Match report as Manchester United win 2-0 at Villarreal to qualify for the Champions League last 16 with a game to spare in Group F; second-half goals from Cristiano Ronaldo and Jadon Sancho see interim manager Michael Carrick win his first game in charge
Tuesday 23 November 2021 22:03, UK
Late goals from Cristiano Ronaldo and Jadon Sancho saw Manchester United win 2-0 at Villarreal in Michael Carrick’s first game in temporary charge, a result which sees the visitors progress to the last 16 of the Champions League.
Carrick made four changes from Saturday’s 4-1 mauling at Watford in what turned out to be Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s last match as United manager – leaving Bruno Fernandes on the bench – but the visitors still struggled in the first half.
However, with the Group F contest seemingly petering out into a draw at El Madrigal, up popped Ronaldo to make the breakthrough with a brilliant piece of anticipation to nip in and score his sixth Champions League goal this season and his 10th overall.
Sancho’s emphatic finish sealed the victory in the 90th minute, after a well-worked team move, to hand United all three points and, as a result, they have qualified as group winners for the knockout phases with a game to spare, while Villarreal will have to fight it out with Atalanta, who drew 3-3 with Young Boys, for the runners-up spot.
- How the teams lined up | Match stats
- Carrick: United’s players showed their character with Villarreal win
- Champions League fixtures | Results | Group tables
Villarreal: Rulli (7), Foyth (7), Albiol (8), Torres (7), Estupinan (7), Capoue (6), Trigueros (7), Parejo (6), Moi Gomez (7), Pino (7), Danjuma (7)
Subs: Chukwueze (6), Dia (6), Raba (6), Moreno (6)
Man Utd: De Gea (8), Wan-Bissaka (7), Lindelof (6), Maguire (6), Telles (7), Fred (9), McTominay (6), Martial (5), Sancho (8), Van de Beek (6), Ronaldo (8)
Subs: Mata (6), Fernandes (7), Matic (6), Rashford (7)
Man of the match: Fred
How Carrick guided United into the Champions League last 16
There were more than a few raised eyebrows when Carrick’s first team sheet as United manager was announced and the name of Fernandes, who has created more chances than any other player in both the Champions League and Premier League this campaign, was absent from the starting line-up for this repeat of last season’s Europa League final.
Unai Emery’s team upset United on penalties on that occasion last May and, in front of a full-capacity crowd for the first time this season at El Madrigal, they dominated the first half against opponents clearly low on confidence.
Caretaker manager Michael Carrick handed a start to Donny van de Beek and named Bruno Fernandes among the substitutes as he selected his first Manchester United side for the Champions League match against Villarreal.
Van de Beek made only his third start of the season in place of Fernandes as one of four changes to the starting XI beaten 4-1 at Watford on Saturday, with Fred replacing Nemanja Matic and Anthony Martial starting ahead of Marcus Rashford. The other change was enforced with Alex Telles at left-back in place of Luke Shaw.
Villarreal boss Unai Emery included winger Arnaut Danjuma and midfielder Etienne Capoue in his side, but Paco Alcacer, who scored in the reverse fixture at Old Trafford, was among the substitutes.
David de Gea had to be on his game early on to keep out Moi Gomez’s low drive from the edge of the area, before repeating the trick to deny Manu Trigueros midway through the first half as the two teams went in level at the break.
United’s Spain goalkeeper was at it again just before the hour-mark when somehow turning Trigueros’ well-struck shot behind for a corner as the hosts looked to increase the pressure on the visitors, only for a double substitution by Carrick to change the flow of the game.
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The interim boss brought on Fernandes and the pacy Marcus Rashford in place of the disappointing Anthony Martial and Donny van de Beek midway through the second period, with United taking charge of the contest thereafter.
Ronaldo, Fernandes and Sancho immediately linked up to set up the latter for a great opening, but, faced with just Geronimo Rulli to beat, the England forward’s shot was saved by the advancing Villarreal No 1.
However, that miss was soon forgotten as United took the lead with just 12 minutes to go after good work by Fred, whose pressure on Etienne Capoue led to the ball falling to Ronaldo on the edge of the box and, with Rulli badly out of position, the Portuguese found the net with a nonchalant lob for his 140h goal in the competition and 799th in total for club and country.
