Paul Pogba assisted four of Manchester United's goals as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side started their 2021-22 Premier League campaign with a 5-1 thrashing of Leeds United.

Bruno Fernandes netted three of them, with Mason Greenwood and Fred also getting in on the action as United issued a statement of intent.

Chelsea followed up that victory with a 3-0 win over Patrick Vieira's Crystal Palace at Stamford Bridge, while Liverpool rounded out the day by beating newly promoted Norwich City by the same scoreline.

Leicester City, Everton, Watford and Brighton and Hove Albion also claimed wins to get their seasons started in style.

Using Opta data, we take a look at the key statistics from across Saturday's fixtures.

 

Manchester United 5-1 Leeds United: Pogba and Fernandes leave Whites reeling

Pogba became the seventh player in Premier League history to assist four goals in a single game on Saturday, as he and Fernandes helped United seal a record 20th opening-day win. 

Dennis Bergkamp, Jose Antonio Reyes, Cesc Fabregas, Emmanuel Adebayor, Santi Cazorla and Harry Kane had previously teed up four goals in a Premier League match.

Two of Pogba's assists were for Fernandes, whose hat-trick was the 10th scored on the opening weekend of a Premier League season, while the playmaker was the first United player to achieve the feat since Lou Macari in 1977.

Mason Greenwood benefitted from a sublime Pogba pass shortly after Luke Ayling's sensational equaliser – the full-back's first top-flight goal – and he is now the fifth-highest scoring teenager in the history of the competition with 18 goals.

United netted five goals in their opening game of a Premier League game for only the second time, after beating Fulham 5-1 in August 2006, while Leeds shipped five in an opener for the first time.

Norwich City 0-3 Liverpool: Records tumble as Salah stars

Liverpool might have relinquished their Premier League title last season, but Mohamed Salah picked up where he left off last term as he scored and provided two assists in Liverpool's 3-0 win at Norwich.

Salah teed up both Diogo Jota and Roberto Firmino before netting himself in the 74th minute. It means he has scored on matchday one in all five of his Premier League seasons with Liverpool, while he is the first player in the competition's history to find the net on five consecutive opening weekends.

Norwich have now lost 11 successive top-flight games – only Sunderland have had a longer losing streak in the competition.

Firmino came on from the bench to score Liverpool's second. It was the 49th league goal scored by a substitute under Jurgen Klopp, the most of any side in the competition since the German joined in 2015, while the Brazil international also brought up the Reds' 8,000th league goal in the process.

Chelsea 3-0 Crystal Palace: Pulisic predictably punishes Eagles again

This trip to Stamford Bridge played out in painfully familiar fashion for Palace, who have lost more Premier League games against Chelsea (19) than versus any other side in the competition's history.

In a routine 3-0 opening-day victory, the Blues became the third team – after Tottenham (nine) and Liverpool (eight) – to win eight in a row against Palace in the Premier League era.

The nature of the first two strikes was predictable, too, with Marcos Alonso netting Chelsea's 50th direct free-kick goal in the competition – trailing only United (64) – before Christian Pulisic grabbed his fifth in five games against Palace, more than versus any other opponent.

The third was slightly more surprising, as centre-back Trevoh Chalobah's superb strike made him the second youngest Chelsea player to score on their Premier League debut for the club after Paul Hughes (22y 40d for Chalobah, 20y 274d for Hughes against Derby County in 1997).

Everton 3-1 Southampton: Benitez off to a winning start

Rafael Benitez was a contentious appointment at Everton but his tenure started with a 3-1 win over Southampton. It was the first time the Toffees have won a league match in which they trailed at half-time since September 2015.

On the other hand, since Ralph Hasenhuttl took over at Southampton in December 2018, they have lost 60 points from winning positions in the Premier League, more than any other side.

Adam Armstrong opened his Southampton account to put the visitors ahead at Goodison Park. Since the start of 2019-20, only Ivan Toney (55) has scored more goals in the top four tiers of English football.

Fresh from Olympic glory with Brazil, Richarlison scored the equaliser and has now netted in each of his last four league games against Southampton.

With Abdoulaye Doucoure lashing Everton ahead, Dominic Calvert-Lewin made it 3-1 with a diving header. He has now netted 12 headed goals in the league since the start of 2019-20, four more than any other player.

Elsewhere, Leicester City saw off Wolves 1-0 thanks to Jamie Vardy's first-half effort. The Foxes have lost just one of their last 25 home league games against the Midlands club.

Only Frank Lampard, Wayne Rooney and Alan Shearer (all eight) have scored more goals on the opening weekend of Premier League campaigns than Vardy (seven).

Watford 3-2 Aston Villa: Ings on the spot but post-Grealish era starts in defeat

Watford have now lost their opening league match in just one of the past 15 campaigns (W8 D6), after the Hornets overcame Aston Villa 3-2.

Emmanuel Dennis became the fourth different Nigerian player to score on his Premier League debut to put Watford ahead, with Ismaila Sarr registering his 20th goal for the club before Cucho Hernandez became the first Colombian to net on his debut in the competition.

John McGinn scored his second goal in the space of four league appearances, as many as he had in his previous 55, to pull one back, before Danny Ings converted a late penalty.

He is the 24th player to score on his Premier League bow for Villa, while his spot-kick was the 2,000th penalty scored in Premier League history.

Meanwhile, Burnley are now winless in their last 11 home league games (D5 L6) since beating Villa 3-2 in January, equaling their longest run without a win at Turf Moor, after Brighton came from behind to win 2-1.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer hailed Bruno Fernandes' risk-taking and explained how he gave Paul Pogba the freedom to inspire Manchester United to a 5-1 opening-day demolition of Leeds United.

