- Manchester United hosted Sheriff in the UEFA Europa League at the Old Trafford
- United needed a win to bolster their chances of qualifying for the knockout stages in the competition
- Cristiano Ronaldo scored on his return to the team to ensure United sealed a deserved victory
Cristiano Ronaldo scored on his return to the match squad as Manchester United kept their Europa League last-16 hopes alive with a routine 3-0 win over Sheriff Tiraspol.
The Portugal international returned to the starting line-up at Old Trafford after being dropped for the draw at Chelsea following his refusal to appear as a late substitute against Tottenham.
A couple of headers from Diego Dalot and Marcus Rashford put United in control before Ronaldo wrapped up the points nine minutes from time and secured a top-two finish in Group E.
Manchester United must now beat leaders Real Sociedad by two goals next week to leapfrog the LaLiga side at the group summit and avoid a trickier clash in the play-off knockout round.
United dominated the first half with over three-quarters of the possession while registering 13 shots on goal with Sheriff having none.
Antony and Tyrell Malacia drew smart saves out of Maksym Koval, who also demonstrated brilliant reflexes to deny Ronaldo a tap-in from Bruno Fernandes’ knockdown.
The hosts were almost punished as Rasheed Ibrahim was inches away from connecting with Patrick Kpozo’s deep cross but they finally broke through in the dying moments of the opening period as Dalot powered home Christian Eriksen’s inviting corner.
Ronaldo went close to doubling the lead when he fired narrowly over in the 58th minute before his close-range volley was ruled out for offside.
United did establish breathing space seven minutes later as a patient build-up culminated in Rashford brilliantly heading home Luke Shaw’s cross to end a five-match scoreless streak.
Ronaldo was not to be denied and put the icing on the cake with nine minutes remaining, firing home at the second attempt after Koval had parried his initial header from Fernandes’ cross.
Guaranteed a top-two finish in Group E, United will now be focused on steering clear of the Europa League play-off round, with the likes of Juventus and Barcelona already among the third-placed teams dropping down from the Champions League.
As for Sheriff, whose attention switches to ensuring a place in the Europa Conference League after failing to register a single shot on goal, they have now lost four successive matches in major European competition for the first time.
It was written in the stars as Ronaldo returned to the spotlight with a goal at the Stretford End.
After a game-high tally of seven shots – three of which were on target – the Portugal captain’s persistence eventually paid off in the 81st minute with his maiden Old Trafford strike of the campaign.
Cristian Eriksen controlled the tempo of the contest during another commanding display in the middle of the team.
The Denmark international led the way with no other player surpassing his tallies of touches (131), passes (115) and key passes (six), while he also gained possession on a game-high eight occasions.
Both sides return to domestic action during the weekend before completing their group stage campaigns next week. United host West Ham in the Premier League on Sunday, while Superliga leaders Sheriff welcome Dacia-Buiucani the same day.
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