Michael Carrick piled praise on Manchester United’s pressing and Fred in particular after his caretaker reign got off to a winning start against Villarreal.
United ground out a 2-0 win with Jadon Sancho scoring United’s second in the last minute of the 90 at El Madrigal on Tuesday night. Cristiano Ronaldo put the visitors in front with 12 minutes left of another Champions League late show, giving caretaker Carrick victory in the first game since Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s dismissal.
Sancho’s strike capped a swift counter-attack, started by Ronaldo before Marcus Rashford and Bruno Fernandes switched play to the right.
“The defending and inception for the second goal, that’s what we’ve got in the team, being able to hit on the break,” Carrick said. “That’s always been in the DNA of the club, and that’s the players we’ve got.”
Ronaldo’s goal came when Rulli’s pass to Etienne Capoue immediately put the midfielder under pressure with Fred pressing high. The Brazilian was then able to poke the ball forward for Ronaldo do the rest.
United’s press came in for much criticism in the latter days of Solskjaer’s reign. The lack of conviction and togetherness was often highlighted whilst pressing. But Carrick was quick to point out how it can work.
Carrick: ‘We do press’
“If you look back over time we have pressed as a team, especially on goal-kicks and when the goalkeeper has got the ball,” Carrick said. “We do try to press. Sometimes it hasn’t worked but the intention is to do it.
“Fred is one of the best at what we try to do. Cristiano finishes it off but Fred has done brilliantly…
“I was delighted with both goals, but I’m not taking any credit for that. It’s not about my ideas. It’s about the lads working hard and pulling it off.
“I’m delighted for our players, their effort and application. When we put that together with the full package we’re a good team,” said Carrick.
Carrick also told Sancho he is in control of his own destiny after he got his first Manchester United goal.
Sancho has been slow to fire since his £73m move from Borussia Dortmund in the summer. But the goal capped the England forward’s best display yet for United.
“For Jadon it’s a massive boost,” Carrick said. “It’s a big goal for him, but it was about his performance overall. We know how much Jadon likes the ball at his feet, you see the smile on his face, but the pleasing thing for me was the effort and application he put in.
Carrick lays down gauntlet to Sancho
“At times he was not seeing a lot of the ball but he was always doing a job and playing a big part in the team’s performance. In the end you get your rewards and I’m delighted for him.
“I think Jadon epitomised the team performance. It’s up to Jadon now what happens next and how he kicks on. He’s got all the talent in the world and he’ll get all our support for sure.”
After Carrick’s introduction of Fernandes and Rashford kick-started United as an attacking force heading into the last 20 minutes, Sancho had already brought one good save from Villarreal keeper Geronimo Rulli before Ronaldo capitalised on a defensive mix-up to put United in front.
It was Ronaldo’s sixth goal in five Champions League appearances this season, and another decisive late strike from a player who has secured stoppage-time victories over Villarreal and Atalanta this season.
“There’s not much I can say about Cristiano that hasn’t been said over a number of years,” Carrick said.
“It’s what he does. In the big games, the big moments, when you need a goal he’s there to deliver. He’s got such a cold, calculated mentality, he’s so calm so he doesn’t snatch at chances.
“That’s what he’s been gifted with. I say gifted – he’s also worked very hard at being as good as he is and we’re delighted to have him. I’m not surprised at all.”
United were ‘speeding up’
For an hour Unai Emery must have thought it was his own Villarreal side on course to book their last 16 place on the night, but the former Arsenal boss admitted they could not handle United once Rashford and Fernandes were on.
“I think we were very good for about 60 or 70 minutes against a Manchester United who were the favourites in this group,” he said through a translator.
“We had chances. We were controlling the ball and we haven’t given them any kind of chances in these 70 minutes.
“But when they changed their players it gave them a boost and we were not playing the same way. They were speeding up and it has been a bit overwhelming for us.”