Wednesday, December 1

Paul Pogba cuts out a figure released in Manchester United’s victory over Leeds | United manchester


IIt was an opportunity to show new acquisitions. Manchester United led the way, parading Raphaël Varane onto the pitch before kick-off, with a four-time Champions League winner and a 2018 world champion as proof of his generosity. Leeds produced an idiosyncratic response. Marcelo Bielsa enters, to then settle on a new bucket.

Unlike the other United, Bielsa has never been a slave to the transfer market. He believes that improvement comes from within, with the help of a relentless career. Luke Ayling has symbolized it. He was a right-back in the lower half of the Championship when Bielsa inherited him and the scorer of a spectacular goal at Old Trafford on Saturday. When Leeds was briefly leveled, it served as an endorsement of its manager’s creed.

Twenty minutes later, with Leeds trailing 5-1 and Bielsa’s aggregate score in two trips here at 11-3 in favor of the other United, he was left with the look of the man who came to a shootout armed only with a bucket.

Money can do that. Paul Pogba has shed his label as the most expensive signing in Premier League history, Jack Grealish and Romelu Lukaku demoted him to a humble third on the list. Whether or not a burden was relieved, the £ 89 million midfielder seemed liberated; here at least it seemed good value for money. Four assists were testament to his remarkable passing range.

Bruno Fernandes’ fee could reach £ 67 million, although he has traded other large numbers since his arrival. An insatiable quest for goals brought a hat-trick and, perhaps, an early reminder for Jadon Sancho that he would do well to beat Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s flagship buy.

Leeds was outgunned. There is an ambition to play attacking football against clubs that can afford a higher caliber attacker. Bielsa’s two visits to Old Trafford have featured 68 shots and suggestions that Leeds was too naive peaked after their 6-2 loss last December. Instead, a ninth place and a good record against his supposed superiors suggested allied pragmatism and purism in a captivating mix.

Leeds weren’t used to being the neutral favorite until they returned to the Premier League with a 4-3 loss at Anfield. Now they specialize in spectacular starts to the season, after odd odd. Lionel Messi was not the only iconoclastic Argentine who spent much of the summer without a contract before putting pen to paper. Bielsa’s latest deal was less surprising and was signed 48 hours before the Leeds campaign started; that was a case of getting things done quickly. Last season he made a formal engagement to Leeds the day before that visit to Liverpool. The new terms and conditions probably did not include the upgraded and more luxurious bucket racing cushion.

Minus Roy Hodgson, Bielsa has inherited the mantle of the Premier League’s oldest coach. You make few concessions to aging, and if you’re not slowing down, your team certainly won’t. Bielsa has become the unlikely senior statesman in the division, albeit in the manner of a strange and obsessive uncle. It certainly goes its own way. Their triumphs feel triumphs of ideology, their defeats setbacks derived from stubbornness.

Leeds found Fernandes irrepressible in the December defeat. Fast forward eight months and they had the same problem. Bielsa has had a transformative impact on Kalvin Phillips, but the excellence of the English international has underscored how Leeds lacks a suitable alternative. With Phillips in the bank, Fernandes eluded Robin Koch at will. A defender with a crowbar in midfield saw his immediate opponent score three times.

Not for Bielsa the two-player safety blanket they hold, even though Solskjær prospered by continuing with “McFred,” Scott McTominay and Fred’s double act that gave Pogba and Fernandes the license to roam.

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The centrality of Fernandes means that Pogba has been diverted to the left. The Frenchman is Old Trafford’s enduring enigma, but a recurring theme is that he often responds to the presence of quality players around him. He and Fernandes fit in, swapping positions at will, while Pogba wandered around the frame. He looked at the relaxed quarterback, making a deft pass for Fernandes’ first goal, freeing Greenwood with a precision surgical ball and artistic curve.

In quintessential Pogba fashion, it wasn’t a perfect performance – he was working on finding Ayling’s action when the right-back scored the tie. It’s too early to recycle predictions that this will be his season, but until France’s premature exit, it looked like it could have been his European Championship. But in his day, Pogba can outperform teams more talented than Leeds and this was an afternoon when Bielsa’s audacity failed.


www.theguardian.com

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