With all three points, they made a defiant display of camaraderie after exiting a sometimes toxic environment.
It was another example of the team spirit Erik ten Hag has worked so hard to instill at United, and that sense of brotherhood was desperately required in West Yorkshire.
This was a furious game played in a feverish environment. The rafters were rattled by the pre-match version of ‘Marching on Together,’ and the roar never stopped. Unfortunately, it also entered the realms of the unnecessary. Following the game, both clubs criticized chants invoking Munich and Istanbul.
On the field, United had to weather a storm. They were pummeled early on, with Tyler Adams and Weston McKennie scything down Jadon Sancho and Tyrell Malacia.
But they were also attempting to grasp a new strategy. United’s system was a surprise from the start, with the build-up in a 3-2-2-3 formation, but it bought as many troubles as it did advantages and barely made it through the first half hour.
Malacia played in midfield alongside Marcel Sabitzer, with Fred pushed up with Bruno Fernandes and the wingers playing high.
However, moving the ball forward proved tough. United enjoyed a few of quick breaks, but dealing with an aggressive and intense Leeds proved difficult. Shaw ran out wide under little pressure on one occasion, but with the infield ball to Malacia blocked and Marcus Rashford high up the pitch, he was reduced to a hit and hope to Wout Weghorst. On present form, that’s more of a hope than a hit.
United clearly lacked their top two line-breaking passers. Casemiro was suspended, but leaving Lisandro Martinez on the bench didn’t help. Shaw is a competent passer, but he does not have Martinez’s skill set.
The South American pair are among the best passers at the club and are crucial to United’s progression. They can both puncture opponents’ defenses with rapid forward passes, finding players like Fernandes or Rashford between the lines. But that didn’t happen because both were missing. The setup was shoddy and slow.
Casmiro’s absence was unavoidable, and with Martinez suspended at the Nou Camp, Ten Hag probably wanted to give Shaw some playing time at center-back. But the unfriendly – and even horrifying – an inferno of Elland Road was not the place to experiment. This was not a peaceful afternoon at Carrington.
It was the first time this season that United began a Premier League game without at least one of Martinez or Casemiro, and the difference was stark. Despite Ten Hag’s opening gambit’s funkiness, there was a noticeable decline in quality.
Leeds was pleased not to press the three players involved in the build-up from the back. Diogo Dalot, Harry Maguire, and Shaw were given possession, but with passing lanes closed, they lacked the ability to make creative passes. They repeatedly gave it away and placed pressure on themselves.
With a scoreless game, you don’t generally see changes at center-back, but Ten Hag could clearly see what the rest of us did. Martinez came in for Malacia, and Shaw switched to left back. United started to improve.
The 61st-minute substitution didn’t fully change the game, but it provided United with something they lacked: an excellent passer in a deep position. Soon after the substitution, United executed their first effective offensive move of the half, which resulted in Dalot hitting the crossbar.
Eventually, they began to acquire more of a stranglehold on things, moving the ball forward a little easier. Shaw crossed to Marcus Rashford, who started the three-point play. Alejandro Garnacho then doubled the lead with a brilliant move.
The forwards will get the credit, but given the quality of United’s approach play, at least one of Martinez or Casemiro must participate.