Michael Carrick started his tenure as Manchester United’s interim manager on the right foot by sealing their qualification in the last 16 of the Champions League as Group F winners with a game to spare.
Goals from Cristiano Ronaldo and Jadon Sancho in the second half gave the Red Devils a crucial win at El Madrigal.
In a game surrounded by uncertainties over who will take charge as manager following Ole Gunnar Solskjaer dismissal on Sunday, all eyes were on Carrick to see if he could conjure up a bounce back after a humiliating 4-1 defeat to struggling Watford at the weekend.
And his start was reflected by bold decisions which saw a first Champions League start for Donny Van de Beek in place of Bruno Fernandes .
Villarreal took the game to Man United with an early shot by Manu Trigueros which was parried away by De Gea in the fourth minute followed by another world class save 22 minutes later.
In the 57th minute, De Gea defied the odds again in a one-hand stop from the same man as signs of frustration began to show. The Yellow Submarine looked threatening as their decisive passing split United’s backline but the custodian remained rock solid.
Second half introductions of Fernandes and Marcus Rashford saw a shift in play with United pressing high and winning the 50/50 challenges which made Villareal sloppy.
A rushed pass from Villarreal goalkeeper Gerónimo Rulli to Étienne René Capoue forced an error from the holding midfielder with the ball falling kindly to Ronaldo who lobbed it home in the 77th minute. It was his sixth goal in five matches making him the first man from an English team to score five games in a row in the Champions League.
Ronaldo had a chance to hit a brace after a misguided header from Juan Foyth fell on his path but he couldn’t direct the ball to the back of the net.
With a minute left on the clock, the Spanish side were caught napping on the break with Ronaldo linking up with Rashford whose dashing pace created space for Bruno Fernandes to tee up Jadon Sancho for his first goal for the club.
United next welcome Young Boys in the last group stage match, a rejuvenated side that beat them in matchday 1 .
In the other Group F match, Young Boys and Atalanta ripped each other apart in a thriller with the game ending 3-3 which sets up another high stakes final match between Villarreal and the Serie A high scorers to determine who will finish runners up and book their spot in the next round.
COVER PHOTO BY XINHUA NEWS