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United survives stormy Leeds thriller to boost top-four hopes

China Daily | Updated: 2022-02-22 09:13
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Fred (front) celebrates scoring Manchester United's third goal with Anthony Elanga during Sunday's English Premier League game at Leeds. United went on to win 4-2. ACTION IMAGES/REUTERS

LEEDS, England-Celebrating scoring Manchester United's fourth goal, Anthony Elanga held a finger to his lips. No way were the Leeds fans being silenced, though.

No chance. Not when they'd waited 19 years to see their fiercest rival at Elland Road in the Premier League, initially because of relegation and then pandemic curbs on fans.

Not when they'd already come back from two goals down by scoring twice in 24 seconds to wipe out United's lead on Sunday.

Ultimately, though, the tide turned back in United's favor to win a six-goal thriller on a drenched pitch. Fred and Elanga secured the 4-2 victory and kept United on course to stay in fourth place.

"The atmosphere was great," United manager Ralf Rangnick said. "At times we had to cool down things on the pitch."

"Today it was important not only that we won the game but the way we reacted. That was the best possible response the team could give," said Rangnick. "A game like this one today you can only win as a team."

Leeds can't yet escape the fear that its return to the Premier League after a 16-year exile will end after two seasons. Just five points separate Marcelo Bielsa's side from the relegation zone after collecting one point from the last four games.

"The effort the team made you can value it, but the relationship between what you get and what they produced is enormous in football," Leeds manager Marcelo Bielsa said. "To not fight would be a sign that is worrying and to fight is a starting point. But it is not the only thing."

Certainty of its Premier League status is needed to invest in a stadium shorn of much investment since Leeds was relegated in 2004 from the world's richest league.

Parts look little changed from the era that saw Leeds pip United to the title in 1992, the last season before the inception of the Premier League.

Time hasn't dissipated the intensity of the rivals who are geographically separated by the Pennine mountains and less than an hour on the road in northwest England.

There were still unsavory chants about the Munich air disaster that killed eight United players in 1958.

And objects were showered on the United players after captain Harry Maguire headed in the opener in the 34th minute from Luke Shaw's corner and then celebrated in front of the home fans.

It looked game over when Bruno Fernandes headed in another in the fifth minute of stoppage time at the end of the first half from Jadon Sancho's cross.

The downpour only intensified during halftime. Water splashed off the turf as players passed the ball when they returned. Soon, United was no longer coasting.

All it took was 24 seconds of play for Leeds, starting with the goal as unpredictable for David de Gea in the visiting goal as the weather.

It appeared that Rodrigo was sending in a cross from the left but the ball bent beyond the goalkeeper's reach and inside the post in the 53rd minute.

For the first time since Harry Kewell's headed winner in September 2002, the fans at Elland Road witnessed a Premier League goal against United.


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