Fernandes scored his first United hat-trick, the 10th opening-day treble in Premier League history, while Pogba laid on four assists to kick-start their challenge to dethrone Manchester City in style.

Pogba is the seventh player to assist four goals in the same Premier League game, his performance serving as an emphatic demonstration of his quality amid speculation over his future with the France star's contract set to expire at the end of the season.

On Saturday's evidence, Fernandes and Pogba can successfully spearhead United's quest for their first Premier League title since 2013, with Solskjaer heaping praise on both.

"He's a risk-taker, he's a Man United player. When you're a forward at Man United, you need to have confidence, a little bit of arrogance and take risks," Solskjaer told BT Sport of Fernandes.

Explaining Pogba's role, Solskjaer said: "I've had a great relationship with Paul since he was a kid. Today was just about 'go out there enjoy yourself' because he had 45 minutes against Everton [in pre-season] that were not his best, but today we just gave him the freedom of roaming wherever you want to go and get on the ball.

"All the best players would want to feel our trust in them and confidence, and Paul is one of them who can create moments out of nothing. I was impressed by his fitness, so that's a good sign."

Jadon Sancho came off the bench to make his debut, while United confirmed the signing of former Real Madrid defender Raphael Varane before kick-off, Pogba's France team-mate receiving a rousing reception as he was introduced to the fans.

"There's eight or nine players that aren't here today, you've got a bench with quality, we've done well in the summer window, Raphael coming in today as well, which I think gave the crowd a boost and the players, so you're excited of course," said Solskjaer of United's depth.

"There's always a next game, this is one, great start. This is the way I want to see my team play, it's not just because it's Leeds, but I want to see them running, going forward, taking risks and we looked fit and some of these players haven't played more than 45 minutes before today."

After the very wholesome and, well, very Arsenal scenes at the Brentford Community Stadium on Friday, a little bit of the other side of football with fans landed in Manchester for the resumption of a simmering and bitter rivalry.

Running scraps between Manchester United and Leeds United supporters in the city centre, including one clobbering another with a bin. The Leeds contingent not so politely enquiring over the identity of new signing Raphael Varane as he was paraded to the Old Trafford faithful, who then burst into a hearty rendition of, "We all hate Leeds scum!" inside 20 seconds.

Nature is healing.

Of course, novelty becoming normality with all its warts is something everyone can broadly get behind after the past 18 months. Ideally without WWE re-enactments using waste disposal facilities, but you play the cards you're dealt.

Another familiar narrative as the masses returned to the Stretford End was Paul Pogba's future in Manchester and how uneasily it sat. Once again, the France midfielder was reported to be keen on a move away from the club he re-joined for £89.3million in 2016 – a fee only overtaken as a British record by Jack Grealish's switch to Manchester City earlier this month. Once again, he appears to be going nowhere.

Lionel Messi's arrival means there is no longer enough elasticity in the Paris Saint-Germain books to bring Pogba to the French capital, leaving him to make the best of a curious status within Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's squad.

Jadon Sancho is the new headline signing and Bruno Fernandes' bottomless well of goals and assists has led some to idly question whether Pogba would be missed that much.

But, aside from both being attacking midfielders, they are elite players of different and contrasting qualities. When those talents mesh as they did in United's riotous 5-1 win over their foes from the other side of the Pennines, they suggest the most obvious route to quenching a four-season trophy drought.

The difference in approach was highlighted by two first-half one on ones, with such openings always on the agenda due to a porous Leeds midfield that badly missed Kalvin Phillips at its base.

In the 27th minute, after Mason Greenwood snaffled a loose ball in the centre circle, Pogba was sent clear. His stepover worked an angle to beat countryman IIlan Meslier in the Leeds goal and he clipped a left-footed finish just wide.

Had it gone in, it would have been a beautiful finish, every bit as attractive as the throughball with which Pogba released Fernandes three minutes later. The Portugal star mashed a shot towards goal that bounced off Meslier and spun in. Fernandes lacks Pogba's aesthetics but he gets things done and relentlessly so.

Luke Ayling's blistering 48th-minute equaliser gave us a more agreeable instance of top bins and could have been a pivot point in the contest. Well, it was. Just not the one you might have expected.

For once, there seemed to be little danger when Pogba collected possession inside the United half in the 52nd minute, but the pass with which he brought Ayling back down to earth and sent Greenwood scampering away to finish via the post was a piece of implausible perfection.

Fernandes made it 3-1, clumping a shot into a crowded goalmouth that Ayling cleared from behind the line. Not pretty, but no matter.

Pogba now had a hat-trick of assists and his partner in crime claimed the matchball as he thundered home Victor Lindelof's raking pass. Beauty but of a more visceral kind than Pogba typically deals in.

Twenty minutes on from Ayling's leveller, Fred made it 5-1 and Pogba had gorged himself to surpass his Premier League assists tally of three from 2020-21 in a single lunchtime.

He departed to a standing ovation as the new hero Sancho entered the fray alongside Anthony Martial. Once the England winger is up to full fitness and Marcus Rashford returns from shoulder surgery, it will be fascinating to see what configuration Ole Gunnar Solskjaer opts for.

Granting Pogba the roving role from the left flank that allowed him to decimate Leeds would leave a couple of high-profile wide attackers disgruntled most weeks.

