Manchester United fought hard to get the better of Villarreal and in the end it was a mistake from the Spaniards which allowed the Red Devils to break the deadlock.

In the 78th minute Fred pounced on a poor clearance to win the ball back and present Cristiano Ronaldo with an opportunity. The forward obliged, scoring his sixth goal in five Champions League group games.

A late goal from Jadon Sancho topped off a perfect night for United and caretaker boss Michael Carrick.

United have now qualified as group winners, while Villarreal must avoid defeat against Atalanta in their final match, for which the Italians will have home advantage.

Villarreal boss Unai Emery spoke after the game, and while he admitted United were ultimately the better team, he felt the La Liga side were better for the first 70 minutes.

Emery told AS he was impressed by David de Gea, who kept his side out with a crucial second half save with the game scoreless.

manchester united group winners
(Photo by Matthew Peters/Manchester United via Getty Images)

Emery said: “De Gea was once again a decisive goalkeeper. We made a mistake for the goal, but it is a mistake of what we want our strength to be, which is to have the ball. 

“But of course, we have to minimize errors. But the goal could have come another way, because Rulli made a good save for Sancho. 

 

“I keep that for 60 or 70 minutes we were better than the favorites. But in the end they were the best and we were unable to reach the tie. I accept defeat like this.”

Balanced team benefits from brilliance

Manchester United’s team has top quality individuals, capable of outstanding moments.

David de Gea’s save was a showcase of this, along with Ronaldo’s game turning strike. Neither would have made the same impact without the other.

United’s defence as a whole was far better in this game than in recent matches.

This was the first time United had kept a clean sheet with a back four since August.

manchester united group winners
(Photo by David S. Bustamante/Soccrates/Getty Images)

The team’s defensive frailty has been the biggest problem over the last few weeks.

We would not consider them solved after this one game by any stretch. United face Chelsea at the weekend, who beat Juventus 4-0 last night.

Harry Maguire will be suspended for that fixture too, to add to the complicated task ahead. One thing is for sure, David de Gea will be in for another busy afternoon.

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