Manchester (United Kingdom) (AFP)
Anthony Martial’s hat-trick fired Manchester United to a 3-0 win over Sheffield United on Wednesday that boosted their bid to qualify for the Champions League.
Martial struck twice in the first half and completed his first senior treble after the interval at Old Trafford.
The France forward is the first United player to score a Premier League hat-trick since Alex Ferguson retired as their manager in 2013.
His heroics stole the spotlight from United team-mate Paul Pogba, who was making his first start since September 30.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side, unbeaten in their last 13 games in all competitions, remain in fifth place, but they are now just two points behind fourth-placed Chelsea, who face Manchester City on Thursday.
United’s first win since the coronavirus hiatus was well deserved as they took advantage of another lethargic display from the Blades, who would have gone above the hosts with a victory.
Martial’s clinical finishing ensured United built on Friday’s draw at Tottenham, but Pogba’s confident return in his 10th appearance of an injury-ravaged campaign was also encouraging for Solskjaer.
Pogba came off the bench to deliver an influential cameo against Tottenham, winning the penalty that Bruno Fernandes converted.
Once again, he linked up well with Fernandes, the Portugal midfielder who has been a big hit since his January move from Sporting Lisbon, but there will be much sterner tests than the one posed by Chris Wilder’s limp side.
The Blades have failed to score in their first three games since the restart and their hopes of a fairytale run to Champions League qualification are fading.
– Ruthless efficiency –
On the hottest day of the year in Britain, United were playing behind closed doors at Old Trafford for the first time.
The club had put enormous mosaics featuring photos of fans across three stands to cover the seats and the empty stadium was echoing to the shouts of celebrating United players after just seven minutes.
Marcus Rashford pounced on a loose ball in the Blades penalty area and, with the visitors’ defence slow to react, he whipped a low cross to Martial, who fired home at the near post.
It was Martial’s 12th league goal of the season — the most he has managed in a single top-flight campaign in his career.
Rashford should have doubled United’s lead moments later when Martial accelerated onto Pogba’s pass and teed up his strike partner.
But the England forward could only manage a woefully miscued effort that drifted wide as he slammed the turf in frustration.
Dean Henderson, on loan at the Blades from United, was not allowed to face his parent club, so Simon Moore started in goal for the visitors and he made a good tip over from Fernandes’ free-kick.
The influential Fernandes started the move that brought United’s second goal in the 44th minute.
Freezing the Blades’ defence with his fake shot, Fernandes found Pogba, who spread the ball wide to Aaron Wan-Bissaka.
When Wan-Bissaka crossed low into the six-yard box, Martial, easily evading more sloppy marking, was on hand to beat Moore with ruthless efficiency.
Mason Greenwood was inches away from making it three when he curled wide early in the second half.
Pogba showed all his grace and poise when he dribbled past a host of Blades defenders, setting up Greenwood for a chance the teenager blazed over.
United saved the best until last as a superb flowing move ended with Martial passing to Rashford and running onto the return pass before dinking a delicate chip over Moore in the 74th minute.
The only thing Martial did wrong all day was forget the match ball that goes to hat-trick scorers, but he remembered just in time to claim it from the officials as he walked off the pitch.