There could be changes in formation, with Saturday's 4-2-3-1 wheeled out as much by necessity as design. But Pogba's six passes to Fernandes were more than he made to any United team-mate and look what that led to.

A deeper role for the Frenchman when the other attackers return would be the easy call, but why sever an alliance that looked utterly unplayable here? The start of Fernandes' story at Old Trafford once looked like it might be the end of Pogba's. They should be allowed the chance to script something far more compelling in tandem.

Bruno Fernandes scored his first Manchester United hat-trick and Paul Pogba produced four assists as they made a superb start to their Premier League challenge with a 5-1 win over Leeds United.

With Old Trafford buoyed by the signing and introduction of Raphael Varane on the pitch before kick-off, the returning fans were treated to an excellent attacking display.

Fernandes and Pogba – aided by a generous Leeds defence – were to the fore, the former benefiting from Pogba's creative talents in opening the scoring on the half-hour mark.

Pogba laid on two further assists for Mason Greenwood and Fernandes to put United in command in the second half after Luke Ayling's screamer had briefly levelled matters.

And, after Fernandes completed his treble, the former Juventus man teed up Fred to complete the rout in the 68th minute.

Leeds' defending throughout the first half was distinctly haphazard and Illan Meslier had to be alert to turn the ball behind after Pascal Struijk's backpass deflected off Greenwood.

Greenwood was involved again as he slid Pogba through on goal, only for the France midfielder to waste a golden opportunity and fire wide of the near post.

Yet Leeds refused to heed those warnings and Pogba made amends with a superb pass to tee up Fernandes after Meslier punted the ball straight to Scott McTominay, the Portuguese squeaking the ball under the goalkeeper's legs.

For all United's dominance in the first half, they were pegged back three minutes into the second when Ayling left David de Gea with no chance with a vicious right-footed drive from just outside the area.

But Old Trafford was in a stunned silence for just over three minutes as Pogba responded in equally remarkable fashion, his pinpoint long-range pass met by Greenwood, who raced down the left flank and restored the hosts' lead with a strike across the face of goal that went in off the post.

Solskjaer's men then gave themselves breathing room as Pogba made it a hat-trick of assists by finding Fernandes, whose neat turn sent Junior Firpo to the turf and was followed by a composed finish that Ayling could not prevent from crossing the line.

Fernandes' third breached the Leeds goal much more emphatically, Victor Lindelof this time the supplier as United's number 18 latched onto his ball over the top and beat Meslier with an unstoppable volley.

A hugely enjoyable day for the United fans was rounded off by Fred's simple close-range finish and Jadon Sancho coming off the bench to make his debut, Pogba leaving the pitch to a standing ovation after a display that illustrated why signing him to a new contract should be top of the club's to-do list.

Manchester United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is confident Anthony Martial can put last season's disappointment behind him and ease some of the goalscoring burden on Bruno Fernandes.

The 25-year-old finished as United's top scorer in 2019-20 but netted just seven goals in an injury-plagued 2020-21 campaign that saw him feature 36 times in all competitions.

Martial's goal tally was his lowest in a single season since joining United from Monaco in 2015, while the 29 chances created was also his lowest creative output to date.

He made 26 starts in total last season, which was curtailed in March by a knee issue, and attempted 66 shots with a conversion rate of 10.61 per cent.

That compares to a conversion rate of 28.33 for Edinson Cavani (from 60 attempts), 17.07 for Marcus Rashford (from 123) and 12 for Mason Greenwood (from 100) among United's other forwards.

Fernandes led the way with 28 goals last time out, albeit 13 of those came from the penalty spot, and Solskjaer accepts others – including Martial – must step up this campaign.

"As I've said before, we really rate Anthony," he said at a news conference ahead of Saturday's opening Premier League game of the season against Leeds United. 

"Last season was disappointing. He had injuries, he lost some form, but the season before he was our top scorer.

"If Anthony is taking all the penalties, or Rashford last season would have taken all the penalties, that's another 10-15 goals for a centre forward.

"But we've got Bruno who's so confident on pens that you can't take that away from him really.

"I'm very confident and I like what I see from Anthony when I see him in training now, and when I see him in the gym, he has that little bit of grit between his teeth again."

United have strengthened their attacking ranks on the back of finishing second in the Premier League last season with the high-profile addition of Jadon Sancho.

With Rashford recovering from shoulder surgery, Cavani being given an extended break and Sancho building up his fitness, Martial is expected to lead United's line against Leeds.

"I think with the forwards that we have, Anthony will score more goals than he did last season," Solskjaer added. 

"I think Mason will only develop. Edinson started late in the season and I think he'll score more goals. 

"Jadon will chip in with goals so I feel confident that the burden is not just on Bruno to score goals. An attacking midfielder shouldn't be the only one scoring 15-20 goals."

Jadon Sancho would be "buzzing" to take on Lionel Messi and Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League but knows he must "step up” his game to reach that same level.

Sancho has joined Manchester United from Borussia Dortmund in one of the biggest deals of the year, although it was dwarfed by Messi's transfer.

After 778 appearances, 672 goals and 265 assists for Barcelona, Messi became a free agent when his only senior club could no longer fit his contract within strict salary restrictions.

The six-time Ballon d'Or winner subsequently signed for PSG to form a frightening forward line alongside Kylian Mbappe and Neymar.

The trio scored 66 goals in LaLiga and Ligue 1 between them last season, even with Neymar only featuring 18 times, and the French side appear clear favourites for the Champions League.

United winger Sancho certainly recognises the threat but is ready to rise to the challenge, having had 19 goal involvements in 26 Bundesliga outings in 2020-21.

