As a player Michael Carrick had a calming presence, bringing order to midfield chaos. It seems he may have the same gift as manager after overseeing a debut victory as Manchester United caretaker aided by former team-mate Cristiano Ronaldo.
The veteran scored the crucial first goal as United won 2-0 away to Villarreal in the Champions League, riding out a first half storm to gain the victory that has taken them into the knock-out stages with a match to spare.
Jadon Sancho, having one of his best matches since joining from Borussia Dortmund, scored an excellent second in the closing minutes.
United started slowly, and needed several key saves by David De Gea to remain on level terms, but as their belief grew they got on top and deserved victory.
Carrick had recalled Donny Van De Beek for only his third start of the season and left Bruno Fernandes on the bench as he made a quartet of changes from the team beaten 4-1 at Watford in Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s last match.
The re-jig appeared to make little difference early on as United struggled to get a foothold in the game.
Though Scott McTominay headed an early chance into the side-netting De Gea was the busier keeper.
The Spaniard had to deny Moi Gomez and Manu Trigueros while Yeremi Pino went close.
De Gea had to make another sharp save from Trigueros in the second period but United gradually emerged from their defensive shell and looked to win the game.
Sancho almost broke the deadlock. Then Ronaldo did.
Fred won possession and fed the Portuguese who produced another outstanding goal.
He has now scored in each of United’s five European matches this season.
In the 90th minute Fred again won the ball and it was recycled via Ronaldo, Marcus Rashford and fellow substitute Fernandes before Sancho finished off the move, and Villarreal.
United next go to Chelsea, the Premier League leaders, which is a daunting prospect, but at least they go in good heart.
“In some ways, it was the best way to win for me,” Carrick told BT Sport.
“We had to show some character, we had to dig in, had to fight.”
Villarreal have seven points while Atalanta, who drew 3-3 at Young Boys, are on six before they host the Spanish side in a fortnight to decide who joins United to progress from the group.
Chelsea avenged their earlier defeat in Turin by hammering Juventus in London courtesy of goal from academy products Trevoh Chalobah, Reece James and Callum Hudson-Odoi before Timo Werner completed the rout.
Thomas Tuchel’s Blues lead Group H on goal difference from Juve but both are safely through while Zenit St Petersburg clinched third thanks to an injury-time penalty rescuing a 1-1 draw at 10-man Malmo.
A depleted Bayern Munich made it five wins from five in Group E thanks to Robert Lewandowski’s brilliant overhead kick and a goal from Kingsley Coman in a 2-1 win in the snow away to Dynamo Kiev.
Denys Garmash grabbed a consolation for eliminated Kiev, who could not find a late equaliser against a Bayern side weakened by injuries and the coronavirus quarantine of Joshua Kimmich, Serge Gnabry, Jamal Musiala, Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting and Michael Cuisance – in addition to Niklas Sule and Josip Stanisic being infected.
Barca, who were led by new coach Xavi for the first time in the Champions League, now likely need a win at Bayern next time out to advance as Benfica, two points behind the Catalan giants but holding the head-to-head edge, host struggling Dynamo Kiev on matchday six.
Lille beat Salzburg 1-0 to go top of Group E while Sevilla defeated Wolfsburg 2-0 to set up a thrilling final round of matches.
Wolfsburg are last on five points but host Lille (eight) while Salzburg (seven) welcome Sevilla (six) with all four sides still in with a chance of advancing.