CHRIS SUTTON: Man United got their rewards for pushing higher up

CHRIS SUTTON: Hot off the press, Manchester United got their rewards for pushing higher up against Villarreal… Michael Carrick deserves credit for overseeing the result, which was essential for the club

  • Manchester United beat Villarreal to reach the Champions League last-16 
  • United’s attackers pushed higher up and earned the rewards with two goals 
  • Fred robbed the ball back in the lead up to Cristiano Ronaldo’s opening strike 
  • Michael Carrick deserves credit for helping United qualify for the next round 

The statistics said Manchester United were one of the worst at pressing high under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. Well, here’s proof of what can happen when you bother giving it a go.

Villarreal goalkeeper Geronimo Rulli had the ball. In front of him was a team-mate, being marked by Bruno Fernandes. 

To his right was another team-mate, being blocked by Cristiano Ronaldo. To his left was another team-mate, being watched by Jadon Sancho. It was well organised, and so Rulli was tempted into trying to find Etienne Capoue instead. 

Manchester United got their rewards for pressing higher in their victory against Villarreal

Fred (R) stepped in to intercept a pass and seconds later, Cristiano Ronaldo (L) lobbed home

Watch the moment he plays that hospital pass and you will see Fred pushing on while Capoue is motionless. His anticipation wins the ball and then Ronaldo did what Ronaldo does when there’s a goalkeeper to beat. 

Happy days. The best teams press high – just look at Liverpool and Manchester City – and that’s no coincidence.

Jurgen Klopp says a good press is better than any playmaker in the world. United went on the front foot by partaking in some high pressing of their own and it handed them the lead. It was Fred who won the ball in the build-up to their second strike, too.

Ronaldo’s goal owed much to Fred’s anticipation when Villarreal looked to pass from the back

Kudos to Michael Carrick for overseeing this result. In 48 hours in charge, he got a tune out of a team that looked like a busted banjo against Watford. It wasn’t the most mesmerising performance, or one of total superiority, particularly in the first half. 

I’m not a United fan but even I was tempted to start shouting ‘attack, attack, attack’ at the TV. 

But then this was a side low on confidence — one who hadn’t yet kept a clean sheet in Europe this season. The result is all that matters in the end, really.

United won, they’re through to the knockout stages, and all those social media managers who control the players’ Twitter accounts can post positive messages to their millions of followers rather than apologetic ones, at least.

Carrick doesn’t know how long he will be in charge until the next interim takes over – a ludicrous situation – but he can feel good about himself as he flies back to Manchester. 

Michael Carrick deserves credit for leading United into next round of the Champions League

To have introduced Bruno Fernandes and Marcus Rashford and see them both intrinsically involved in Jadon Sancho completing the scoreline will boost his confidence in his decision-making as a manager.

Villarreal did have chances in the first 20 minutes. Good chances, which a more clinical side might have made count. 

Chelsea are next up on Sunday, and Carrick won’t have long to work with the players before then. Still, this was a good start for him, and an essential result for the club.

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