Match Report: Villarreal 0 – 2 Manchester United  

Manchester United began life after Ole Gunnar Solskjær with a win as two late goals including a club first for summer signing Jadon Sancho secured a 2-0 win against Villarreal which saw United qualify for the Champions League knockout stages with a game to spare.   

There were eyebrows raised as the red’s line-up was released before the game with Bruno Fernandes and Marcus Rashford both dropped for Donny van de Beek and Anthony Martial respectively. The shock changes were a statement of intent from caretaker boss Michael Carrick ahead of his first game in charge.

Story of the game

The first half saw a cagey and nervous United side surrender the ball to the home side as Carrick’s 433 on-ball 442 off-ball shape prioritised keeping a disciplined defensive shape. United struggled to gain any sort of foothold in the opening 25 minutes with Villarreal playing a patient possession game and pressing United’s backline well.

This possession however failed to lead to any clear-cut chances from the hosts as their best chance, a shot from the right side of the box by Manu Trigueros drew a strong but comfortable save from David de Gea.   

United grew into the game somewhat as Carrick’s tweak to switch Martial from his starting position up front with Ronaldo who started in a more familiar wide left role, paid dividends with Martial drifting infield and dropping deep to help with build-up.

This allowed fullback Alex Telles greater license to get forward down the left flank and it was through his contribution that United created their best chance of the first half; his hanging cross deep being met by a trademark Ronaldo leap and header which was comfortably saved by Yellow Submarines keeper Gerónimo Rulli.  

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These two chances from either side capped an otherwise stale first half as both teams looked content to play for a draw.  

This trend continued for the opening quarter of the second half with sterile possession from both sides contributing to a slow game pace brought to life only by another strong save from de Gea to once again deny Trigueros, as well as a well, worked Villarreal attack which ended with Arnaut Danjuma blazing over from close range.   

The hour mark saw the introduction of Rashford and Fernandes and with them, an injection of urgency as Villarreal seemed to drop off the visitors fearing the quality of the United duo. The changes affected the game very quickly as Sancho saw his left-footed effort saved from a Fernandes slide-rule pass.

The pendulum swing of momentum was fully taken advantage of by United as a well-organised press saw Fred win the ball deep in Villarreal’s half with the ball falling to Ronaldo who needed only a glance on the turn to lob the keeper and maintain his record of scoring in every Champions League game this season.   

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The changes seemed to be a masterstroke from Carrick with the first goal coming 10 minutes after Rashford and Bruno’s introductions and the pair stamped their authority on the game with just seconds remaining as they combined to tee up Sancho whose finish from the right at the near post saw him open his United tally and secure the win for the travelling reds.   

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Carrick at a glance

With only a day or two in preparation, the former United was able to field a solid competitive team which produced United’s most solid Champions League performance this season. An hour of well-drilled off-ball work saw them frustrate the hosts who only tested de Gea from distance.

Carrick made his subs at the right time, with a shift in focus and approach stunning the hosts who up until that point had a fairly comfortable time both with and without the ball. Looking ahead to Sunday’s tie against Chelsea, Carrick and his squad will want to replicate their assured defensive display and get a result in a tough away game to gain some momentum in a turbulent season.   

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