"I use [the Messi move] as a motivation," he told Rio Ferdinand in a BT Sport interview. "PSG are a great side, got great players like Mbappe, Neymar, Messi.

"As a young player, I'm looking at that: woah, that means I need to step up my game, try to show the world that I'm not at that level yet but I can get to that level.

"It's good competition. Every young player should thrive for big games like that.

"If we did ever face them in the Champions League, I would be buzzing, I'd be ready to go. They've got a great side, definitely."

United have their own superstars, though, and Sancho picked out Bruno Fernandes for praise as the Portugal international aims to build on a Premier League campaign that brought 18 goals and 12 assists – his 30 goal involvements seven clear of the next-best midfielder in Europe's top five leagues.

"Bruno, we were on the same team [in training] and linked up really well," Sancho said. "Me and him love winning.

"I'm glad we have the same mindset because it's needed, especially in a big team like this. If you want to win things, you have to learn how to win in training and in matches.

"I think the whole team is a great squad. Speaking to Luke [Shaw] and H [Harry Maguire] and Marcus [Rashford] at the Euros, they were just telling me there's a great bunch of lads.

"I watched some of the games last season and the attack is very good. To be a part of that now is going to be kind of crazy.

"I've seen what Bruno is doing, what Marcus is doing, [Mason] Greenwood, [Edinson] Cavani... to add more goals and assists to that is going to be exciting."

Bruno Fernandes' sublime free-kick was the highlight of Manchester United's rout against Everton, as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side rounded off their pre-season with a 4-0 victory.

Fernandes curled in a sensational effort from 25 yards out to put United three ahead in the 29th minute of Saturday's friendly at Old Trafford.

A large crowd was treated to a superb first-half display from United, albeit Rafael Benitez evidently has work to do heading into his first season as Everton boss.

Jordan Pickford, making his first appearance of pre-season after helping England to the Euro 2020 final, was partly at fault for United's eighth-minute opener – Lucas Digne's header catching Everton's goalkeeper cold, with Mason Greenwood on hand to pick up the scraps.

Pickford was beaten again seven minutes later, another returning England international Harry Maguire powering home a brilliant header home from Luke Shaw's corner. 

With Fernandes having compounded Everton's misery, Solskjaer was able to make plenty of changes in the second half as he prepares for a tough start to the Premier League campaign against Leeds United.

It was one of those substitutions – Diogo Dalot – who capped things off with the final action of the game, his header looping in over Asmir Begovic. 

Andros Townsend hit the crossbar and Demarai Gray missed a golden chance as Everton toiled before Dalot's header.

There was no United debut for Jadon Sancho, while Raphael Varane's move from Real Madrid is still being finalised. 

The Toffees face Southampton in ex-Liverpool manager Benitez's first competitive game in charge.

Manchester United have improved to the extent they are ready to win trophies, according to star playmaker Bruno Fernandes.

The Red Devils finished runners-up in the Premier League last season, recording consecutive top-four finishes for the first time since 2013, but suffered shoot-out heartbreak against Villarreal in the Europa League final.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has strengthened the team ahead of the new season, securing the services of Jadon Sancho from Borussia Dortmund and agreeing a deal for the transfer of Raphael Varane from Real Madrid.

With upgrades in two areas of need, Fernandes, who scored 18 times and provided 12 assists in the league last term, is excited by the threat United could pose next season.

"Obviously I think, as always, we have a chance to win whatever we want, or wherever we try to win, because I think last season unluckily for us we don't get to win any trophies," said Fernandes, who led the Premier League by creating 95 chances in 2020-21.

"We get to the final of Europa League but unluckily we don't win. But, still, with the transfers or without the transfers, Manchester United will always be a tough opponent, we will try to win every competition we are included in."

Fernandes netted 28 times for United in all competitions, the best return by a midfielder for a Premier League club in a single campaign, surpassing Frank Lampard's 27 for Chelsea in 2009-10.

If the United star needs more help from his team-mates, he expects it will follow in the coming campaign.

"I'm proud of what we have done because of course we want to win trophies and we know we have the chance, and we have the capacity to win trophies," he added.

"But I see an improvement on the team, on the mentality of the team, on the quality of the team.

"And I think the team will improve more this season and we are going up, better and better, day by day, and now this is a new season, a new chance to win something and to do something different."

Are Manchester United set for a busy transfer window?

After finishing runners-up to Manchester City in the Premier League and losing in the Europa League final, United are keen to strengthen.

A trio of stars are reportedly on the club's shortlist.

 

TOP STORY – UNITED WANT THREE MORE PLAYERS

Manchester United are targeting three more signings this off-season, according to The Guardian.

United have agreed a deal to bring Jadon Sancho to Old Trafford from Borussia Dortmund but Ole Gunnar Solskjaer wants more.

The Red Devils are reportedly closing in on Real Madrid defender Raphael Varane, though Villarreal's Pau Torres has also been linked, with Tottenham star Harry Kane and West Ham midfielder Declan Rice also on the list.

 

ROUND-UP

- Italy and Roma full-back Leonardo Spinazzola is attracting interest from Madrid following his exploits at Euro 2020, reports Calciomercato. LaLiga rivals Barcelona have also been linked.

- After agreeing to sell Sancho, Dortmund are eyeing PSV's Donyell Malen and RB Leipzig defender Marcel Halstenberg, reports Sport Bild.

