The first name on Michael Carrick's first Manchester United team sheet should be the last name you'd have expected to see on Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's.

Maybe that's doing the Norwegian a disservice in the Champions League, where he did occasionally start Donny van de Beek, but those occasions were still few and far between.

The Dutchman has started as many Champions League games as Premier League in his time at United (four), so if he does start tonight - and he has to - maybe we shouldn't read too much into it.

But his 45-minute cameo at Watford on Saturday was impressive in both its intensity and quality. He offered something United's midfield had been missing all season.

Van de Beek became a cause celebre in Solskjaer's final few weeks at the club but at Vicarage Road he proved he is more than a name to throw at Solskjaer. He is good enough to improve United's midfield and must now get a run of games to show that.

Carrick's first United press conference didn't exactly hint at a revolution and any United fans travelling to the Estadio de la Ceramica tonight or tuning in at home expecting to see significant change might be disappointed.

Carrick paid tribute to Solskjaer at the start of his media duties and then said that they were "very similar", which is hardly a surprise given they've worked together for three years.

He did hint at knowing his own mind and being clear about what he wants to do, saying: "I'm not giving too much away of what my plans are but I'm very clear in my own mind what we want to do, how we want to play, how we want to go about it and I'm looking forward to seeing that on the pitch."

It would still be a surprise to see too much change in the United side or style of play tonight.

Players have to respond

It's been a bruising few days for United's players as well as Solskjaer and his staff and it will be fascinating to see how they respond tonight.

They've been criticised for poor performances regularly of late and their application on Saturday was questioned. It was a display that could only possibly result in Solskjaer being sacked.


There does seem genuine sorrow amongst the playing squad that it's come to this, however, and they need to display a response against Villarreal.

It will be interesting to see where that comes from. When Solskjaer replaced Jose Mourinho he had an easy win, the dressing room had become so toxic and on edge that he could relax the mood and the players responded. That's not happened this time.

The coaches who have helped preside over a system that has fallen apart this season also remain in place, so there doesn't look to be an obvious bounce from the removal of the United legend.

Touchline roles

One of the features of Solskjaer's reign was his collegiate approach to touchline duties. He was rarely the dominant figure in the technical area. Instead, Carrick, Mike Phelan and Kieran McKenna would all take their turn in shouting instructions to players

It felt like a system that didn't always work and it will be interesting to see if Carrick delegates in the same manner or if he wants to be the man front and centre to be visible to the players.

This is Carrick's first management role and he is now in charge of coaches he's worked alongside as equals in recent weeks. Managing that dynamic will take plenty of personality.

Ronaldo's valuable goal

The good news for United is that their trip to Spain isn't quite as precipitous as it could have been. Until Cristiano Ronaldo's injury-time equaliser in Atalanta they were facing a scenario where defeat here could have ended their hopes of qualifying from a routine group with a game still to play.

That goal really was valuable. It transformed the scenario for United. Travelling here as a wounded animal knowing defeat could have been terminal for their Champions League hopes would have been nerve-wracking.

Now they know victory here will seal safe passage into the last 16, but also know that defeat isn't the end. They will still get a second chance when Young Boys visit Old Trafford in a couple of weeks