It was about as classic as European away wins and, for Manchester United, there were individual bits of good news too. Erik ten Hag will be delighted with a third goal of the season for Jadon Sancho, who opened the scoring after a capable but direct Tiraspol Sheriff started well, while the clincher was remarkable in its own way. Cristiano Ronaldo isn’t used to waiting that long for his first goal of the season and a penalty before half-time was an unremarkable way to find it. he is now out of the picture, however, and sits a short 700 into his club career.
United now have one foot in Group E and Ten Hag’s decision to treat Sheriff with the utmost respect, making five changes but selecting a formidable starting XI, was confirmed by a professional display. Given the chasm in United’s schedule, which now gives them an extra two and a half weeks off, it’s been a productive burnout.
There was always a feeling that United would have to overcome an early flurry. It was an opportunity for the sheriff’s young multinational team to showcase themselves and the local team certainly had examples to build on. It’s been almost a year since the Moldovans caused shock waves by winning Real Madrid: none of the starting players that night made it here, some having moved on to bigger things, while the manager Yuriy Vernydub left earlier this year to serve in his native country. Ukrainian army and now coach of FC Kryvbas.
That’s how Sheriff got off to a speedy start, with Burkinabé pair Cédric Badolo and Abou Ouattara providing energy and quick feet on either side. Mouhamed Diop dived an effort well over the distance and there was plenty to excite the home crowd. Sheriff were obliged to lodge in Chisinau, the Moldavian capital; their hometown is in Transnistria, the Russian-backed breakaway state, and UEFA banned them from hosting European matches there after Russia invaded Ukraine. The serial champions are far from everyone’s cup of tea in Moldova, but have been vocally supported.
United calmed them down fairly quickly by scoring with their first moment of real threat. The goal was smartly forged and taken, Christian Eriksen cutting a smart through ball inside for Sancho to control with his instep. Sancho lost Armel Zohouri with a deft turn on his left foot and drilled with precision through Maksym Koval; it was compensation, at least, for missing out on a return to England earlier in the day.
The sheriff did not flinch, striker Iyayi Atiemwen flashing just wide after a fine run. But United now had a platform and almost built on it shortly after the half-hour mark when Ronaldo lunged after a superb pass from Antony. They got even closer when, after Koval had given his team trouble, Stjepan Radeljic made a heroic clearance across the goal line from Sancho’s angled shot.
Radeljic had kept his side in the match, but not for long. He must have sworn when left-back Patrick Kpozo almost immediately cut off Diogo Dalot, who had been sent off by a chipped pass from Bruno Fernandes, in the box. There was little doubt about the penalty and Ronaldo broke his duck with a shot down the middle.
Scott McTominay had a break in the meantime, with Casemiro’s introduction meaning there was now someone on the show who could tell the story of the sheriff’s exploit at the Bernabeu. Fernandes nearly made that memory even more distant almost immediately but, after meeting Dalot’s reduction on the run, he was brutally denied by Koval’s legs.
It became an exercise in control for United, who had a monopoly on possession as the hour mark approached but showed few particular signs of going for the jugular. Ronaldo was close to connecting with a devilish cross from Eriksen, Radeljic again intervening deftly, before Rasheed Akanbi went too far off target on a relatively rare sheriff’s break.
The ever-bright Badolo warmed David de Gea’s hands from 25 yards out. Ronaldo missed the mark in search of the elusive milestone, but the second half of this contest had, in truth, been a non-event.
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