Two first-half goals from Jadon Sancho and Cristiano Ronaldo were enough to give Manchester United a comfortable victory over Sheriff Tiraspol on Thursday evening, with the Reds now up and running in the Europa League following a defeat in the opening game last week.
How did United set up?
With United set to be out of action until October 2nd in the Manchester derby, it was expected that Erik Ten Hag would look to field a strong side to keep the key players as fresh as possible.
The Dutchman did exactly that, with the likes of Raphael Varane and Lisandro Martinez starting after being subjected to the bench in the Europa League opener last time out against Real Sociedad.
Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Donny van de Beek were not part of the travelling squad, and neither was Marcus Rashford after limping off against Arsenal not long ago.
Here were the starting lineup and substitutes…Embed from Getty Images
Starting XI: David De Gea (GK), Diogo Dalot (RB), Raphael Varane (CB), Lisandro Martinez (CB), Tyrell Malacia (LB), Scott McTominay (CM), Christian Eriksen (CM), Bruno Fernandes (CAM), Antony (RW), Jadon Sancho (LW), Cristiano Ronaldo (ST).
Subs: Tom Heaton, Radek Vitek, Harry Maguire, Victor Lindelof, Luke Shaw, Casemiro, Fred, Zidane Iqbal, Anthony Elanga, Alejandro Garnacho, Charlie McNeill.
How it went down
It was a cagey start to the game for United, with the men in white unable to get a strong foothold in the opposition half early on. An early shout for a penalty was waved away when Ronaldo went down in the area as he tried to control a long ball, but the referee deemed the contact from Gaby Kiki to be minimal and not enough.
Stjepan Tomas would have been the happier of the two managers, but that was until the 17th minute when Sancho broke the deadlock out of nothing. It was Eriksen who was the provider having played a pass between the lines from the middle of the pitch. Sancho collected the ball and moved it onto his left foot before the Englishman slotted it home into the bottom right corner with precision.Embed from Getty Images
A quick free-kick from Antony set Ronaldo in behind, but with the play on a tight angle, the Portuguese blazed one over the bar inside the area. Eriksen lofted in a free-kick himself not long afterwards, and Varane really ought to have gotten his head on it from close range.
A poor pass out from the goalkeeper saw Antony steal possession in the Moldovan side’s final third; the winger played it to Sancho in acres of space on the left, but the former Dortmund man had his effort heroically cleared off the line.
It did not matter, though, with Ronaldo doubling the advantage in the 39th minute. A clumsy clip from the Sheriff defender saw Dalot hit the deck after being picked out by Fernandes, and Ronaldo slotted down the middle to open up his account for 2022/23 from the spot.
Second halfEmbed from Getty Images
McTominay, who was one of the better players in the first half, was replaced by Casemiro after the interval. This was likely to give Casemiro more minutes and to help the Brazilian midfielder to embed himself into the side.
Fernandes was denied inside the area with a first-time shot from Dalot’s cross. The move was similar to the one at Southampton a few weeks back, where Fernandes bagged the match winner that day, but the captain failed to convert this time around.
The second half was rather lacklustre in comparison to the first, with United not probing with the same intensity. Malacia, Eriksen and Sancho all linked up well to eventually tee up Ronaldo after the hour mark, but the latter fired his effort just too high and wide.
Shaw came on for Dalot in the 70th minute, with Malacia moving into an unorthodox right-back position. Ronaldo was swapped for Elanga with ten minutes remaining, too. Martinez and Antony then made way for Maguire and Garnacho as the game drew to a swift close.
Final score: Sheriff Tiraspol 0-2 Manchester United (Sancho 17’, Ronaldo 39’ [pen])
Man of the matchEmbed from Getty Images
There was no real standout performer in Chisinau, but you could choose from a whole host of good showings for the man of the match.
Yet again, Christian Eriksen looked classy in that box-to-box midfielder role.
The 30-year-old set up Sancho with a tidy pass for the opener and was a key part of United clocking up 68% possession as he retained the ball on multiple occasions. The Dane hardly set the world on fire with his performance, but many fans agree that our no.14 just looks a classy footballer in a similar way to how Juan Mata is and is a definite upgrade on Fred in that position.
The bigger pictureEmbed from Getty Images
It was disappointing not to see the team go out and score a couple more in the second half after a dominant first half showing, but the Red Devils certainly got the job done against Zholto-chornyye (the Yellow-Blacks), so Ten Hag will not have been too displeased.
The obvious positives are Ronaldo getting up and running for the season after an underwhelming start to the campaign, as well as Sancho netting his third goal so far. McTominay again looked good in the midfield after benching Casemiro once more, with that same back four of Dalot, Varane, Martinez and Malacia looking better by the game.
It was an average game from Antony; the 21-year-old did nothing wrong, but he never managed to get at the opposition in the way he would have liked. It was good to see him start again, though, and his link-up play looks sharp.
In the context of the competition, United are now 2nd in the standings with three points, level with Sheriff, with Real Sociedad on six having beaten Omonia Nicosia, who lie bottom of the table with zero points.
Next up for Ten Hag and United is a trip to the Etihad Stadium, where the Reds take on Manchester City in the derby fixture on Sunday 2nd October. It is worth remembering that the long wait is due to the postponement of the Leeds fixture this weekend and the international break that follows.