Manchester United cruised to a 2-0 win against Sheriff in their second Europa League match of the season.
The win means United have opened their account in the competition with three points.
The Red Devils lined up in a 4-3-2-1 formation, which Erik ten Hag has shown a preference for since his arrival at Old Trafford.
Tyrell Malacia and Diogo Dalot constituted the fullbacks. Christian Eriksen combined with Scott McTominay in the pivot with Bruno Fernandes being handed the role of playmaker. Cristiano Ronaldo led the line for United with Jadon Sancho and Antony either side of him.
As Ten Hag’s European journey finally got off to a start after the loss against Real Sociedad, here are three things we learned from tonight’s contest.
McTominay has improved significantly
McTominay was the deepest-lying midfielder against Sheriff and in the 45 minutes he was on the pitch, barely put a foot wrong.
The Scotland international, who has earned himself plaudits recently and rightly so for his good performances, had yet another stellar showing.
The 25-year-old marshalled the midfield in spectacular fashion in the first half, excelling in his destroyer role.
On multiple occasions, the United no. 39 broke play to put his side back in the driving seat whenever they appeared to be pegged back. He was strong in his tackling and superb in intercepting the ball, limiting the Sheriff players to scraps in the middle of the park.
What struck out the most in McTominay’s display tonight was his positioning that has visibly improved. In stark contrast to the past, he now looks assured of himself and certain of where to be when needed.
Certainly, he looks like one who is relishing Ten Hag’s elite coaching. It is no wonder that in his current form, he is keeping the world-class Casemiro out of the starting eleven.
Erik ten Hag has a nailed-on starting XI
Presently, any United fan can almost surely predict which players will start before the official lineup is announced.
The manager and his coaching staff seem to have agreed on a definite set of players who will be regulars – most of these started tonight against Sheriff.
The United boss has achieved in a few weeks what his predecessor Ole Gunnar Solskjaer had failed to do in the years he was at the helm at The Theatre of Dreams.
The Norwegian was constantly changing and tweaking his teams, often not giving players the time to build chemistry and form concrete partnerships on the pitch.
The only argument that could be made is for Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford, who is likely to come in for Ronaldo. The other is for Casemiro in place of McTominay when the Brazilian inevitably gets up to speed.
United more dominant
Based on the win tonight, one thing that can be deduced is that the 20-time English champions are steadily controlling games much better and for longer periods.
Ten Hag’s men were comfortable for large segments of the match, moving the ball fast and accurately when required.
Off the ball, the players were also compact and defensively tight. So solid were they, that most of Sheriff’s attempts at goal were long-distance efforts from outside the box – a testimony to United’s burgeoning maturity.
In attack, tonight’s victors created wave after wave of chances, pegging back the Sheriff defence for the most part. One cannot help but think that on another day, United may have scored a lot more goals than the actual scoreline.