What a start to life as interim Man Utd boss for Michael Carrick, who won his first match in temporary charge of the club, a vital 2-0 over Villarreal at El Madrigal that saw the visitors qualify for the knockout phase of the Champions League as Group F winners with a game to spare.
Carrick made four changes from Saturday’s 4-1 humiliation at Watford, the most eye-catching of which was his decision to leave Bruno Fernandes on the bench.
The Portugal playmaker has created more chances than any other player in Europe’s premier club competition so far this season, but Carrick had a game plan to keep it tight, before sending on Fernandes and the pace of Rashford in the final quarter of the match.
The plan worked to perfection as United’s attacking flair players took charge and late goals on the break from Cristiano Ronaldo and Jadon Sancho sealed the win and saw Carrick become the first English manager to win his first game in charge of United (excluding second spells) since Walter Crickmer in November 1931.
Jadon Sancho’s career at Manchester United starts now.
You expect a young player to take time to get his feet under the table at a big club but for a player of Sancho’s calibre to not score or assist in any of his first 14 appearances is surprising.
Then again, he wasn’t being asked to play right-wing back as Michael Carrick took a sensible and simple approach to his first game as interim boss. He made United hard to beat and actually played Sancho in his best position – off the right wing. There were defensive responsibilities on his shoulders – no player made more tackles than him on the night (4) – but there was a spark when he got the ball, almost like the shackles had been lifted.
“I was so pleased for Jadon,” Carrick said. “I thought he worked his socks off tonight, I thought he gave everything tonight.
“At times, it wasn’t always with the ball and I know how much he enjoys the ball at his feet and trying to make things happen. He showed a different side tonight and, to get his goal at the end, pretty much capped it off perfectly for him and for us…it was a big night for him.”
The winger scored his first goal for the club, with a rasping, confident finish that wrapped up United’s place in the last 16. But it wasn’t just the goal.
There was a flair and direct running to his game that made him look like the Sancho at Borussia Dortmund.
It was an exciting sight. All of his 11 passes in the final third found a team-mate as that ability to make a telling contribution in the dangerous area of the field will surely shine brightly over the next few weeks.
This performance just might be that springboard.
Being a full-back has never been more attractive.
To coin a famous Monday Night Football quote, young footballers may not dream of wanting to grow up to become the next Gary Neville but aspiring to be Reece James, Trent Alexander-Arnold or Joao Cancelo is most definitely on-trend. All three feature in the top four players according to Sky Sports’ Power Rankings – which ranks every Premier League player based on points being awarded to players for 35 different statistics. Only Mohamed Salah is competing with them on that front.
All three of the Premier League title contenders have playmaking full-backs that are taking centre-stage for their clubs with James grabbing the limelight as Chelsea thrashed Italian giants Juventus.
Meanwhile, James, who tops the Power Rankings, is full of youthful enthusiasm and plays with such quality in everything he does.
James has everything you want in a footballer. If you were building one from scratch you’d basically just do a copy and paste job on his attributes. His physicality and speed are extraordinary – something we’ve all been aware of – but what has emerged this season is an eye for goal that is taking him to the next level. Thomas Tuchel is harnessing that by allowing him so much licence to join his forward players from his right-wing back position. This was on full show in Chelsea’s win at Stamford Bridge.
He’d already tested Wojciech Szczęsny with a disguised free-kick from near the touchline before taking aim with a fierce half volley that needed beating away. His third effort on goal did the damage though as his chest control and strike into the far corner was a piece of brilliance that fitted such a high-stakes encounter. That was his fifth goal of the season across all competitions meaning he is one of only two players to both score five or more goals and assist five or more goals in all competitions for Premier League clubs this season, along with Salah (16 goals, seven assists).
Romelu Lukaku’s return to the Chelsea squad for Tuesday’s meeting with Juventus was a welcome boost for Thomas Tuchel after a month out. But it is tempting to wonder in light of recent evidence whether they even need him.
Since losing their £97.5m striker to an ankle injury against Malmo last month, Chelsea have scored 20 goals in seven games, four of which came in this formidable show of strength at Stamford Bridge as they subjected Juventus to their heaviest defeat since 2004.
Chelsea have shared the goals out in Lukaku’s absence – there have been 11 different scorers in total – and that theme continued here, with Trevoh Chalobah, Reece James, Callum Hudson-Odoi and Timo Werner all finding the net. Lukaku didn’t even make it on.
The true brilliance of Tuchel’s Chelsea is in how they threaten from all angles. If Hudson-Odoi and Hakim Ziyech don’t get you then James and Ben Chilwell will. Juventus could not cope with the sheer numbers they got forward; their movement ripping Massimiliano Allegri’s defence – a defence manned by Leonardo Bonucci, no less – to shreds.
The injuries to N’Golo Kante and Chilwell dampened the victory but they certainly didn’t hinder them on Tuesday night – just as Lukaku’s absence hasn’t hindered them in the last seven games. Chelsea’s strength lies in the collective. The starting line-up changes but the outcome is usually the same.