Functional rather than fantastic: Fred and Jadon Sancho the biggest winners of Michael Carrick’s first game

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·3-min read
Functional rather than fantastic: Fred and Jadon Sancho the biggest winners of Michael Carrick’s first game
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While Manchester United’s win over Villarreal on Tuesday was - in large parts - a fairly dull affair as Michael Carrick looked to restore some sense of order, it was hard not to notice significant improvements in the performances of both Fred and Jadon Sancho.

By the end of the Ole Gunnar Solskjaer reign, those two players in particular perhaps best embodied the problems the Norweigan had encountered in the build-up to his sacking.

Fred, who Manchester City wanted to sign prior to his move to Old Trafford in the summer of 2019, was almost constantly exposed in central midfield and appeared to be left without any coherent instruction on when and how to press by Solskjaer.

Sancho, meanwhile, was largely shunted out to the left by the former United boss despite having made his name at Borussia Dortmund by playing on the right.

Rather than urge the kind of swashbuckling performance that defined Solskjaer’s initial success as a caretaker in the wake of the Jose Mourinho era almost three years ago, Carrick appeared to embrace simplicity.

In possession, United resembled a 4-3-3 with Donny van de Beek afforded licence to support Anthony Martial and Cristiano Ronaldo up front and, when there was a turnover in possession, Fred would move out to the left of midfield in a 4-4-2.

That then allowed for Ronaldo’s lack of pressing from the left-hand channel with Scott McTominay and Van de Beek operating centrally and Sancho out on the right.

Largely, it worked.

While David De Gea’s stunning save from Miguel Trigueros kept the scores level, Villarreal were not afforded much in the way of clear-cut opportunities, further increasing the sense that United’s individual quality would eventually prove too much.

Clearly, much more in the way of an expansive game plan will have to present itself given the level of quality in this squad. Still, United have descended into farce of late and the functional rather than the fantastic was required in order to stop the rot.

Fred, who led the way for pressing actions in the United team last night, created the space for both goals with his constant harrying of the opposition from the hour mark onwards once it became obvious Villarreal’s intensity had dropped off.

 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

If nothing else, United had finally set triggers on when to push forward. Perhaps they could be slightly complex on merely waiting to tire the opposition out but, frankly, it was an improvement on the latter days of the Solskjaer reign and Fred proved a willing runner.

Sancho only trailed Fred in terms of pressing actions and was at least attempting dribbles more frequently than under the previous manager. On a per-game basis this season, the England international attempts 3.54 (via FBREF) so the 5 he produced last night (albeit only one was successful) may hint at an increase in confidence.

Scoring his first goal since his £73m move to the club earlier this summer, the performance at least provides a platform on which to build.

United have so much more to prove both on and off the pitch but the sense of order allowed for the individual. Now, it’s up to more of their underperforming stars to step up to the plate.

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