Michael Carrick was in the Manchester United hotseat for the first time on Tuesday night as he oversaw the first team’s vital Champions League victory away against Villarreal
Michael Carrick oversaw an impressive two-goal victory for Manchester United at Villarreal to seal their place in the last 16 of the Champions League.
Late goals from Cristiano Ronaldo and Jadon Sancho gave United a fine victory despite adverse circumstances off the pitch.
United’s trip to Spain came just two days following the sacking of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer as boss, leaving the new coaching team with minimal team to prepare their side.
It was a potentially decisive match for the club; a win would have clinched their place in the knockouts but defeat would leave everything in the air ahead of the final matchday – when United take on Young Boys at Old Trafford.
Here are five things we noticed that Carrick introduced to the side for Tuesday’s game.
New Ronaldo role
Cristiano Ronaldo is the star man at United and it was not surprising that he was involved from the start here despite rotations elsewhere.
After all, the Portuguese superstar had netted five goals in the four group stage games for United prior to Tuesday.
Yet the 36-year-old was not played in his usual central striking role by Carrick, who instead deployed Ronaldo from the left side of a three-man attack.
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This is a position where Ronaldo was more accustomed to playing at Juventus and occasionally at international level for Portugal but had been used centrally since his summer switch to United.
Ronaldo added his 10 th goal of the season and sixth in the Champions League with his late lobbed goal here, illustrating his supreme goalscoring talent once more.
The role of Ronaldo will be one of the new manager’s first big decisions at United.
The major team news for United saw Bruno Fernandes dropped from the starting line-up, with Donny van de Beek handed a rare start in his place.
The Portuguese star was very rarely taken out of the first team by Solskjaer and he had started 16 matches for the club this campaign, including all four previous Champions League group games.
Fernandes was introduced for the final 25 minutes of the encounter after a steady, if forgettable, outing from van de Beek, who had scored in Saturday’s 4-1 loss at Watford after being introduced as a half-time substitute.
For only the fourth time this season, Anthony Martial was handed a spot in United’s starting line-up.
Unfortunately for the Frenchman and his club, it was the fourth time this campaign that he failed to justify further selection.
Martial was anonymous during his time on the pitch – which lasted over an hour – before he was replaced by Marcus Rashford, who was surprisingly not selected by Carrick.
Eyebrows had been raised in Saturday’s loss at Watford when Rashford was replaced at half-time by Martial, who similarly did little to impress.
The Frenchman is one of a players whose long-term future at Old Trafford appears increasingly uncertain.
Compact but limited
United appeared to be much better defensively drilled for this encounter than they have been in previous weeks.
Shipping five goals against Liverpool and four to both Leicester and Watford had highlighted the defensive crisis at United in the final weeks under Solskjaer.
Tuesday night’s match saw United produce a solid display – limiting Villarreal to only a handful of opportunities throughout.
It was far from a defensive masterclass but it was a notable upgrade on recent weeks – even if it did mean that United’s attacking threat throughout was limited.
The man to succeed Carrick in the dugout must find the right balance between defensive solidity and getting the most out of the club’s attacking stars.
The role of Fred at Manchester United is often underappreciated with his shortcomings often highlighted, yet on Tuesday his qualities came to the fore.
A player who adds much-needed pressing and urgency into United’s side – although occasionally adding chaos – he produced an instrumental role against Villarreal.
His anticipation and concentration were highlighted in United’s goal – when Fred pounced from Villarreal goalkeeper Geronimo Rulli’s short pass out to force the defensive error and bring about Ronaldo’s goal.
It was a similar story for Jadon Sancho’s late second – when Fred broke up the opposition’s play to produce the goal.