In this article, we will take a look at some of the key takeaways from Manchester United starting life anew after parting ways with Ole Gunnar Solskjær as they fought to a 2-0 win against Unai Emery’s Villarreal on Tuesday evening.
Sancho & Van de Beek immediately given a chance
It is safe to say that neither Jadon Sancho nor Donny van de Beek had enjoyed life at Manchester United this season under Ole Gunnar Solskjær, but the stranded pair were immediately given a chance to impress by interim boss Michael Carrick when they were both chosen in the matchday XI for the clash at the Estadio de la Cerámica.
📋 Your United line-up to take on Villarreal…
— Manchester United (@ManUtd) November 23, 2021
The pair had logged just 490-minutes of total Premier League action this season, causing many to suggest just what either player had to do to work themselves into Solskjær’s thinking during what was a turbulent start to the 2021-22 season.
Sancho was one of a trio of key summer signings at the club but had managed just four starts in the league while also logging just 132-minutes of European action. As for Van de Beek, the Dutch international and former Ajax Amsterdam standout has been left on an island by himself this season and managing just three substitute appearances in the league. Ironically, he scored United’s lone goal in their 4-1 defeat against Watford at the weekend that spelled the end of the OGS regime at the Theatre of Dreams.
With both selected in the XI tonight, it is clear that they are potentially being given a lifeline to force their way into the picture in the wake of Solskjær’s departure.
Ronaldo on the left in a potential tactical shift
Unlike Bruno Fernandes, Cristiano Ronaldo still kept his place in the matchday XI tonight under Michael Carrick but featured differently in how he was specifically deployed, instead being positioned on the left flank of the front three.
The Portuguese legend was shifted out of his center-forward role seen under Solskjær and replaced with French international Anthony Martial who himself was given a chance with Marcus Rashford on the bench and Mason Greenwood unavailable.
It can be postulated that Martial was given a chance to lead the line given his pace, mobility, versatility, and willingness to work maybe just a few percentage points harder than Ronaldo when it comes to not only leading the press but bringing others into play. But as proceedings progressed in Spain in the first 30-minutes of play, the United front three began to change positions as Ronaldo popped up both centrally and on the right as Sancho and Martial also roamed to find space to get more involved.
The attacking balance is still not right at the minute for the Red Devils, and whoever United’s incoming boss is, has quite a bit of work ahead of him if he is to get the United forward line firing on all cylinders.
Man United needs to address their dead-ball situations
Speaking of Ronaldo; it’s time to talk about the fact that CR7 just…well…is not very good at free-kicks anymore.
Though the Portuguese icon has scored many a blockbuster from dead-ball situations across the duration of his other-worldly career with his trademark approach to the ball becoming synonymous with free-kicks and emulated by countless across the globe, one statistic emerged from the first-half against Villarreal tonight that should put to rest any notion that he should be the go-to option on dead-ball situations that could lead to a direct goalscoring opportunity.
Via Squawka, it was revealed that the Portuguese has not scored a goal from a free-kick in Champions League play since 2016, with his last 34-attempts all failing to find the back of the net.
Cristiano Ronaldo’s last 34 free-kicks in the Champions League:
He hasn’t scored one since September 2016. #UCL
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) November 23, 2021
The stat surfaced in the immediate aftermath of Ronaldo ripping another free-kick into a wall as he attempted to test Villarreal keeper Gerónimo Rulli in the later stages of the first half as proceedings still sat 0-0 on the night.
Despite Bruno Fernandes sitting on the bench from the start and his own expertise at dead-ball situations missing from the matchday XI, surely at this point, there must be a better option than Ronaldo to make good on a free chance at a goalscoring opportunity.
Red Devils lack any clear and concise identity on the pitch
This is a topic that has been brought up on a handful of occasions before and was once again in the spotlight tonight vs Villarreal as Manchester United struggled to conjure up any semblance of dominance against Unai Emery’s El Submarino Amarillo.
For a club of the size, stature, gravitas, and history of success that United possess, the football on offer is a far cry from what their biggest rivals at home are capable of consistently producing; something that was mentioned by The Times’ Tony Cascarino a month ago in criticism of Ole Gunnar Solskjær;
“His team do not construct attacks and develop play in the way that Jürgen Klopp’s Liverpool or Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City do. The best way to describe the present Manchester United team is that they look like a pale imitation of a Sir Alex Ferguson side from 20 years ago.”
Thus far, those same criticisms exist under Michael Carrick.
