Manchester United got off to a winning start under Michael Carrick with Cristiano Ronaldo and Jadon Sancho scoring inside the final 12 minutes to secure a 2-0 win at Estadio de la Ceramica.
It had needed an excellent David De Gea to keep the visitors in it at 0-0 before late strikes by the Portugal and England internationals to send the Red Devils three points clear at the provisional UEFA Champions League Group F summit with Atalanta and Young Boys still to play.
The Swiss outfit are United's final opponents in the pool while Villarreal take on the Italians in the last round of games which will likely decide who advances with the managerless Premier League giants.
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1 - Jadon Sancho has scored his first ever Manchester United goal, in what is his 15th appearance and from his 11th attempted shot in all competitions. Phew.— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) November 23, 2021
After a difficult start to life at Old Trafford, the England international featured and scored. Expectations were high when he arrived this summer before the former Borussia Dortmund man's struggles under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. Perhaps this goal will finally see the 21-year-old start to turn things around.
The caretaker was rewarded for some bold moves such as benching Bruno Fernandes and starting Sancho, Donny van de Beek and Anthony Martial with a coherent United display which looked better in spells than anything produced under predecessor Solskjaer of late. Sancho scored while Fernandes came off the bench to provide that extra insurance towards the end of the match.
3 - Cristiano Ronaldo's strike against Villarreal 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 by a player in a single season in the competition (excluding extra-time). Clutch. pic.twitter.com/x80wktZzOy— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) November 23, 2021
The Portugal international once again answered the call of his teammates and provided the all-important opening goal 12 minutes from time. Without the 36-year-old Ronaldo, United might not find themselves advancing to the knockout phase as he has scored at least once in every game so far.
What could have been a messy and drawn out process like last season's drop down into the Europa League has turned into a fairly straightforward exercise. United are now through, it is just a question of whether it will be alongside Atalanta or Villarreal.