Paris Saint-Germain are planning to announce the arrivals of Sergio Ramos, Inter star Achraf Hakimi and former Milan goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma within 15 days, according to Fabrizio Romano. Ramos has agreed to sign a two-year deal in Paris.

- Antena 2 claims James Rodriguez is in talks with Serie A runners-up Milan over a move from Everton.

United are prioritising a contract extension for star Bruno Fernandes, says Romano. Fernandes has flourished since arriving from Sporting CP.

Madrid have joined Milan in the race to sign United and Portugal full-back Diogo Dalot, claims Calciomercato.

PSG have emerged as the only likely suitor for Juventus superstar Cristiano Ronaldo after United signed Sancho, reports Calciomercato. However, a move depends on whether Kylian Mbappe leaves PSG for Madrid or Liverpool.

Belgium face holders Portugal in a mouthwatering Euro 2020 last-16 tie on Sunday and their star attacking midfielder is in ominous form.

Kevin De Bruyne began the Red Devils' group campaign on the sidelines as he recovered from facial injuries sustained during Manchester City's Champions League final defeat to Chelsea.

“I don't feel anything on the left side, like after a visit to the dentist," he explained in a typically abrupt fashion.

But since being introduced as a half-time substitute with Belgium 1-0 down to Denmark in Copenhagen, the 29-year-old has unquestionably made his presence felt.

A brilliant assist and thumping winning goal saw the playmaker inspire a 2-1 win almost singlehandedly.

Belgium made it three wins from three thanks to a routine 2-0 triumph over Finland in their final Group B match, with De Bruyne laying on Romelu Lukaku's third goal of the tournament.

Despite only playing 134 minutes at Euro 2020, he has created five chances with an expected assists (xA) value of 1.18.

 

Bruno benched as holders struggle to find their feet

If this is a case of De Bruyne emphatically bringing his Premier League form onto the international stage, the same cannot yet be said of Bruno Fernandes.

Since his Manchester United debut on February 1 last year, Fernandes' 19 assists are the most supplied by any player in England's top fight. De Bruyne, with 17 assists having played 2,904 minutes to the Portugal international's 4,297, is the only other player to have recorded more than 15 over the same period.

The Manchester maestros also close out the top two in terms of chances created (De Bruyne 131, Fernandes 125), big chances created (De Bruyne 31, Fernandes 23) and chances created from open play (99 apiece) in this time.

 

Fernandes was in the starting line-up for Portugal's opener when they left it late to beat Hungary 3-0 in Group F, before being unable to avert a chastening 4-2 loss to Germany in Munich.

The former Sporting CP favourite was one of the victims as Fernando Santos shuffled his pack in response, only coming on as a late substitute in the 2-2 draw against France – his most notable contribution coming when he escaped punishment for an untidy challenge on Kingsley Coman in his own penalty area.

 

KDB running free

De Bruyne and Fernandes' contrasting contributions at Euro 2020 so far can by partly explained by the amount of freedom they are granted by their respective international bosses to recreate their club heroics.

"Kevin will have an influential role, the playmaker, linking possession," Martinez said a couple of days out from the showdown in Seville, with De Bruyne once again poised to leave a stamp on the game irrespective of starting position.

He replaced Dries Mertens against Denmark, nominally roving in the front three, before reverting to a central midfield position alongside Axel Witsel for a man-of-the-match showing versus Finland.

For City, the majority of De Bruyne's Premier League touches last season came in the middle third of the opposition half of the field, with 15.27 per cent in the middle of the left flank.

 

Within the far smaller sample size of his Belgium minutes at Euro 2020, the story is similar enough. Although he does not hit double-digit percentages across the middle attacking third as he does for City, 15.38 per cent of De Bruyne's Red Devils touches are in that favoured position - coming in from the left and able to see the full picture unfolding.

Fernandes' made 14.08 per cent of his United touches in the same area in 2020-21, with a comparable spread across the attacking midfield zones to De Bruyne.

By contrast, for Portugal at Euro 2020, there has been a huge concentration of Fernandes' touches on the right flank - 22.68 per on the right of the middle third of the opposition half, compared to just 4.12 per cent where he does the biggest chunk of his United work.

This suggests far less license to express himself than De Bruyne enjoys under Martinez and the on-field relationship each man has with their team's superstar goalscorer is somewhat wrapped up in all this.

 

KDB and Rom in sync, Bruno struggling to feed Ronaldo

The outcome of Sunday's match could have a huge bearing on the winner of the Golden Boot, although Cristiano Ronaldo's group-stage haul of five means he might have already done enough.

Lukaku is building on a fabulous couple of seasons at Inter and has three for Belgium so far, with the centre-forward seeming to come alive whenever De Bruyne is in close proximity.

A marginal offside call had already thwarted the De Bruyne-Lukaku link before Belgium's number seven and number nine combined to complete the scoring against Finland.

It is not a one-way relationship, either, with Lukaku holding up play expertly for De Bruyne to lay Thomas Meunier's equaliser on a plate in the Denmark match.

 

Of De Bruyne and Lukaku's seven combinations at Euro 2020 – when one of them has passed to the other – six have ended in the opposition penalty area, underling their considerable threat in tandem.

Fernandes and Ronaldo have passed to one another 15 times, but only two of these exchanges have ended in the area and neither yielded a goal.

Their combinations have also been uneven. Fernandes came on in the 72nd minute against France and he and Ronaldo each passed to the other once. They shared three in total despite being on the pitch for 89 minutes together versus Hungary.

