Manchester United flew to Moldova for Thursday’s UEFA Europa League match against Sheriff Tiraspol, eager to bounce back from last week’s loss (September 15). With a 1-0 loss to Real Sociedad at home in the opening game of the competition on September 8, the Red Devils must get back on track on Thursday. There would be no upset for the 20-time English champions, as they cruised to a 2-0 victory against Sheriff in Moldova. Goals from Jadon Sancho and Cristiano Ronaldo gave Erik ten Hag’s team an easy victory.
In the early minutes, the home team seemed the more energized of the two, but United had more of the ball and set the pace. The 17th minute goal was created by United’s patient buildup play, when Christian Eriksen found Sancho in space on the edge of the box. Ex-Borussia Dortmund winger placed his foot through the ball and easily past Sheriff goalkeeper Maksym Kobal to give United the lead.
Cedric Badolo took a long shot on goal for Sheriff six minutes later, posing a threat to the Manchester United defense. He took a fairly good shot, but it missed De Gea’s goal by a hair. Together with Ronaldo, Antony created a chance for Portugal in the 33rd minute when he lobbed the ball over Sheriff’s head to put the Portuguese in on goal. Stjepan Radeljic, playing in the middle of the defense, quickly assessed the situation and made a sliding tackle. The Manchester United no. 7 was put under intense pressure and he blasted the ball well over Sheriff’s goal. When Patrick Kpozo took down Diogo Dalot inside his own area five minutes later, the referee had no doubts about giving a penalty kick. A penalty was awarded, and Ronaldo calmly stepped up to take it, sending the ball rippling through the goal net for his first goal of the 2022-23 season. While they maintained a large lead in possession after the break, Manchester United’s offense was unable to produce many scoring opportunities. There wasn’t much to get the away crowd pumped up about, except maybe Bruno Fernandes’s shot in the 48th minute that was straight at Koval. The home team lacked the motivation to attempt a comeback in the second half and appeared to give up hope late in the game.
In Thursday’s 2-0 routine victory over Sheriff Tiraspol, the following five United players stood out:
United’s biggest acquisition played well enough overall despite failing to score or assist against Sheriff. He made several nice passes, beat defenders with his lightning feet, and defended valiantly. When Antony lobbed the ball to Ronaldo in the 33rd minute, it was a perfect example of his ability to make something out of nothing.
Antony dished out two assists, dribbled four times without losing a possession, won six of ten face-offs on the ground, and drew two fouls while playing against Sheriff. He was also successful on 29 of 40 pass attempts (82.9% completion rate) and made one attempt at a tackle.
#4 Bruno Fernandes
On Thursday, Bruno Fernandes played the role of number 10 behind Ronaldo thanks to Ten Hag’s tactical adjustments. The Portuguese midfielder had excellent link-up play, good ball carrying, and composure under pressure. His effort in the 48th minute was less than stellar, but otherwise, he had a really excellent game for Portugal.
Both of Fernandes’ dribble attempts were successful, and he also won four of five ground duels, cleared the ball once, and made an effort at a tackle. Against the Moldovan team, he had two long balls that were both successful.
#3 C. Ronaldo
Ten Hag started Cristiano Ronaldo for the third time in the starting eleven on Thursday. Ronaldo not only scored his first goal of the season, but also had a comfortable victory after having previously tasted defeat on two separate occasions (1-0 against Sociedad and 4-0 against Brentford). Five-time Ballon d’Or winner stepped up to take the penalty kick that Dalot had earned for his country in the 39th minute. He smashed it down the middle, outflanking Koval’s dive to his right.
After scoring the penalty—his 699th goal for his club—Ronaldo went on to complete 34 passes (with an 82.9% success rate), win a duel, and make a clearance.
#2 Sancho Jadon
The youngster Jadon Sancho was one of Manchester United’s best offensive options on the night. He was effective with the ball at his feet, a constant thorn in the side of the Sheriff defense, and the scorer of United’s fantastic first goal in the seventeenth minute. Following Eriksen’s assist, Sancho dribbled into the box and switched to his left foot before taking a shot on goal. His well-placed strike tucked into the bottom right corner, where it gave Koval no chance.
Sancho won all four of his ground duels and tried a tackle when dribbling past Sheriff.
#1 Christian Eriksen
Christian Eriksen, arguably the summer’s most important acquisition for Manchester United, was instrumental in nearly every United goal and scoring opportunity in Moldova on Thursday. He was confident in control, created space for his teammates with his deliveries, and set up Sancho for the game’s first goal with a beautiful through ball.
Eriksen won his lone ground duel, completed a clearance, and attempted a tackle on Thursday night, in addition to making two important passes and delivering five accurate long balls. The Dane’s performance was as surefooted as it gets against Moldova’s best.