Football: Bruno Fernandes nets treble as Man United thump Leeds 5-1 in season opener

Bruno Fernandes (left) celebrates with Mason Greenwood after scoring the first goal.
Bruno Fernandes (left) celebrates with Mason Greenwood after scoring the first goal.PHOTO: AFP

MANCHESTER (REUTERS, AFP) - Bruno Fernandes fired a hat-trick of goals in front of a raucous Old Trafford, as Manchester United thrashed Leeds United 5-1 to get their English Premier League season off to a flying start on Saturday (Aug 14).

Paul Pogba also starred with four assists - one more than he managed in the whole of last season in the league - to help United run riot in front of their first full crowd in 17 months.

“My objective every season is being better than the last,” Fernandes told BT Sport. “Every performance I do, I want to do better and better. I’ve started with three goals but it’s a long way to go.

“We know the quality of the players who have come in, but the team was already very good. We showed it last season. We didn’t win trophies, but the team was growing up. Our focus has to be game by game. We’ll achieve something with this mentality.”

Fernandes got the goal scoring under way on the half-hour mark, before a Luke Ayling thunderbolt out of nowhere levelled things up three minutes into the second half.

It was only a short reprieve for Leeds, however, as Man United livewire Mason Greenwood fired the hosts back in front before Fernandes added a quickfire third to put Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side in command.

Fernandes completed his first United treble with another fine finish on the hour mark, before Brazilian midfielder Fred got in on the act to complete the rout and cap a memorable afternoon for the hosts, who laid down an early marker in the Premier League title race.

Solskjaer’s men finished a distant second to Manchester City in the Premier League last season with any hope of a title challenge undone by their poor record in front of an empty Old Trafford.

But on Saturday, the Theatre of Dreams was transformed into a cacophony of noise by a full house, which resulted in a similar transformation on the field from United.

The home fans were on their feet even before a ball was kicked to welcome Raphael Varane as the French centre-back was paraded on the pitch following his arrival from Real Madrid for a reported £40 million (S$75.2 million).

Varane was not registered in time to make his debut, while United’s other big-money signing of the summer Jadon Sancho started on the bench.

United were also without Marcus Rashford and Edinson Cavani, but that allowed Pogba to star in his favoured role on the left of a front three.

The 28-year-old has again been the source of speculation in recent weeks after starring for France in an otherwise disappointing Euro 2020 for the world champions.

But Pogba finally reproduced his international form for United as he surpassed his tally of assists for the entire 2020-21 league season inside 90 minutes.

The only blot on the former Juventus midfielder’s day was his finishing as he slotted wide with just Illan Meslier to beat midway through the first half.

Leeds were thrashed 6-2 on their first league visit to Old Trafford for 16 years last season and Marcelo Bielsa’s men headed back to Yorkshire with their tails between their legs once more as United ran riot.

Pogba’s fourth assist of the afternoon teed up Fred to slot home a rare goal from the edge of the box.

Solskjaer could then afford the luxury of handing Sancho his debut with the game won as the £73 million winger and Anthony Martial were introduced for the final 15 minutes.

They could not add to the score, but United’s work was already done as they sent out an early warning to their title rivals.