Perhaps this speaks of the respective status of the two playmakers with their countries. Fernandes, 26, is in Ronaldo's shadow like the rest of his international team-mates, meaning the cajoling leader on show at Old Trafford is unlikely to be seen to the same extent. Much like his overall presence, his on-field contributions have shrunk.

 

De Bruyne is second to no one in the Belgium set-up, the shining light of a celebrated generation alongside Lukaku and Eden Hazard.

It means that, while they might compete as men of equal status in the next Manchester derby, De Bruyne will be the heartbeat of Belgium's bid for a quarter-final spot as Fernandes seeks to muscle in and make his own talents felt from the margins.

Having been scrapped last year due to the disruption caused by the pandemic, the Ballon d'Or returns in 2021.

With Euro 2020 and the Copa America rescheduled for this year, the stars of Europe and South America have the chance to use those tournaments as a springboard towards claiming the game's top individual prize.

Following club seasons either laden with trophies or padded with statistical achievements – or, in some cases, a bit of both – a few elite-level performances could make the difference in the race to win France Football's famous award.

Stats Perform has chosen a shortlist of 14 players who could make themselves Ballon d'Or favourites should they sparkle over the next month...

 

Karim Benzema

Remarkably, Karim Benzema failed to win a trophy with Real Madrid despite registering 30 goals and nine assists in 46 games in all competitions.

That form did bring his international exile to an end, though, and if he keeps it up for France over the coming month, a Ballon d'Or challenge is not out of the question.

Kevin De Bruyne

A second successive PFA Players' Player of the Year award for Kevin De Bruyne came after another standout season for Manchester City in which he won the Premier League and EFL Cup.

Had Pep Guardiola's men finally got their hands on the Champions League trophy, the Ballon d'Or might be De Bruyne's already. Leading Belgium to Euros glory would probably do the job.

Ruben Dias

The other prime candidate for City's player of the season, Ruben Dias was a colossal performer at the heart of their defence after joining from Benfica, winning the Premier League's Player of the Season award.

Defenders' difficulties winning big individual prizes are well documented, and the last to lift the Ballon d'Or – Fabio Cannavaro in 2006 – did so after leading Italy to the World Cup.

Bruno Fernandes

Bruno Fernandes was heartbroken to lose the Europa League final on penalties as his wait for a trophy with Manchester United goes on.

However, a combined 46 direct goal involvements – the most of any Premier League player – means individual glory could be on the cards should Fernandes and Portugal shine.

Phil Foden

The PFA Young Player of the Year winner, Phil Foden blossomed in 2020-21 from prodigious talent to integral player for both City and England.

His Ballon d'Or chances are probably slimmer than those of a couple of his City team-mates, but long-awaited success for the Three Lions could put him right in the mix.

Harry Kane

Another star performer in 2020-21 to end the season empty-handed, Harry Kane finished top for goals (23) and assists (14) in the Premier League despite Tottenham finishing seventh.

Winner of the Golden Boot at the last World Cup, Kane is England's undisputed star going into Euro 2020 and has every chance of topping the scoring charts again.

N'Golo Kante

Arguably the popular choice for the award, N'Golo Kante won the Champions League with Chelsea after being named man of the match in both legs of the semi-final and the final against City.

France are most observers' favourites to win the Euros and, if they do, Kante will surely be facing short odds to win the ultimate individual trophy – even if it's one in which he has little interest.

Robert Lewandowski

It's widely accepted that, had the award been handed out last year, it would have gone to Robert Lewandowksi, the man whose 55 goals in 47 games delivered Bayern the treble.

How do you follow that? Well, he scored 41 times in the Bundesliga alone in 2020-21, breaking Gerd Muller's 49-year-old single-season record. Winning the Euros with Poland might be a stretch, but finishing as top goalscorer is certainly achievable.

Romelu Lukaku

The best player in Serie A as Inter ended an 11-year wait to win the title, Romelu Lukaku enjoyed the best season of his career, with 41 direct goal involvements in 44 appearances.

With eight goals in his past nine games for Belgium, the 28-year-old could well be the man to fire Roberto Martinez's side to glory, which would make him very hard to overlook.

Kylian Mbappe

Paris Saint-Germain lost their Ligue 1 title to Lille and could not reach back-to-back Champions League finals, which seems incredible given Kylian Mbappe managed 42 goals and 11 assists in just 47 appearances.

Departing Bayern Munich boss Hansi Flick this year said there was no question Mbappe would win the Ballon d'Or one day. The Euros could be his ticket to glory in 2021.

Lionel Messi

The winner of the previous award in 2019 – the sixth of his astonishing career – Lionel Messi amazingly plundered 28 goals and had nine assists for Barcelona from January 1 onwards.

It wasn't enough to win Barca the LaLiga title, but it does put him right in the mix. If he can finally win the Copa America with Argentina, Ballon d'Or number seven may well follow.

Neymar

Even Neymar would admit he has only an outside chance of winning this year's Ballon d'Or, his 17 goals and eight assists in 2020-21 a modest return for the world's most expensive footballer.

He typically produces in a Brazil shirt, though, and winning the Copa America would propel him right back into the mix for the individual prize he supposedly craves above all others.

Cristiano Ronaldo

Juventus may have lost their grip on Serie A, but Cristiano Ronaldo still finished as top goalscorer (with 29), and they won the Supercoppa Italiana and Coppa Italia.

Ronaldo won his fourth of five Ballons d'Or after Portugal triumphed at Euro 2016, and there's little doubt he would be vying for a sixth if they defend that trophy.

