At the end of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s reign, these two players in particular perhaps best embodied the problems the Norwegian had faced in preparing for his sacking.
Fred, who Manchester City wanted to sign ahead of his move to Old Trafford in the summer of 2019, was almost constantly exposed to the central midfielder and appeared to be left without any consistent instruction on when and how to put pressure on by Solskjaer.
Sancho, meanwhile, was sidelined widely on the left by the former United boss despite making a name for himself at Borussia Dortmund playing on the right.
Rather than urging the kind of swashbuckling performance that defined Solskjaer’s initial success as a keeper following the Jose Mourinho era nearly three years ago, Carrick seemed to embrace the simplicity. .
In possession United looked like a 4-3-3 with Donny van de Beek being licensed to support Anthony Martial and Cristiano Ronaldo up front and when there was a turnaround in possession Fred moved to the left of the midfielder in a 4- 4-2.
This then allowed Ronaldo not to tap the left channel with Scott McTominay and Van de Beek operating in the center and Sancho on the right.
While David De Gea’s mind-blowing save on Miguel Trigueros kept the scores high, Villarreal didn’t have many clear opportunities, further increasing the feeling that United’s individual quality would end up being too important.
Obviously, a much bigger game plan will have to present itself given the level of quality of this team. Yet United have fallen into the farce of late and the functional rather than the fantastic was needed to stop the rot.
Fred, who paved the way for urgent actions in the United squad last night, created the space for both goals by constantly harassing the opposition from the hour mark once it became apparent that Villarreal’s intensity had dropped.
At the very least, United had finally set some triggers for when to move forward. Maybe they could get a little complex just waiting to tire the opposition out but, frankly, it was an improvement over the last days of Solskjaer’s reign and Fred has proven to be a willful runner.
Sancho only followed Fred in terms of urgent actions and was at least trying to dribble more frequently than under the previous manager. On a per game basis this season, the England international is attempting 3.54 (via FBREF), so the 5 he produced last night (although only one succeeded) may portend an increase in confidence.
Scoring his first goal since his £ 73million transfer to the club earlier this summer, the performance at least provides a platform to build on.
United have so much more to prove on and off the pitch, but the sense of order has helped the individual. Now it’s over to their underachieving stars to get on the plate.