Michael Carrick’s first game in caretaker charge of Manchester United ended in a 2-0 win over Villarreal.
That victory secured the Red Devils’ passage to the knockout stage of the Champions League and they need just a point at home to Young Boys on the final matchday to seal top spot.
Kick off was delayed as the batteries on referee Felix Brych’s headset had died, and after the game finally began, Scott McTominay headed Alex Telles’ free-kick into the side-netting as United started on the front foot.
David de Gea was on hand to push away Moi Gomez’s effort from distance at the other end before Yeremi Pino evaded Alex Telles and fired just wide from a tight angle.
Pino continued to cause the Brazil international problems, somehow outmuscling him and teeing up Dani Parejo, but De Gea was equal to his stinging effort.
Telles finally found some freedom going forward and picked out Cristiano Ronaldo with a superb whipped cross, though the Portuguese’s header was tame and easily dealt with by Geronimo Rulli.
United’s first real half-chance to take the lead came just after half-time when Fred was picked out by Jadon Sancho on the edge of the Villarreal area, but his shot didn’t trouble Rulli.
De Gea again came to United’s rescue when he produced a great reaction save to keep out Manu Trigueros’ bouncing shot, while Arnaut Danjuma’s strike went over the top soon after.
Carrick threw on Marcus Rashford and Bruno Fernandes in search of an opener, and the Portuguese was very nearly the provider when he set through Sancho, but Rulli stood tall in the Villarreal goal.
And once again, Ronaldo came to United’s rescue after Fred won the ball high up the pitch from a free-kick, and the star forward lobbed it over Rulli to give United a late lead.
Ronaldo nearly grabbed a brace when he got onto the end of Juan Foyth’s weak header back to the goalkeeper but his toe poke was just off target, and Rashford had a low strike pushed behind by Rulli.
Sancho sealed United’s victory with an emphatic finish into the top of the net on the counterattack as stoppage time approached.
Here’s how the away players rated…
David de Gea (GK) – 8/10 – Dealt with whatever was thrown his way, as has been the case for most of this season.
Aaron Wan-Bissaka (RB) – 6/10 – Looked like Bambi on ice whenever on the ball but was at least strong at the back as the clock ran down.
Victor Lindelof (CB) – 7/10 – Was decent, but was a busy man due to the lack of help in front of him.
Harry Maguire (CB) – 6/10 – Much better than he was in the loss at Watford but he was sent off there so the bar wasn’t that high.
Alex Telles (LB) – 4/10 – Pino had joy out wide without needing to get out of first gear because of Telles’ ineptitude.
Scott McTominay (CM) – 3/10 – Clumsy off the ball and on it. Dani Parejo and Etienne Capoue squashed him.
Fred (CM) – 7/10 – Endured a combative game in midfield and had to do most of McTominay’s work for him.
Donny van de Beek (AM) – 4/10 – Hardly even noticed he was playing. Wasted a huge chance to impress on a rare start.
Jadon Sancho (RW) – 7/10 – Probably his best game in a United shirt, which isn’t saying much. Had a few decent dribbles and touches but his lack of pace is discerning. Excellent finish, mind.
Cristiano Ronaldo (CF) – 7/10 – Was dreadful for much of the game and yet still bagged the winner as per.
Anthony Martial (LW) – 3/10 – Played as if he had vertigo. All over the place positionally and couldn’t keep control of the ball.
Bruno Fernandes (AM, 66′, for Van de Beek) – 8/10 – Made United’s best chance of the game within five minutes of his introduction.
Marcus Rashford (LW, 66′ for Martial) – 6/10 – Like Fernandes, his energy helped United get up the pitch and actually threaten Villarreal.
Nemanja Matic (CM, 90′ for Ronaldo) – N/A
Juan Mata (RW, 90′ for Sancho) – N/A