Luis Suarez

Discarded by Barcelona for being past his usefulness, Luis Suarez responded with 21 goals in 32 games to propel Atletico Madrid to a first league title since 2013-14.

Should Uruguay upset the odds at the Copa America, you can bet Suarez will be in the running for the Ballon d'Or. Quite what Barca fans would make of that is hard to say.

Manchester City have four players in the running for the Professional Footballers' Association's (PFA) Men's Footballer of the Year award.

City cruised to Premier League success this term, with Ruben Dias, Phil Foden, Ilkay Gundogan and Kevin De Bruyne all key to their triumph.

All four have been named on the PFA's six-man shortlist for the prize, which is voted for by the players.

Portugal centre-back Dias – winner of the Football Writers' Association gong – is seen as arguably the favourite after a stellar first campaign at City following his move from Benfica last year.

While City only conceded three goals fewer (32) than in 2019-20 (35) when they finished second to Liverpool, many have compared his quick adaptation and influence to that of Virgil van Dijk after he joined the Reds from Southampton.

Admirers have also credited Dias' steadying of the City backline with playing a major role in the improvement of John Stones alongside him, the England international finally reaching a level many suspected he may never find despite his potential.

For a while earlier in the season Gundogan looked as though he would probably be the frontrunner for end-of-season prizes, as he embarked on a remarkable scoring run that ultimately helped him finish with 13 in 28 Premier League appearances – more than double his previous best for a domestic season.

Only Bruno Fernandes (18) can better that among midfielders, though nine of his were penalties – none of Gundogan's were, with the German deployed in a more advanced role as City largely played without an out-and-out striker.

De Bruyne's nomination did not come as a surprise either, the Belgian having laid on 12 assists this term, a haul bettered by only Harry Kane (14).

Foden is the youngest of the six nominees and it is likely to be the first of many for him, with the 21-year-old having a hand in 14 goals (nine scored, five assisted) in what was a breakthrough season – his 1,611 minutes played not far off double the 892 he managed in 2019-20.

Fernandes and Kane are the two non-City representatives up for the award – they are also the two players with the most goal involvements in the 2020-21 season.

Tottenham star Kane took home the Golden Boot thanks to his tally of 23, while he also topped the assist charts.

Fernandes netted 18 times for Manchester United and equalled De Bruyne's assists haul of 12.

They are two of just nine players across the top five European leagues to reach double figures for assists and goals in 2020-21.

Foden is also up for the Young Player of the Year award with Trent Alexander-Arnold, Mason Greenwood, Mason Mount, Declan Rice and Bukayo Saka – an all-English shortlist.

Bruno Fernandes and Luke Shaw are adamant Manchester United do not need any form of motivation or inspiration from the club's iconic former manager Alex Ferguson ahead of Wednesday's Europa League final.

United face Villarreal in Gdansk as they look to win their first piece of silverware since Ole Gunnar Solskjaer replaced Jose Mourinho in December 2018.

Solskjaer's former boss Ferguson is staying in the same hotel as the United squad and has been particularly prominent in the media of late, granting numerous interviews after largely avoiding the press in his eight years since retirement.

Ferguson led United to two Champions League successes – among many other titles – during his storied reign at the club, therefore knows plenty about the pressures and emotions that come with such occasions.

But Shaw and Fernandes stressed they are in no need of any extra motivation or pep talks from Ferguson as they look to sink the Yellow Submarine.

Speaking to the media, Shaw said: "I wouldn't expect him to speak to us. I am sure we don't need people to inspire us for the game tomorrow, as much of a legend as he [Ferguson] is.

"Inside our group we need to do that ourselves. Of course, I'm sat next to the manager now and I am sure he'll be doing that tomorrow, so I'm not sure we'll be seeing too much of Sir Alex tomorrow."

Fernandes continued: "I think we have a coach who passed a lot of time with Alex Ferguson so everything he could say to us, he [Solskjaer] already knows. We trust our coach.

"The team is confident. We trust ourselves, we know what we have to do. This is our moment to do our best.

"We trained well the days before, we have another day to train. Make the job tomorrow, enjoy the moment – being in the final is not for everyone."

It will be United's first European final since the 2016-17 edition of this competition, when they defeated Ajax 2-0 under Mourinho – before that they had gone nine years without a trophy in Europe.

Even reaching the final this time around is something of a milestone, particularly for Solskjaer, as United's record in semi-finals prior to their two-legged tie with Roma was poor under the Norwegian.

The 8-5 aggregate win over Roma ended a run of four successive semi-final eliminations for United under Solskjaer, whose only other final as a manager was in the 2013 Norwegian Cup, and the club's players will relish the chance to end their trophy drought.

"We come to this club because we want to win. It doesn't matter if the club doesn't win for many years, the hope is still there," Fernandes said.

"Trophies are part of this club. Every player knows he will come to United to fight for trophies, to be a better player.

"If you look to history, you have to look to the history, pressure is part of your life. I like the pressure, that's good for me.

"The most important for us is to try to win the game. Everything can happen, but we can control some stuff. Most importantly, the team is growing up and tomorrow will be a sign of that."

Bruno Fernandes says comparisons with Manchester United icon Eric Cantona motivate him to become even better. 

The Portugal international has enjoyed a sensational season for the Red Devils, scoring 28 goals and making 18 assists across all competitions. 

Eighteen of his goals and 12 of the assists came in 37 Premier League appearances as United secured second place and consecutive top-four finishes for the first time since 2013. 

Fernandes' form helped him win United's Player of the Year award for a second straight season, the midfielder receiving an overwhelming 63 per cent of the votes cast by supporters.

