15th September, 2022
Cristiano Ronaldo scored his first goal of the season as Manchester United got their Europa League campaign up and running with a 2-0 win at Sheriff on Thursday.
Ronaldo was selected to lead the line as Erik ten Hag kept rotation to a minimum against the side that stunned Real Madrid in last season’s Champions League, drilled home a first-half penalty to make it 2-0 to United after Jadon Sancho had opened the scoring.
Having moved onto 699 club goals with his spot-kick, Ronaldo missed a chance to reach the 700 milestones after the break, but United produced a controlled performance to see out the victory.
United were in need of three points following last week’s home defeat to Real Sociedad in their opening Group E game.
Although Sheriff started well, United took the lead with their first real attack 17 minutes in when Sancho turned on Christian Eriksen’s pass and tucked a neat finish into the bottom-right corner.
Iyayi Atiemwen dragged wide of the bottom-left corner with David de Gea unsighted before Stjepan Radeljic denied Sancho a second with a heroic goal-line clearance.
United were soon gifted an opportunity to double their lead by Patrick Kpozo, who was tempted into a foul by Diogo Dalot.
Ronaldo, who has had to settle for a substitute role in United’s last four Premier League matches, lashed his penalty straight down the middle.
Radeljic was again on hand to clear as Ronaldo attacked the back post after the break before Rasheed Akanbi almost caught De Gea out with a sumptuous lob from long range.
Ronaldo side-footed wide of the top-right corner from 18 yards out as a chance for his 700th club goal went begging, though United had little trouble in sealing a fifth win in their last six outings.
What does it mean? United up and running
While Ten Hag’s main focus will be on re-establishing United as Premier League contenders, the strong side he fielded on Thursday demonstrated his desire to bounce back from last week’s loss to La Real.
With Sheriff having picked up a win on matchday one, United’s triumph saw them retain their status as favourites to progress from the group.
Ten Hag, meanwhile, has lost just two of his 21 away matches in major competitions as a manager (W13 D6), against Getafe in February 2020 and Liverpool in December 2020.
Ronaldo close to another landmark
Ronaldo, a five-time Champions League winner with a record 140 goals in Europe’s premier club competition, never seemed thrilled by the prospect of featuring in the Europa League this campaign.
After failing to secure an exit in the recent transfer window, Ronaldo had gone seven games without a goal, but he took his chance when it came on Thursday.
It might have been his 699th goal at club level, yet it was his first in the Europa League.
Sancho responds to England snub
Sancho’s improved domestic form led to speculation he would be named in Gareth Southgate’s squad for England’s upcoming Nations League fixtures, but the former Borussia Dortmund winger was left out.
He responded in fine fashion, however, turning to drill home his third goal of the campaign in all competitions, moving him level with Marcus Rashford. No United player has scored more.
Key Opta Facts
– United have scored at least once in each of their last 16 away matches in European competitions (30 goals), extending the longest such run in their history.
– Sheriff have lost three of their last four home games in European competitions (excluding qualifiers), as many as they had lost in their first 13 such matches (W5 D5 L3).
– United have won five of their last six games in all competitions (L1), as many victories as they had registered in their previous 21 matches combined (W5 D7 L9).
– United have kept a clean sheet in eight of their last 11 away games in the UEFA Europa League.
– Sheriff are the 124th side Ronaldo has netted against in all competitions.
Domestic postponements owing to the death of Queen Elizabeth II mean United are without a Premier League fixture until they face rivals and champions Manchester City on October 2. Sheriff host Zimbru Chisinau in the Moldovan top-flight on Sunday.