He will always remember Michael Carrick’s first game at the helm of Manchester United as the Red Devils’ 2-0 win at Villarreal sealed their place in the knockout stages of the Champions League.
Cristiano Ronaldo’s lob and Jadon Sancho’s very first goal for the Red Devils secured the victory in a game where David de Gea also came to their aid.
The Spanish goalkeeper made a top-notch hat-trick, pushing back Moi Gomez and Manu Trigueros in the first half.
The save pick came after the break as De Gea brilliantly shot down to deny Trigueros again – and it gave the opposing team the platform to get all three points.
Man United took the lead in the 78th minute when Ronaldo lobbed Geronimo Rulli after loose play behind Villarreal.
And the victory was sealed in stoppage time when Sancho completed a deft counterattack with an emphatic finish off the bar to open his goal tally for the club.
Elsewhere, United’s managerial search continued – Ernesto Valverde the latest candidate linked to the interim role as Mauricio Pochettino played down his interest in the Paris St Germain swap for Old Trafford – but here the focus was on Carrick.
The 40-year-old, who was an integral part of Solskjaer’s setup and said in Tuesday’s press conference that his ideas were similar to those of the Norwegian, made a major statement on the squad sheet with Donny van de Beek, starting only his third game of the season, selected ahead of Bruno Fernandes.
It was one of four changes – Alex Telles came for Luke Shaw in a forced move, while Anthony Martial and Fred came for Nemanja Matic and Marcus Rashford.
United supporters, well above Villarreal’s El Madrigal goal, chanted Solskjaer’s name for a seven-minute delay before kick-off due to issues with officials’ radios.
When the game started, Martial teamed up with Ronaldo in attack with Van de Beek at the forefront of a diamond midfielder, although United struggled to make a good impression in the future.
Scott McTominay had an early chance for a free kick, making his way to the side net, but it was a familiar story of United appearing too passive in midfield and giving possession too easily to give Villarreal chances.
The best of them came in the 27th minute when Pino pulled the ball inside for Manu Trigueros, whose first shot was knocked back by a strong hand from David De Gea.
Carrick, prowling the technical area, watched as Ronaldo walked straight to Geronimo Rulli before firing a free kick into the wall from a dangerous position.
But the best openings were at the other end. Arnaut Danjuma, a pre-match injury doubt, shot wide after Aaron Wan-Bissaka lost the ball.
It was De Gea to the rescue again just before the hour mark, with the goalkeeper fending off Trigueros with a strong right hand after Danjuma’s shot was deflected into the midfield’s trajectory.
United were living dangerously, Danjuma shooting after Wan-Bissaka gave them too much space.
But the double substitution of Carrick by Van de Beek and Martial by Fernandes and Rashford was a game-changer, with United taking center stage thereafter.
Sancho made a nice save from Rulli after cutting from the right and exchanging passes with Ronaldo.
Moments later United were leading and this time Rulli had to put his hands up. The goalkeeper’s short pass put Etienne Capoue in trouble. Fred hit the ball and Ronaldo did the rest with a lob on Rulli.
The Portuguese almost had another five minutes later, a short header from Juan Foyth allowing him to pinch but he pushed his shot right off.
Villarreal was in tatters – Rashford shot Rulli directly before Fernandes’ effort deflected away, and United dealt the fatal blow to death.
Ronaldo started the counter in which Rashford and Fernandes flipped the game to the right, where Sancho shot home to let traveling fans chant Carrick’s name.
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