite a challenging pre-season. Fred covered plenty of ground and was rewarded with a goal, while Mason Greenwood also impressed as a ‘number nine’.
But this United side have so much more room to further grow and improve as more players return to fitness and/or settle in over the coming weeks.
Raphael Varane was presented to the crowd at Old Trafford prior to kick-off and will start training next week. His arrival will boost United’s defensive strength and it was perhaps no coincidence that Lindelof performed the way he did in the 90 minutes that followed.
Jadon Sancho came off the bench for the final 20 minutes and looked eager to make an impact on his United debut, which was also his first ever senior game in English football.
United also had Anthony Martial on the bench and hope the Frenchman will rediscover the form that saw him score 23 goals in all competitions in 2019/20. There is no Edinson Cavani just yet because the veteran Uruguayan, who scored 17 goals last season, was granted an extended break.
Marcus Rashford will return stronger once he has recovered from shoulder surgery – an ailment which limited him for much of last season. The prospect of a fully fit Rashford is an exciting one, especially when he still scored 22 goals in all competitions when he was struggling with injury.
A little deeper, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer opted not to use Donny van de Beek. But the Dutchman has undergone a physical transformation this summer by following a special training programme intended to give him the additional fitness and strength he lacked in his debut campaign.
There will, of course, be tougher tests. Leeds, rather as they did when they were beaten 6-2 at Old Trafford last December, were very open and easy to play against and United will have to be smarter and more creative against opponents who defend tighter and deeper.
But Solskjaer couldn’t have dreamed of a better way for his team to start the season and, with this squad only going in one direction, a start is all it is.