Sancho sends Manchester United into Champions League knockouts
Manchester United has qualified for the Champions League round of 16 after beating Villarreal 2-0 in the first match of the post-Ole Gunnar Solskjaer era on Tuesday, 23 November at Villarreal.
With Solskjaer having left as manager after the 4-1 embarrassment at Watford last weekend, Michael Carrick was tasked with leading the Red Devils in their fifth Champions League group game of the season after he was appointed the interim manager by the board.
After a largely quiet 77 minutes at Estadio de la Ceramica, in which Manu Trigueros and Jadon Sancho had the best of the chances, Cristiano Ronaldo lofted in his 799th senior career goal to put his side in front.
Sancho, who failed to score under Solskjaer since making his big-money move from Borussia Dortmund, made certain of United’s place in the knockouts with an emphatic finish at the end of a flowing counter-attack.
United fans sang confidently in support of Solskjaer and Carrick as kick-off was delayed due to an apparent problem with the referee’s communication system.
Scott McTominay headed into the side-netting but the best of the early chances fell to the home side, David de Gea saving from Moi Gomez and Yeremi Pino hitting the wrong side of the net from a loose ball as the hosts kept asking De Gea questions.
De Gea saved superbly one-handed to tip away Trigueros’ first-time shot before Ronaldo’s first sight of goal saw him head straight at Geronimo Rulli from an Alex Telles cross.
Neither side seemed eager to force the issue but De Gea was called upon to make another brilliant save from Trigueros after a loose ball deflected to him in the United box.
Rulli saved well from Sancho as United began to look the more likely to find a winner, but the Villarreal keeper turned villain when his lazy pass was pounced upon by Fred, allowing Ronaldo to spin and lob the ball into the unguarded net.
Fred was again instrumental for the second, winning back possession to start a swift counter-attack involving Ronaldo, McTominay, and Rashford, with Sancho applying a powerful finish.
Amid the effects of the Watford loss and Solskjaer’s exit, it always seemed unlikely Carrick would conjure significant improvements in just 48 hours.
As it was, United looked far more resolute defensively as they kept just a third clean sheet of the season in all competitions.
The substitutions then helped to shift the contest in United’s favor before Ronaldo’s clever finish and a brilliant Sancho strike.
De Gea is one of the few United players to have sustained good form for most of this season and their defeat at Watford could have been far worse were it not for the Spain goalkeeper.
His save from Trigueros in the second half came at a critical time after Villarreal had been given a rare chance inside the United box.
Van de Beek’s goalscoring cameo against Watford seemed like a final death knell for Solskjaer’s tenure and he was immediately rewarded with a start in place of Bruno Fernandes here.
However, the Netherlands midfielder offered little to the proceedings, completing just one pass in the final third in 65 minutes on the pitch.
On matchday six of the Champions League, United host Young Boys at Old Trafford, and Villarreal head to Atalanta on December 8. Before then, the Red Devils immediately prepare to face Premier League leaders Chelsea on Sunday, 28 November at Stamford Bridge.