Manchester United battled from two goals down to secure a crucial 2-2 draw against Leeds United and bolster their hopes of achieving a top-four Premier League finish this season.
The travelling Peacocks were in full voice in the south-east stand of Old Trafford, and their energy was matched by the Leeds players early on, as Wilfried Gnonto broke the deadlock emphatically before a minute had struck. It was a sumptuous drive past David de Gea and reinforced his continued rise to prominence.
It was an instinctive finish from the teenage sensation, who exchanged passes with Patrick Bamford before uncorking from range. The strike nestled into the bottom corner and sent the travelling contingent into raptures, with it also being the second-quickest away goal at Old Trafford in Premier League history.
0:55 – Wilfried Gnonto's goal after 55 seconds is the second-earliest goal scored against Manchester United at Old Trafford in the Premier League, after Edin Dzeko's strike in March 2014 for Manchester City (43 seconds). Blocks. pic.twitter.com/qAtSYZqETJ
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) February 8, 2023
Man Utd pressed and probed but couldn’t respond in the first half, while Leeds came out after the restart with a continued incentive to attack in cyclical waves of frictionless pressure. The managerless club were rewarded again for their intent, doubling their advantage through a Raphael Varane own goal shortly after the break.
The second strike ultimately forced Erik ten Hag’s hand, who rolled the dice with the double substitution of Facundo Pellistri and Jadon Sancho. The switch had the desired effect immediately, with Pellistri collecting a lofted ball from Marcel Sabitzer to set up Diogo Dalot’s cross for Marcus Rashford.
The England international leapt like a salmon to nod home and reduce the deficit. Less than 10 minutes later, his compatriot, Sancho, would bag a crucial goal that could prove the catalyst in his resurrection — and the possible turning point in finally coming to the fore and establishing himself as a superstar at Old Trafford.
On his toes, the forgotten winger got on the end of a loose ball in the box and poked home to restore parity, while also ensuring Man Utd haven’t completely slipped-up against a club scrambling near the foot of the table and without a permanent manager on the touchline.
For Man Utd the goal could prove crucial come the end of the season, but for Sancho it will take a seismic weight off his shoulders as he returns to Man Utd following his extended lay-off to build up some confidence and momentum behind the scenes. His protracted absence from the spotlight has thus far worked a treat.
The 22-year-old’s introduction actually marked his first Premier League appearance since October in the 1-1 draw against Chelsea. His immediate influence echoes the prescient musings of Man Utd legend Rio Ferdinand, who proclaimed before the match that Sancho’s return would make him feel “like a new signing”.
Jadon Sancho has scored three Premier League goals this season:
◉ vs. Liverpool
◉ vs. Leicester
◉ vs. Leeds
All the L's. ? pic.twitter.com/GdfUXClObJ
— Squawka Live (@Squawka_Live) February 8, 2023
Ferdinand told William Hill: “Jadon Sancho is back in the Man United squad and if he can get back playing to his best it will be like a new signing for the club. If you get someone like him, with the talent he has, playing to his best, he’s a threat for any team – his ability to cause defenders problems.
“In the short-term it also makes United a lot more competitive in general. The United bench over the last month hasn’t been at its most strongest so having Sancho back gives Erik ten Hag a new option to turn to in the coming weeks.
“He didn’t come on against Crystal Palace on Saturday, but the manager will be turning to him in the coming weeks so he’ll have the opportunities to build up some form.”
It’s only the start, but Ten Hag has shown a consistent ability to get the best out of players, meticulously handling their care to give them a platform upon which they can thrive. If Sancho can continue in the same vein, then this could be the start of a blossoming relationship between manager and player.
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