Manchester United 3-0 Sheriff: Ronaldo scores on return ahead of final day showdown with Real Sociedad

Goals from Diogo Dalot, Marcus Rashford, and Cristiano Ronaldo helped Manchester United see off Moldovan minnows FC Sheriff 3-0 to set up a tense top-of-the-table clash against Europa League rivals Real Sociedad – the winners avoiding a play-off tie against the likes of Barcelona, Juventus, and Atletico Madrid.

It was a European evening packed with subplots as Ronaldo returned from a club-enforced suspension, 18-year-old Alejandro Gernacho made his first senior start, and Old Trafford welcomed back club captain Harry Maguire.

Headers from Dalot and Rashford either side of half-time and Ronaldo’s 144th European club goal ensured United sealed qualification from Group E.

Erik ten Hag fielded a strong team for what was United’s 8th game of October, making four changes from the weekend – Ronaldo and Garnacho in for Jadon Sancho and Rashford, Tyrell Malacia in for Luke Shaw, and Victor Lindelof replaced the injured Raphael Varane.

FC Sheriff – nicknamed The Wasps – were led out by newly-appointed interim coach Victor Mihailov, hoping to cause another European upset after their famous win against Real Madrid in 2021.

The visitors kept themselves compact from the outset, forcing United to keep the ball and patiently wait for an opening, which fell to Antony in the 10th minute but was comfortably saved.

Bruno Fernandes came close to finding the first goal in the 25th minute but fired wide before Ronaldo scuffed a glorious chance inside the 6-yard box.

One positive was Garnacho, who showed early signs of why he’s one of United’s hottest prospects – running at the opposition and throwing in a few step-overs to excite the Old Trafford crowd.

United continued to pepper Sheriff’s goal throughout the first half until Dalot eventually broke the deadlock just before the break. The Portuguese latched on to an in-swinging Christian Eriksen corner to grab his first club goal of the season.

Ten Hag made two subs at half-time, Rashford on for Anthony and Maguire replacing Lisandro Martinez – who was one booking away from suspension. The Englishman came on to make just his fourth appearance of the season.

The Red Devils continued to dominate possession from the restart as Ronaldo desperately searched for his 701st career club goal, blasting another good opportunity into the Stretford End before having a goal disallowed for offside.

United then doubled their lead as substitute Rashford ended his run of 5 games without a goal, powering a header past Sheriff’s Ukrainian ‘keeper from a Shaw cross.

Rashford continued to be a threat in United’s attack as did Garnacho, who missed the chance to score before being replaced by Donny van de Beek.

Then came Ronaldo’s redemption. An initial glancing header was saved by Maksym Koval but rebounded back into the path of CR7 who this time made no mistake, sealing qualification for United with all 3-points.

Next up; Real Sociedad. United travel to Spain next week looking to finish top of Group E with a win, avoiding the possibility of playing two knockout playoff games in February against dropouts from the Champions League.

Line Up (4-2-3-1): De Gea, Dalot (Shaw 62), Lindelof, Martinez (Maguire 46), Malacia, Eriksen, Casemiro (McTominay 62), Anthony (Rashford 46), Fernandes, Garnacho (van de Beek 79), Ronaldo

Goals: Dalot 44’, Rashford 65’, Ronaldo 81’

Yellow Cards: Maguire 85’

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