Fernandes followed in the footsteps of Cristiano Ronaldo, Ruud van Nistelrooy, Roy Keane and David de Gea to become only the fifth player in United history to win the club's annual award in consecutive campaigns.

It is another United great Fernandes has been compared to, though.

Cantona lit up the Premier League between 1992 and 1997 and former Sporting CP man Fernandes says he is "honoured" to be spoken about in the same breath as the Frenchman.

"It is an honour to be compared with him because the impact he had was really high and he won many major trophies with the club," Fernandes told BBC Sport.

"But when you are compared with this kind of big player, it means you need to be better every day. It makes me work harder to keep in the mind of the people, being compared with him. That, for me, is a good pressure."

Fernandes is out on his own as United's top scorer this season, with Marcus Rashford seven goals adrift of the 26-year-old. 

His most recent strike, a deflected effort in the 4-2 defeat to Liverpool on May 13, saw him overtake Frank Lampard as the highest scoring midfielder for a Premier League club across all competitions in a single campaign. Lampard scored 27 times for Chelsea in 2009-10.

Yet Fernandes rejects suggestions he has done much of the heavy lifting for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side this season, insisting the club would not have enjoyed as successful a campaign without the support of his team-mates.

"It is such a big club. It would be heavy to lift it myself," he added. "Of course, I did really well. I know that, from my numbers, my performance, everything.

"But this comes from the help and trust of my team-mates. They have helped me to be better every day. And if they help me, I know I can help them."

United are aiming to claim their first piece of silverware since 2017 when they face Villarreal in the Europa League final on Wednesday. 

While a major trophy and a second-placed finish in the Premier League would be considered a success by many, Fernandes is targeting more next term. 

"This team is improving," he said. "Everyone can see it. We are growing up and understand together we can reach better things.

"The most important thing for me about next season is being all together; the club, players and fans pushing to the same side. 

"If we all do that, we could do many good things next season, which, I am pretty sure, will be much better than this one."

For the first time under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, Manchester United are preparing for a final.

The Europa League might not be top of the agenda for Solskjaer's United ambitions but, after four semi-final defeats as manager in three different competitions, he will be delighted to have a shot at what could be the Red Devils' first trophy since they won this competition in 2017.

Of course, this is also a momentous occasion for Villarreal: a first European final of any kind against a team who have been in these matches seven times previously. However, the Spaniards boast experience in coach Unai Emery, who won this trophy on three occasions while in charge of Sevilla.

Ahead of the first major final in European competition this week, Stats Perform examines the key Opta data...

The Coaches

When it comes to experience at this stage, Emery certainly has the edge.

The former Arsenal boss lifted this trophy three years in a row from 2014 to 2016 and could become the first coach to win either the UEFA Cup or Europa League four times.

Solskjaer, however, has contested only one final in his managerial career: he won the 2013 Norwegian Cup with Molde. Indeed, no Norwegian coach has ever won a major European trophy.

Emery and Solskjaer have faced off twice before in the Premier League, when the Spaniard was at Arsenal. The Gunners won 2-0 at Emirates Stadium in March 2019, ending Solskjaer's unbeaten league start at United, before a 1-1 draw at Old Trafford in September of that year.

However, it was Solskjaer who came out on top when they met in a knockout fixture, United triumphing 3-1 in north London in an FA Cup tie in January 2019. Their goals in that tie came from Alexis Sanchez, Jesse Lingard and Anthony Martial - none of whom will be involved in Gdansk.

The Records

While Emery is chasing history of his own, Villarreal are hoping to become the 10th Spanish team in a row to defeat an English side in a European final - a run that includes United losing twice to Barcelona in the Champions League.

United have found it tough going against the Yellow Submarine in the past. In fact, the Red Devils have faced Villarreal more often without scoring than any other side in their history, with each of their previous four meetings ending 0-0.

However, United have won five of the seven major European finals they have contested (only Liverpool, with 14, have been in more among English sides). A win would secure the 67th trophy in their history, extending their lead over Liverpool (65) when it comes to England's most successful clubs.

The Star Names

All eyes will be on Bruno Fernandes in his first final for United.

The Portugal star has played 57 times this season, more than anyone else in Europe's top-five leagues, providing 28 goals and 18 assists. Only four players across those top leagues have been directly involved in more goals. His 137 chances created surpasses anyone else.

Wednesday could also see Mason Greenwood make his first career appearance in a final. Should he score, he would become only the second English teenager to do so in a major European final, the first being Brian Kidd, who netted on his 19th birthday when United beat Benfica in the 1968 European Cup final.

At the other end of the career spectrum sits Edinson Cavani, who has averaged a goal or assist every 35 minutes in this season's Europa League, the best return of anyone to play at least 200 minutes in the competition.

Cavani, who has 10 league goals in just 13 starts in his first season with the club, is bidding to become the third player aged 34 or over to score in a major European final for an English side, after Gary McAllister in the 2001 UEFA Cup final and Didier Drogba in the 2012 Champions League final.

Carlos Bacca has history in this fixture, having scored twice in the final six years ago for Sevilla. The Colombian could become the first player to score in a major European final for two teams from the same nation since Hernan Crespo, who was on target for Parma in 1999 and then Milan in 2005.

Villarreal's main threat will likely come through Gerard Moreno. With 29 goals and 10 assists in all competitions, he has been the most dangerous Spanish forward in Europe this term. Indeed, Lionel Messi (50) is the only player from LaLiga with more direct goal involvements.

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