There was a flurry of late chances, mostly to United, before they sealed the win after a lovely counter-attack involving that man Fred, who won back possession deep in his half. Ronaldo, Rashford and Fernandes then took play on and Sancho found the net with an unerring finish in off the underside of the bar for his first goal for the club since joining them for £73m last summer.
- Manchester United are unbeaten in six UEFA Champions League games versus Villarreal (W2 D4) – against no side have they faced more often without losing in the competition (also CSKA Moscow and Bayer Leverkusen six games each).
- Villarreal have never beaten an English club in the UEFA Champions League in 12 attempts (D6 L6), the most of any side has faced English opponents without winning in Champions League history.
- Cristiano Ronaldo has scored six goals for Manchester United in this season’s UEFA Champions League; only Ruud van Nistelrooy in 2004-05 (8) has ever scored more for an English club in a single group phase of the competition.
- Man Utd’s Cristiano Ronaldo is the first ever player to score in each of an English club’s first five matches of a single European Cup/Champions League season (excluding qualifiers).
- Cristiano Ronaldo has scored 10 goals in 14 games in all competitions this season, the fewest appearances he’s needed to reach double figures for Man Utd in a single season.
- Jadon Sancho scored his first ever Manchester United goal in what was his 15th appearance and from his 11th attempted shot in all competitions.
Man of the Match – Fred
Fred’s role as one of two holding midfielders was often questioned under previous Man Utd manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, but interim boss Michael Carrick stuck with him for his first game in temporary charge and he did not let the new man down.
The Brazil international turned in a typical, all-action display at El Madrigal to help his side to a vital 2-0 win and with it, qualification for the last 16 of the Champions League, putting out fires in front of United’s back four before the break.
However, in the second half it was Fred’s intervention when pressurising Etienne Capoue that resulted in Cristiano Ronaldo’s opener, and the 28-year-old was at it again late on when breaking up a Villarreal attack, before starting a counter which was finished off by Sancho to seal the victory.
Villarreal boss Unai Emery: “I think we were very good for about 60 or 70 minutes against a Manchester United who were the favourites in this group.
“We had chances, we were controlling the ball and we haven’t given them any kind of chances in these 70 minutes.
“But when they changed their players it gave them a boost and we were not playing the same way. They were speeding up and it has been a bit overwhelming for us.”
Interim Man Utd boss Michael Carrick: “The result obviously is a major plus from the run we’ve gone on – we can’t hide that. To get that feeling of winning a football match for the players is huge, and to keep a clean sheet, David (De Gea) was important again so all round there’s a lot of positives to take.
“The biggest (positive) I’ll take is how everyone adapted, the reaction and how they pulled together.
“In situations like this there’s mixed emotions. It’s a test of people and you find out who the real characters are, who’s there with you and who’s not. I thought everyone stuck together in terms of supporting me and my staff and we managed to get the win which is very pleasing. It was a big one.
“The game panned out as I thought,” Carrick said. “When you’ve had the results we’ve had and gone through what we’ve gone through in the last few days, you’d be foolish to think you can come here, pick a team and it will be free-flowing football.
“They’re a good team, they make you work for it, they keep the ball off you and make you defend as well. We were well aware of that, we had the feeling it would be a tight game. It’s important who starts the game but it’s also important who finishes it and how you finish it.”
‘Carrick made two vital subs’
Alex Bruce on Sky Sports News:
“An incredible difference (from the 4-1 loss at Watford). Man Utd will be absolutely delighted with the performance, Carrick got his game plan spot on.
“For 65 minutes, they were defensively sound, they had a low block and looked to frustrate Villarreal.
“He made two vital substitutions on 65 minutes bringing on Fernandes and Rashford and they changed the game. They offered much more of a threat going forward, and they scored two fantastic goals.
“A great finish by Ronaldo with a nice little lob over the ‘keeper, then a well-worked goal with Sancho breaking into the box and then smashing one in off the underside of the crossbar.
“So a great night for Man Utd and that is them into the last 16 and I’m sure Carrick will be delighted.”
Villarreal host Barcelona in La Liga on Saturday, with the game kicking off at 8pm.
Meanwhile, Carrick’s second game in temporary charge of United is against Premier League leaders Chelsea at Stamford Bridge on Super Sunday, with the game live on Sky Sports Premier League from 4pm.
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