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Man United seal Champions League progress with impressive win under caretaker boss Michael Carrick at Villarreal as Jadon Sancho FINALLY opens his account after Cristiano Ronaldo's opener

Daily Mail
Daily Mail
 2021-11-23

Yes, he’s a big problem, Manchester United’s number seven.

He’s been a problem for Villarreal twice now, a problem for Atalanta and he’s a huge problem for those who would cast him as the villain of Manchester United’s season and architect of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s downfall. Somehow, amidst what is undoubtedly a crisis for the club, Cristiano Ronaldo’s finishing, his sheer determination to remain relevant on the biggest stage of all, has steered United into the Champions League knock-out stages – and with a game to spare.

There will be no group stage cup final against Young Boys at Old Trafford on matchday six. Manchester United are through. It was never as easy as the table suggests, apart from Tuesday night perhaps.

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Cristiano Ronaldo celebrates scoring the opening goal for Manchester United in front of team-mate Marcus Rashford
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With 12 minutes to play at Villarreal, Ronaldo lifted home a cool lobbed finish on the edge of the box to steer United ahead
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Ronaldo shakes the hand of caretaker boss Michael Carrick following his substitution in stoppage time of the game

For while David De Gea made some excellent saves – two from Manu Trigueros were outstanding – United did what they set out to do. Michael Carrick, the interim’s interim or maybe the proud recipient of a new three-year contract, you never know around this place, set the team up to defend which they did rather well. Then, when he introduced the two most notable absentees from his starting XI after 66 minutes – Bruno Fernandes and Marcus Rashford – their fresh attacking impetus changed the game.

Villarreal had been the better team until that point. Suddenly, they looked vulnerable, as they had late on at Old Trafford. And it is at these moments that Ronaldo comes into his own. He senses that weakness, he reads the shift in narrative, and he steps up and wins.

And some very experienced football men at Old Trafford – well, one in particular – know that about him. Sir Alex Ferguson was keen for his return not because he sees the social media opportunity or the marketing dollars, but because he sees the footballer.

That’s why, on his advice and that of others, United seized a unique recruitment the opportunity when it arose; that’s why they were desperate to stop Ronaldo going to Manchester City, and that is why the player believes, at 36, he still has something to offer. Because he does.

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Jadon Sancho wrapped up the Champions League victory for United with a rasping drive in the final minute of the game
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The England forward's strike was his first goal for the club since £73million transfer from Borussia Dortmund in the summer

MATCH FACTS

Villarreal (4-2-4): Rulli, Foyth, Albiol, Torres, Estupinan (Raba 79), Capoue, Trigueros (Chukwueze 73), Parejo, Moi Gomez (Dia 84), Pino (Moreno 73), Danjuma.

Subs: Sergio Asenjo, Mario, Alcacer, Iborra, Pena, Mandi, Pedraza, Iker.

Booked: Pino.

Manchester United (4-2-3-1): De Gea, Wan Bissaka, Lindelof, Maguire, Alex Telles, Fred, McTominay, Sancho (Mata 90+3), Van de Beek (Fernandes 67), Martial (Rashford 67), Ronaldo (Matic 90+2).

Subs: Bailly, Lingard, Diallo, Dalot, Henderson, Heaton.

Goals: Ronaldo 78, Sancho 90.

Booked: Van de Beek.

Referee: Felix Brych (Munich)

He had two chances on Tuesday and scored one, which had the game won before Jadon Sancho’s late intervention. It was a moment of wonderful inspiration coupled with the coolest of executions. And no, as his critics maintain, Ronaldo is not what he was. But how many natural born goalscorers are, at his age? What remains would still lead the line at the majority of elite Champions League clubs, and is more than capable of making the difference on occasions such as this.

The game was heading for stalemate – and still not United’s worst result in the circumstances – when, in the 78th minute, Villarreal goalkeeper Geronimo Rulli played a dangerously poor pass to Etienne Capoue. Fred read it from way out, set off swiftly and nailed the former Tottenham man at the moment the trundling ball arrived. Capoue served it up, back towards his own goal and on the bounce. It fell to Ronaldo and his native brilliance did the rest.

He knew Rulli was off his line, knew the ball was hopping along invitingly, so he did the simple thing. He helped it on his way, lifting it up and over the helpless goalkeeper and into the net. Well, he made it look simple anyway. That’s what he does. He is the first player to score in the first five games of a Champions League campaign for an English club. Of course he is.

By the end, mind, United were making everything look easy. The introduction of Fernandes, in particular, and Rashford changed the dynamic and credit to Carrick for that. Having set up United not to lose to that point, now they were cutting loose.

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Earlier in the second half, David De Gea made an excellent save to deny Manu Trigueros from giving Villarreal the lead
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Sancho was also denied the opportunity to open the scoring for United a few minutes later in the tense and even encounter
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United though became a much more attacking unit once they brought on Bruno Fernandes in the second half in Spain

Entering the final minute, Ronaldo set off on the counter finding Rashford and Fernandes, who moved the ball on to Sancho. He had a good game. Hard graft in the first-half, hard to contain in the second. This was his first goal for the club, the shot thundering off the underside of the bar, a real looker of a goal. It was no more than his performance deserved.

So a good night for United, but good for Carrick, too. Leaving out the big names was bold and United had more resilience than has been displayed in recent weeks. Is it a corner turned? Come on, how many times have we thought that from this group this season?

One of the biggest problems for Manchester United’s interim manager, or even the interim’s interim, is that certain players have got into so many bad habits under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer that the flaws cannot be swiftly erased. Meaning when Ronaldo loses the ball – which happens, even to the best of them – and Juan Foyth skips around Anthony Martial to bring it out from the back, Martial shows all the enthusiasm for the chase that an aged, arthritic bloodhound might for a thrown stick. He doesn’t want to run anymore; he wants to be left alone.

