Anthony Martial scored Manchester United’s first Premier League hat-trick for more than seven years as he monopolised the scoring in a 3-0 win over Sheffield United.
Martial revelled in his role at the centre of an attack featuring Mason Greenwood and Marcus Rashford, with the latter claiming the first of two assists in the seventh minute.
Aaron Wan-Bissaka made a mockery of questions over his attacking capabilities from right-back as he tormented Enda Stevens to set up Martial’s second a minute before half-time.
A clever chip completed his treble – becoming the first United player to do so in England’s top flight since Robin van Persie against Aston Villa in April 2013.
But this was one of those days to remind you why he is worth the trouble. A first hat-trick for United took Martial to 19 goals for the season – one better than his impressive breakthrough campaign at Old Trafford following a move from Monaco that could eventually be worth up to £58million.
MATCH FACTS AND STATS
MANCHESTER UNITED (4-2-3-1): De Gea 6.5; Wan-Bissaka 7, Maguire 7, Lindelof 7, Shaw 6; Pogba 7.5 (Pereira 80), Matic 6; Greenwood 6 (Mata 81), Fernandes 7 (McTominay 80), Rashford 7 (James 80); Martial 8 (Ighalo 80)
Subs not used: Bailly, Fred, James, Romero, Williams
Goalscorers: Martial 7, 44, 74
Manager: Ole Gunnar Solskjaer 7
SHEFFIELD UNITED (3-5-2): Moore 5.5; Basham 4.5, Jagielka 6.5, Robinson 5.5; Baldock 6, Lundstram 6, Norwood 5.5 (Berge 46, 6), Fleck 6, Stevens 6; McGoldrick 5.5 (Zivkovic 64, 6), Mousset 5.5 (McBurnie 46, 6)
Subs not used: Luke Freeman, Sharp, Kieron Freeman, Verrips, Osborn, Rodwell
Manager: Chris Wilder 6
Referee: Anthony Taylor 7
More significantly, it moved Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side to within two points of fourth-placed Chelsea, who play champions Manchester City on Thursday night, after extending their unbeaten run to 13 games.
On the hottest day of the year at an empty Old Trafford for the first Premier League game here in three-and-a-half months, we were never going to see the best of either United, Manchester or Sheffield. Indeed, the atmosphere couldn’t have been more different from a frantic 3-3 draw between the two clubs at Bramall Lane in November.
But Solskjaer’s side continue to evolve and we saw Paul Pogba and Bruno Fernandes starting together for the first time. Both impressed again against a Sheffield United side who never looked like securing the win needed to leapfrog United in the table.
Blades boss Chris Wilder was forced into changes for his team’s third away game in the space of eight days as Phil Jagielka replaced the suspended John Egan two months short of his 38th birthday and Simon Moore took over in goal from Dean Henderson whose loan from United made him ineligible.
David McGoldrick and Lys Mousset also replaced Billy Sharp and Oli McBurnie in attack following a 3-0 defeat at Newcastle.
Much of the pre-match talk had centred around David de Gea in the wake of his error at Tottenham, and the challenge he could face at United when Henderson returns to the club.
Solskjaer defended De Gea by describing him as the best goalkeeper in the world, but in truth he didn’t have many opportunities to show it in a first half that saw United surge into a two-goal lead.
The first came as early as the seventh minute when Aaron Wan-Bissaka took a throw-in from a relatively harmless position on the right. Martial’s challenge was enough to distract Oliver Norwood and the ball ran for Marcus Rashford.
Again the danger seemed minimal when Fernandes played a short pass to Pogba who laid it off to Wan-Bissaka 25 yards from goal. Instead of playing it back to the Frenchman, Wan-Bissaka turned and drove past Enda Stevens down the right.
There were plenty of defenders waiting to deal with his low cross into the box but again Martial reacted faster than Basham to score from close-range.
In the second half, Jagielka blocked Greenwood’s shot which span just past the far post and Martial scuffed another chance wide after Pogba’s run into the box had taken his past four opponents, before United’s man-of-the-match completed his hat-trick in the 74th minute.
Fernandes produced a lovely flick to direct Wan-Bissaka’s pass to the feet of Martial. He played a one-two with Rashford and then dinked the ball nonchalantly over the advancing Moore.