Eager to recover from last week’s defeat, Manchester United traveled to Moldova for their UEFA Europa League clash matchday two clash with Sheriff Tiraspol on Thursday night (September 15). The Red Devils fell to a 1-0 home defeat against Real Sociedad in their tournament opener (September 8), making it crucial for them to return to winning ways on Thursday.
Fortunately for the 20-time English champions, there was no upset on the cards in Moldova, with the visitors comfortably securing a 2-0 victory against Sheriff. Jadon Sancho and Cristiano Ronaldo found the back of the net to ensure a straightforward win for Erik ten Hag’s side.
The home side looked livelier between the two teams in the opening minutes, but United enjoyed more possession, thus controlling the tempo. United’s patient build-up play paid dividends in the 17th minute when Christian Eriksen found Sancho in space on the edge of the box. The former Borussia Dortmund winger put his foot through the ball and comfortably beat Sheriff keeper Maksym Kobal to give United the lead.
Six minutes later, Sheriff threatened the Manchester United defense, with Cedric Badolo going for goal from a long way out. His effort was decent but drifted just wide of De Gea’s goal.
In the 33rd minute, Antony and Ronaldo combined, with the former playing the Portuguese through with a lobbed pass over the top of Sheriff’s defense. Center-back Stjepan Radeljic read the situation well and came in with a sliding tackle. Under pressure, the Manchester United no. 7 smashed the ball over Sheriff’s goal.
Five minutes later, Patrick Kpozo brought down Diogo Dalot inside his box, and the referee unhesitantly pointed to the spot. Ronaldo took the resulting penalty and rippled the netting, registering his first goal of the 2022-23 campaign.
Manchester United continued to enjoy the lion's share of possession in the second half but failed to create too many chances. Except for Bruno Fernandes’ 48th-minute effort, which he directed straight at Koval, there was not much to excite the visiting fans. The hosts also lacked the zeal to make something happen in the second half and seemingly accepted their fate towards the end of the game.
Here are five United stars who shone in their 2-0 routine win over Sheriff Tiraspol on Thursday:
United’s marquee signing did not score or assist against Sheriff, but his overall performance was satisfactory. He created a few openings, used his dazzling feet to beat defenders, and held his ground admirably in duels. Antony’s lobbed pass to Ronaldo in the 33rd minute showcased his ability to create something out of nothing.
Against Sheriff, Antony made two key passes, completed two dribbles (4 attempts), won six of 10 ground duels, and drew two fouls. He also completed 29 passes (82.9% passing accuracy) and attempted a tackle.
#4 Bruno Fernandes
Ten Hag deployed Bruno Fernandes in a number 10 role behind Ronaldo on Thursday. The Portuguese midfielder demonstrated admirable link-up play, carried the ball well, and was cool under pressure. He should have done better with his effort in the 48th minute, but overall, it was a good game from the Portugal international.
Fernandes completed both his attempted dribbles, won four of five ground duels, cleared the ball once, and attempted a tackle. He also delivered an accurate long ball (2 attempts) against the Moldovan outfit.
#3 Cristiano Ronaldo
Cristiano Ronaldo was handed his third starting XI appearance by Ten Hag on Thursday. After tasting defeats on two previous occasions (1-0 against Sociedad, 4-0 against Brentford), Ronaldo not only enjoyed a comfortable victory but also scored his first goal of the season.
In the 39th minute, the five-time Ballon d’Or winner stepped up to take the penalty that his compatriot Dalot had won. He dispatched it right down the middle, beating Koval who dived to his right.
In addition to scoring the penalty, which marked the 699th goal of his club career, Ronaldo completed 34 passes (82.9% accuracy), won a duel, and made a clearance.
#2 Jadon Sancho
Jadon Sancho was arguably Manchester United’s standout attacking player on the night. He carried the ball well, troubled Sheriff defenders with his pace, and scored a great goal to open the scoring for United in the 17th minute.
Latching on to Eriksen’s pass, Sancho drifted into the box and cleverly shifted to his left foot before having a go at goal. His sweetly-struck shot nestled into the bottom-right corner, comfortably beating Koval.
Against Sheriff, Sancho completed both of his attempted dribbles, won all four of his ground duels, and attempted a tackle.
#1 Christian Eriksen
Arguably Manchester United’s signing of the summer, Christian Eriksen was once again at the heart of almost every positive passage of play in Moldova on Thursday. He was comfortable in possession, stretched the defense with his passes, and played a superb through ball into Sancho’s path to help him open the scoring.
On Thursday night, Eriksen made two key passes, delivered five accurate long balls, won his only ground duel, made a clearance, and attempted a tackle. The Dane could not have had a more sure-footed display against the Moldovan champions.