Leeds vs Manchester United: Five things we learned as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side held to goalless draw
Marcus Rashford went close with a powerful free-kick
Manchester United were held to a goalless draw by Leeds United in the Premier League as their first top-flight visit to Elland Road since 2003 ended in a dull stalemate.
Mason Greenwood had an early header saved by Illan Meslier and Marcus Rashford dragged a shot wide after a ball over the top from Victor Lindelof, but United were largely flat in the opening half.
The visitors survived a VAR review after the ball struck Luke Shaw’s arm in the box, before Kalvin Phillips robbed Bruno Fernandes on the edge of the box to set up a chance for Stuart Dallas, but he shot straight at goalkeeper Dean Henderson.
It took until the 45th minute for Manchester United to seriously threaten the Leeds goal, with Rashford’s powerful free-kick from distance tipped over the crossbar by Meslier.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side improved after the break. Fernandes pulled a shot from 12 yards wide of the post, Greenwood missed a chance after being played through on goal, before Ezgjan Alioski’s last-ditch challenge denied Dan James in the box.
Edinson Cavani was brought on with five minutes to go, but the visitors were unable to find a winner as their winning run in the Premier League came to an end at five matches.
Bielsa adjusts his approach
Leeds were on the receiving end of their biggest defeat of the season in the reverse fixture against Manchester United in December. Their open approach that day led to an entertaining, end-to-end affair, but United exploited it ruthlessly in the 6-2 win at Old Trafford.
Bielsa’s side were far more measured in the meeting at Elland Road on Sunday. Their front four still pressed United high up the pitch on occasions, but their back four and defensive line was noticeably deeper, especially after an early scare that saw Rashford get on the end of a long pass over the top from Lindelof.
It led to a completely different game between the teams. Solskjaer’s side had 26 shots against Leeds in December, but were limited to just four attempts on target here. They could not rely as much on the counter attack and with less space to play into, Manchester United struggled to create any clear-cut chances.
Solskjaer’s forward changes
Daniel James made just his 10th Premier League start of the season on Sunday, but his second against Leeds this campaign.
James, of course, was minutes away from joining Leeds from Swansea City in January 2019, and made an impact against the Elland Road side back in December, scoring a goal in Manchester United’s 6-2 win.
He was again picked to play from the start here, surprisingly ahead of Paul Pogba, and it was a selection that didn’t work out for Solskjaer. Perhaps the Norwegian manager was expecting a similar game to the 6-2 win that James impressed in earlier this season, but as previously mentioned the match didn’t play out that way.
It didn’t help matters that the Welsh winger got mixed up with Fernandes early in the second half, spurning an opportunity after Greenwood had split the Leeds defence wide open.
With Pogba on the bench, it was even more surprising that Solskjaer waited until the 75th minute to bring on the influential Frenchman.
Elsewhere, Greenwood started through the middle against Leeds, with Rashford lining up on the left. After scoring five goals in his last six games in all competitions, Greenwood is one of the form players in the league, but was close to anonymous in the first half. He was brighter after the break, but perhaps would have benefitted from starting on the right, the position from which he has scored his goals from in recent weeks.
Leeds fitness paying off
It has been around this time of year in the previous two seasons that Leeds United’s high-pressing, high-intensity style of play under Marcelo Bielsa has been called into question.
In 2019 and 2020, Leeds’ results in their push for promotion to the Premier League dipped significantly during the final stages of the season, and the suggestion was their players were exhausted due to Bielsa’s tactics.
If anything, the opposite has happened in the club’s first season back in the top flight. After an impressive start to life in the Premier League, Leeds have kicked on even further in recent weeks and are now on a run of six games unbeaten in the Premier League – with that spell including a win against Manchester City and a draw against Liverpool.
Bielsa’s side look fitter than anyone else in the league at the moment.
Man Utd wave the title goodbye
It’s obviously been on the cards for a while, but dropped points for Manchester United here, along with Manchester City’s win over Aston Villa in midweek, makes it feel like the destiny of the Premier League title has now been decided for another season.
City are now 10 points clear with five games to go, and require just two more wins to clinch their third title in four seasons.
United have done an admirable job of making their city rivals wait, thanks to their 2-0 Manchester derby win in March and subsequent five-match winning streak, but they have been made to pay for their results earlier in the season.
The 2-1 home defeat to Sheffield United in January will go down as their most regrettable result, as at that point they were neck and neck with City in the title race. Further dropped points to West Brom and Crystal Palace were compounded by City’s imperious form.
Now, United must turn their attention to the Europa League, where they face Roma in the first leg of the semi-finals on Thursday. With Arsenal and Villareal in the other half of the draw, Solskjaer’s side are by far the strongest left in the competition, and they have a great chance of winning their first piece of silverware under the Norwegian coach.
Glazer protests continue
Manchester United fans proved once again that they will continue their protest against the club’s owners in the wake of their involvement in the Super League, with a plane at Elland Road displaying the message: “£2 billion stolen – Glazers out.”
The banner, which was flown over the Leeds stadium before the match, follows fan protests at the club’s training ground on Thursday and outside Old Trafford on Saturday.
Meanwhile, Leeds chief executive Angus Kinnear made the club’s feelings on the Super League perfectly clear, brandishing the plans as “a betrayal of every true football supporter” in his programme notes.
He added: “This week’s battle against elitism may have been won but the ongoing war needs to be relentlessly and vigorously fought.”
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