Villarreal started in their usual 4-4-2, which at times also shaped up like a diamond. [player 26491] and [player 186147] led the line, with Pino and Gomez playing in the wide areas. Parejo and Capoue started at the heart of the midfield, with captain [player 129502] and [player 380970] pairing up at the back.
In his first game in charge as an interim boss, Carrick selected an interesting first eleven. The back four and the midfield two weren’t a surprise, with [player 205411] and [player 455376] starting in their routine positions. The big surprises were in the attacking positions. Sancho, who struggled to get a game under Ole after the big-money move, started in his best position, the right-wing. Martial also came in to play down the left with Ronaldo upfront. The biggest surprise was the inclusion of [player 26031] in a starting lineup. The Dutchman who arrived with a vast reputation couldn’t get minutes under [coach 524307]. However, the news boss picked him straightaway.
Both sides had chances in the first six minutes. United were awarded a long free-kick. The delivery from [player 130177] was excellent, but Ronaldo’s header hit the side netting. Villarreal soon responded as they started to keep the ball well. Villarreal went close, but De Gea’s save kept the score at 0-0.
[player 1988] was getting more time on the ball, and Pino was beginning to make dangerous runs. [team 3477] controlled the game and had superior possession before [player 24468970]’s lovely turn led to a shot that went wide. Villarreal’s passing and movement were creating gaps in the United midfield.
With 20 minutes played, Villarreal were by far the superior side. They were dominating United all over the pitch, and their ball movement was slick. Villarreal’s pressing was much more effective as well. One could clearly see that one team was well-drilled under a top coach and the other side were unsure what they were doing. The home side’s dominance was now getting bigger, similar to what happened at Old Trafford.
There was an eye-catching switch as Ronaldo started the game down the left, and [player 1829] led the line. This continued for almost twenty minutes before Ronaldo was back in his regular position and so was Martial. Sancho’s involvement so far was probably the least of any Man United player.
The away side were pressing inconsistently. Sometimes they were pressing, and sometimes only one player was pressing and others watching. With two energetic midfielders in there for [team 14], there was a lack of leadership in that area. As a result, Villarreal were by far the more dominant side in the midfield area, with the Parejo and Capoue dictating the game.
[player 186418] played a brilliant long ball which found Pino. The youngster played a cutback, which led to a shot excellently saved by De Gea. Telles’s mistake of letting the ball bounce like that could have cost his side badly, but De Gea was there again.
After a long time, man United finally had a moment of a threat when Sancho crossed it in, which a Villarreal defender cleared away. Ronaldo then had a strong header saved by Rulli.
Sancho was beginning to get more involved and pull some strings. His driving run before playing a lovely diagonal to Martial, who cut in on his right foot and played a clever pass into Telles before Pino brought him down just outside the box. A free-kick from Ronaldo territory but a disappointing outcome with the Portuguese hitting the wall.
However, United were now very much in the game, and Villarreal weren’t as dominant as before. Villarreal were awarded a free kick in a good area, with Parejo’s dipping shot not dipping enough as he missed the target.
With the game entering into the first-half added time, [player 5252] made a serious error by giving the ball away in a dangerous area, but [player 186173]’s shot went off target.
The first half was concluded with no goals, but both teams had chances. Especially Villarreal, who should have one goal by now, but De Gea’s brilliance kept United very much in the balance.
Both sides started the second half aggressively and looked dangerous in the early stages. Villarreal had an early corner, and United soon responded with some brilliant play by Sancho on the right-wing. The more Sancho got on the ball, the more threatening Man United were looking.
United now understood that pressing Villarreal higher up is not the best option due to the passing midfielders. They were holding a somewhat medium block and a low block at times to restrict any sort of space to the home side. However, [coach 455907]’s patterns of play were still working as Villarreal still looked dangerous in between the lines.
[player 832] made another sensational stop in the 58th minute. A blocked shot fell into the path of a Villarreal player in the box whose volley looked destined for a goal, but De Gea was there again. Excellent reflexes by the Spaniard kept United with a chance of winning the game.
In order to add more pace and goal threat, Carrick replaced Van De Beek and Martial with [player 129602] and Rashford. With these changes, Carrick must have expected more energetic pressing higher up the pitch.
Man United’s domination was now increasing, and Sancho came close to giving his side the lead. He combined beautifully with Bruno before using his quick feet to dribble in the box, but Rulli saved his shot. The introduction of Rashford and Bruno added more dynamism into the United attack. The transitions were now quicker and more efficient.
With fifteen minutes remaining, Man United were now the more dominant side. The away side looked much closer to getting a crucial late goal. Manchester United scored with a clever finish by [player 580]. However, Villarreal made a terrible mistake while playing out from the back, and when you gift that kind of chance to Ronaldo, he will take it.
Manchester United were now leading the game with ten minutes plus added time to play. Villarreal were struggling to penetrate the United backline and could not break the lines to progress the ball. There was also a sense of tiredness among the home players. They were not pressing as intense as they were doing before.
Villarreal created a good chance from a corner which they took quickly. [player 1471] put a lovely cross into the box, but [player 1276]’s header was way off target. On the other hand, Ronaldo could have doubled United’s lead, but his chipped shot went wide. Another United counterattack took place, and this time Rulli denied [player 1878]’s near-post attempt. The following corner saw Bruno’s effort luckily deflecting wide. Manchester United sealed the points in the last minute of normal time with another blistering counterattack. The attack saw all of United’s four attackers combine before [player 538034] unleashed a powerful strike hitting the underside of the bar and into the net.
Not an outstanding performance, but they got the job done in the end. It could have been a different story if De Gea failed to pull off those excellent saves. Also, [player 645] deserves credit in his role because his substitutions played a massive role in changing the game.
Fixture Details: [fixture 18395594]
Author: Devashish Akolekar