Manchester United are now 12 points ahead of West Ham in fifth place with only 15 left to play for, so a Champions League berth is near to being secured for Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s side. This and Harry Maguire handing Fred a colourful roasting (invective was used) with 72 minutes gone are the headlines from a goalless draw that was a tale of each United – Leeds were profligate, too – suffering from malfunctioning radar.
Fred being given a scolding by his captain was a sure sign of the visitors’ frustration: they had enough chances to finish off Marcelo Bielsa’s team but in Dan James, Bruno Fernandes, Marcus Rashford and Mason Greenwood had a frontline who lacked potency.
Of the Maguire-Fred contretemps, Solskjær said: “We have got a group that demands a lot of each other – the standard is high both in training and in a game, it is not just about being a nice guy. We demand maximum effort. I was really proud of how strong we looked. I never thought they threatened our goal in the second half but we missed a little bit of spark to win.”
If a lack of potency also plagued Leeds – their centre-forward, Patrick Bamford, was starved all afternoon – they also had opportunities to follow beating Manchester City and drawing with Liverpool by taking all three points here.
Bamford had spoken strongly regarding abuse 24 hours after plans for the now defunct European Super League were announced last Sunday, stating after the 1-1 draw with Liverpool that it was a “shame” racism and other forms of prejudice did not cause the same level of uproar.
Solskjær referenced this when asked about next weekend’s social media blackout which is to be staged by football to protest against racism and other forms of abuse on the various platforms.
“It is important we stick together on this,” the Norwegian said. “The discrimination on social media is disgusting. Patrick Bamford spoke well. This is our way of doing it.”
The disaffected Manchester United support employed a flyby to show their own unhappiness, the plane over Elland Road before kick-off trailing a banner that read, “2BN WASTED GLAZERSOUT”, in reference to the owners.
Solskjær was asked if this had affected his players. “No. I wasn’t aware and I don’t think any of the boys have seen that,” he said. “We have focused on the game, every single one us. Of course it was a difficult week, but it [Leeds’s] is a unique style of play to play against and I thought we did really well.”
A few minutes after the Maguire-Fred contretemps Solskjær threw on Paul Pogba – for James – in an attempt to snatch victory, the Frenchman being followed by Edinson Cavani late on. Yet as throughout this failed to make United click, with Fernandes having previously had the best chance to end a nine-game sequence without adding to his 24 goals for United, when played in by Aaron Wan-Bissaka.
This came in the second half and occurred after the right-back – impressive all afternoon – slipped his marker and turned inside and found the visitors’ trequartista. When Fernandes unloaded he beat Illan Meslier but not the home goalkeeper’s right post in a miss that pointed to a confidence deficit from the Portuguese. United also rode their luck: in the first half Luke Shaw appeared lucky to escape conceding a penalty when Jack Harrison’s cross struck his left arm: Mike Dean, in the VAR chair, supported the verdict of Craig Pawson, the referee, that there was no infringement.
Solskjær was unhappy with the draw yet not the display. “I think our fitness has been really good and in the second half we looked strong, like athletes, I really liked what I saw,” he said. “Today we just didn’t have the moment, didn’t take them when we had them. A draw is disappointing because we wanted to put pressure on [Manchester] City.”
Pep Guardiola’s champions-elect are 10 points clear, while United are eight better off than Leicester, in second. The point was well earned by Bielsa’s men, who move up a place into a highly credible ninth – on 49, ahead of Arsenal.
Their last three results are a win over City and draws with Liverpool and United. “This group of players have become solid,” said their manager. “They have made errors and learned how to correct them and in the same way they have learned to avoid errors that are avoidable. I have the feeling there has been a growth in the maturity to manage that.”
For Solskjær and his cadre thoughts turn to Thursday’s visit of Roma to Old Trafford in the Europa League semi-final first leg. The continent’s second tier club competition is United’s last hope of breaking a four-year trophy drought this season.
“I am really happy with the boys’ focus, they have such a determination to finish the season strong. The Europa League [semi-final] disappointment [of last year] still sticks in their minds and hearts. We are focused on Roma and Liverpool [in the league] in between,” Solskjær said.