✅ vs Young Boys
✅ vs Villarreal
✅ vs Atalanta
✅ vs Atalanta
✅ vs Villarreal
— William Hill (@WilliamHill) November 23, 2021
At the time of writing, United has just taken a 1-0 lead courtesy of Ronaldo’s sixth goal of the group stage, totaling 66% of the Red Devil’s goals in the competition thus far. But the need to rely on an error in the defensive third by Etienne Capoue before the Portuguese pounced to chip his effort over Gerónimo Rulli proves the point that United’s lack of any attacking identity across the entire Solskjær regime is arguably the club’s biggest issue that needs to be remedied.
United was out-possessed, out-chanced, and outshot on the night; something that has happened regularly this season in the Premier League. If the club is to get back on track, who and what Manchester United needs to be set in stone in rapid order.
Summer signing finally opens United account
On a night where Jadon Sancho was given only his seventh start from a possible seventeen chances, the England starlet repaid the faith shown in him by Michael Carrick when he bagged the second goal on the night for United when he blasted his effort off the bottom side of the bar and past Gerónimo Rulli to give the Red Devils a two-goal cushion.
But more importantly, it was his first goal in United colors across all competitions this season after his highly-publicized move from Dortmund in the summer.
— Rio Ferdinand (@rioferdy5) November 23, 2021
While many players take time to adapt to a new country and a new league, Sancho is neither new to England nor new to the expectations that come with plying his trade at a bigger Premier League club, having come through the youth ranks at Manchester City before making the jump to the Ruhr valley rather than biding his time at the Etihad Stadium.
There is no telling on what the future holds for Sancho when the club eventually confirms their new boss but taking his chance on the night after being given a big opportunity in a match that had knockout-stage implications on the line will certainly not harm the possibility of him getting further chances before a new manager is confirmed.
This article was edited by
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|4||West Ham United||12||9||23|
|9||Brighton & Hove Albion||12||-2||17|
|Salah, Mohamed||Liverpool FC||11|
|Vardy, Jamie||Leicester City||7|
|Mane, Sadio||Liverpool FC||7|
|Antonio, Michail||West Ham United||6|
|Jota, Diogo||Liverpool FC||5|
|Cornet, Maxwel||Burnley FC||5|
|Sarr, Ismaila||Watford FC||5|
|Dennis, Emmanuel||Watford FC||4|
|James, Reece||Chelsea FC||4|
|Fernandes, Bruno||Manchester United||4|
|Gallagher, Conor||Crystal Palace||4|
|Ronaldo, Cristiano||Manchester United||4|
|King, Joshua||Watford FC||4|
|Smith-Rowe, Emile||Arsenal FC||4|
|Benteke, Christian||Crystal Palace||4|
|Aubameyang, Pierre-Emerick||Arsenal FC||4|
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|Zaha, Wilfried||Crystal Palace||4|
|Firmino, Roberto||Liverpool FC||4|
|Player||Team||Red Cards||Yellow Cards|
|Dennis, Emmanuel||Watford FC||0||6|
|Pogba, Paul||Manchester United||1||4|
|Westwood, Ashley||Burnley FC||0||5|
|Tarkowski, James||Burnley FC||0||5|
|Laporte, Aymeric||Manchester City||1||4|
|Skipp, Oliver||Tottenham Hotspur||0||5|
|Wilson, Callum||Newcastle United||0||4|
|Rice, Declan||West Ham United||0||4|
|Ritchie, Matt||Newcastle United||0||4|
|McGinn, John||Aston Villa||0||4|
|Moreno, Rodrigo||Leeds United||0||4|
|Norgaard, Christian||Brentford FC||0||4|
|Mings, Tyrone||Aston Villa||0||4|
|Normann, Mathias||Norwich City||0||4|
|Cooper, Liam||Leeds United||0||4|
|Duffy, Shane||Brighton & Hove Albion||0||4|
|Lascelles, Jamaal||Newcastle United||0||4|
|Shaw, Luke||Manchester United||0||4|
|Veltman, Joel||Brighton & Hove Albion||0||4|
|Salah, Mohamed||Liverpool FC||7|
|Pogba, Paul||Manchester United||7|
|Alexander-Arnold, Trent||Liverpool FC||6|
|Dennis, Emmanuel||Watford FC||5|
|Jesus, Gabriel||Manchester City||5|
|Kovacic, Mateo||Chelsea FC||5|
|James, Reece||Chelsea FC||4|
|Doucoure, Abdoulaye||Everton FC||4|
|Bowen, Jarrod||West Ham United||4|
|Antonio, Michail||West Ham United||3|
|Fernandes, Bruno||Manchester United||3|
|Gallagher, Conor||Crystal Palace||3|
|Saint-Maximin, Allan||Newcastle United||3|
|Benrahma, Said||West Ham United||3|
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|Rice, Declan||West Ham United||3|
|Ritchie, Matt||Newcastle United||3|
|Westwood, Ashley||Burnley FC||3|
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|Ronaldo, Cristiano||Manchester United||2|