Late goals from Cristiano Ronaldo and Jadon Sancho sent Manchester United into the last 16 of the Champions League and gave Michael Carrick the win in his first game as caretaker manager.
The first half looked like one might imagine a first half between the 12th-best team in Spain and eighth-best team in England would look: low on quality, high on nerves.
Neither side looked much like scoring but it was Villarreal who came closer, David de Gea making decent saves from Moi Gomez and Manu Trigueros.
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After the break, little changed, with Villarreal the better side but not by much. De Gea was forced to make another fine save, again from Trigeuros, but amazingly, United improved when Carrick sent on Marcus Rashford and Bruno Fernandes, their two best players over the last two seasons.
Fernandes created United’s best chance - Geronimo Rulli saved well from Jadon Sancho - before, on 78 minutes, Fred caught Etienne Capoue in possession, putting Ronaldo in, and he lobbed beautifully to give United the win and score his sixth goal in five Champions League games this season.
Sancho then smashed home his first goal for the club with time running out, to make sure of the win.
It's become fashionable to say that Ronaldo is holding United back, and there are things about him - he doesn't press nor stay between the width of the posts, and dropping him is hard to do - but I've not a clue how you get to thinking that if United didn't have him, they wouldn't be in even deeper brown than they already are.
Edinson Cavani is great but unreliable – for how many games has he been fit this season? And brilliant though Mason Greenwood is, is he ready to be United's full-time centre-forward? His hold-up play is much improved, but his movement to create space and score tap-ins still need work.
Rather than wondering how United would be without Ronaldo - and they were playing poorly before he arrived - wonder instead how they'd be if he was the spearhead of a properly functioning team, and if the players behind weren't constantly dropping -15/10's? We might just see a bit more attacking cohesion if teams weren't romping through United's midfield to be handed gifts by their defenders. which is to say that he is not the future, but he remains the present, and a pretty decent present at that.
Cristiano Ronaldo esulta dopo il gol con il Villarreal, Champions League,
Image credit: Getty Images
MAN OF THE MATCH
Jadon Sancho (Man United) Playing on the right, where he was bought to play, he was United's most threatening attacker and scored a tremendous clinching goal. It'll be a while before he's benched again, and rightly so.
Villarreal: Rulli 5, Foyth 5, Albiol 6, Torres 6, Estupinan 5, Capoue 5, Trigueros 6, Parejo 5, Moi Gomez 7, Pino 5, Danjuma 6. Subs: Sergio Chukwueze 6, Dia 6, Raba 6, Moreno 6, Pena.
Manchester United: De Gea 7, Wan-Bissaka 6, Lindelof 6, Maguire 6, Telles 6, Fred 7, McTominay 6, Martial 5, Sancho 8, Van de Beek 5, Ronaldo 7. Subs: Fernandes 8, Rashford 7, Mata 6, Matic 6.
Cristiano Ronaldo's goal was the third time he has scored a match-winning goal in the final 15 minutes of a Champions League match this season - the most one player has ever scored in a single season in the competition (excluding extra-time).
10’ - But Villarreal maintain pressure, and when a deflected shot sends the ball towards Pino, Telles gambles with a lunge ... but Pino allows it to run, taking the defender out of the game ... and slices his shot into the near side-netting. Another warning for United.
27’ - A long pass from Rulli - that's a great ball over the top - catches Telles pushing up and Pino's in behind him! He finds a really nice cut-back too, for Trigueros, who's run away from Fred, and he swings a decent low shot, first-time towards the far corner ... but De Gea, who kept United in the first game between the sides, gets a really good hand on it, not only saving but making sure there's no rebound for Danjuma.
59’ - WHAT A SAVE DE GEA! Capoue into Gomez, whose shot is blocked but shoots across the box to Trigueros, who cracks into the turf ... and the keeper, his view blocked by the arse-showing Maguire, flings himself right to tip away! He's saved United yet again!
71’ - Sancho drags the ball inside and finds Bruno then sets off into the box, where a perfect return-pass finds him! He skips inside his man and he's in! He's going to score his first United goal! But no! His low shot hits Rulli's leg and bounces away! Still, that's the best bit of play we've seen from either team tonight.
78’ - GOAL! Villarreal 0-1 Manchester United (Ronaldo) OF COURSE IT'S HIM! Rulli rolls out to Capoue and Fred is onto him, dashing in to steal the ball - look what happens when you try to do stuff - and the challenge puts Ronaldo in! With Rulli way off his line, he instinctively knows to hoist the lob, and it's just an expert's finish! That's six in five Champions League games this season, with at least one in all of them! If United can hold out, they're through!
90’ - GOAL! Villarreal 0-2 Manchester United (Sancho) Again, Fred wins the ball, this time deep inside his own half, McTominay plays a fine ball into the channel where Ronaldo, out on the left moves it inside to Rashford. He goes on more to Bruno, who feeds Sancho, and what a strike, clattered high inside the near post and in off the bar! That's Sancho's first United goal and one that takes his new club into the knockouts!
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