Later, put away on the left, Martial showed none of the pace that was once a great asset, doing a poor impersonation of a player who wanted to get a cross in, rather than delivering the real thing. He got there, just, but it took a little too much effort and he didn’t have the ball under control, failing to keep it in play.

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Sancho sits below a United free-kick wall in an attempt to deter Villarreal from playing a low shot with a free-kick
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Ronaldo saw a second half header from an Alex Telles cross well saved during the Champions League encounter
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The victory for United in caretaker Carrick's first game has put them in the last-16 of the Champions League

United can still be disappointing like that. At times, Villarreal seemed to be able to pass directly through the centre of their midfield, which was vacated, and Alex Telles is one of the modern breed of full-backs who makes a better winger. On two occasions, he was left utterly flat-footed in close proximity to goal and while his counter-attacking work was often the best of it for Manchester United early on, the bar remains low.

Fernandes has been United’s biggest creator of opportunities in Europe this season – four outright assists and 16 chances made, placing him at the top of the Champions League leaderboard in both fields after four games – and without him United struggled for invention accordingly.

Their best chances of the first-half came from two Telles balls into the box, 26 minutes apart. The first was a free-kick after four minutes which was aimed at Ronaldo but found Scott McTominay instead, steering the ball into the side-netting. He should have done better. A cross, on 30 minutes, picked out Ronaldo again, but he directed a tame header towards Rulli, gathering safely.

Not that Villarreal were at their best. They are well-organised by Unai Emery, we know that, but can go to sleep at times, sacrificing spark for safety. This was one of those games. Villarreal pressed high which makes United uncomfortable, but United sat deep which didn’t do Villarreal any favours, either. What separated them, ultimately, was the class of individuals. Sancho will be better for this. but he wasn’t the player whose name echoed into the night. There were no problems celebrating in the bars around La Madrigal, either.

RE-LIVE ALL THE ACTION AS IT HAPPENED...

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19:10

Villarreal 0-0 Manchester United

58min: Something happened! Villarreal counter down the left, with the ball eventually finding Manu Trigueros just inside the box. With a bouncing ball he strikes an effort into the ground across goal which David De Gea reads excellently to tip away at full stretch with this right arm. Even the Villarreal star has to congratulate the keeper for that save.

19:04

Villarreal 0-0 Manchester United

54min: Good from Fred. He answers my call. With a slight gap to shoot from 25 yards out, he does just that, albeit his effort is far too central and Geronimo Rulli makes a simple save.

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19:03

Villarreal 0-0 Manchester United

51min: This game needs something. A goal obviously, but until then the next best thing we can ask for is a bit of tempo. This is being played like a 1980s Serie A match right now. So slow, so casual. It's going nowhere. It needs poking with a stick with the utterance "do something!"

18:25

Villarreal 0-0 Manchester United

31min: Half-chance for Carrick's team now. Telles's delivery has looked sharp this evening and his back post cross finds Cristiano Ronaldo who despite leaping high can only nod straight at Geronimo Rulli. A thumbs up from the forward towards his team-mate for that cross - it was a beauty.

18:14

Villarreal 0-0 Manchester United

21min: A lack of finishing edge is costing Villarreal right now. They remain the better side but De Gea has still only had to make one save. Etienne Capoue plays in Pino inside the box, but his cross from the right is awful as he skies it straight out of play.

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17:37

There have been links to Ernesto Valverde and Mauricio Pochettino to take over at Manchester United - but what can Michael Carrick do to get firing United again?

Time stops for no man... or no elite level football team... and United find themselves thrust back into the action on Tuesday evening. Now, interim boss Michael Carrick has some huge decisions to make.

The penultimate night of the Champions League is always a night for offering qualification chances, here is the state of play across the groups...

The Champions League knockouts are now in sight, with just two rounds of group stage fixtures remaining. Sportsmail takes you through the state of play in each group.

17:18

Bayern Munich are also in action this early evening

Given the controversial turmoil regarding the treatment of their unvaccinated players who have been docked pay for having to miss club duties, Bayern Munich can count their blessings that they are already through to the last-16.

Still something for them in this game though, as by avoiding defeat they will confirm themselves as group winners.

Dynamo Kiev: Bushchan, Kedziora, Zabarnyi, Syrota, Mykolenko, Sydorchuk, Shaparenko, Tsygankov, Buyalsky, De Pena, Shkurin.

Subs: Verbic, Shepelev, Ramirez, Shabanov, Lednev, Andrievsky, Harmash, Karavayev, Vitinho, Kulach, Boyko, Antyukh.

Bayern Munich: Neuer, Pavard, Kouassi, Lucas, Davies, Tolisso, Goretzka, Coman, Muller, Sane, Lewandowski.

Subs: Richards, Sarr, Roca, Ulreich, Fruchtl, Tillman.

Referee: Halil Meler (Turkey)

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Manchester United will be looking to reach the last-16 of the Champions League when they face Villarreal, as they play for the first time since the sacking of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer as manager.

Solskjaer was dismissed following Saturday's humiliating 4-1 defeat at Watford, with his assistant Michael Carrick taking caretaker charge.

In what has proved to be a competitive group, United will be boosted by qualification for the knockout stages if they win in Spain.

Follow Sportsmail's DAN RIPLEY for live Champions League coverage of Villarreal vs Manchester United, including build-up, team news and updates.

Elsewhere, Dynamo Kyiv host Bayern Munich in Group E, which we will also keep you up-to-date with.

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