Cristiano Ronaldo’s opportunist strike helped Manchester United to a 2-0 win at Villarreal on Tuesday and guaranteed a place in the knock-out phase of the Champions League while holders Chelsea thrashed Juventus to progress.
Ronaldo calmly lobbed Geronimo Rulli in the 78th minute after midfielder Fred won the ball from the keeper’s risky pass to Etienne Capoue from a goal kick.
Villarreal, who also fell to Ronaldo’s injury-time winner at Old Trafford, had previously not looked threatened by the visitors, who were playing under interim manager Michael Carrick for the first time after Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s weekend sacking.
And Jadon Sancho smashed in his first United goal via a last-minute counter-attack to ensure Carrick a winning start and top spot, for now, in Group F on 10 points.
“It’s massive for our season,” United defender Harry Maguire told BT Sport: “The last couple of months have been nowhere near good enough and we needed to get a result for our season and our fans.
“Ronaldo has been brilliant. We need to get back to being solid because if we do that we have every chance to win games when we have him up front.”
Villarreal, on seven points, stay second as Atalanta, on six, were held 3-3 at Young Boys. Atalanta host the Spaniards in a winner-takes-all matchday six conclusion.
Chelsea avenged a 1-0 defeat in Turin by hammering Juventus 4-0 on goals from academy products Trevoh Chalobah, Reece James and Callum Hudson-Odoi before Timo Werner completed the rout.
Thomas Tuchel‘s side lead Group H on goal difference from Juve but both are safely through to the next round. Zenit St Petersburg clinched third thanks to an injury-time penalty rescuing a 1-1 draw at 10-man Malmo.
“The team did really well, it is so tough to score goals against Juventus and we created so much so full credit for an amazing performance and a fantastic result,” said the German manager.
Barcelona, however, are sweating on their place in the last 16 as Benfica clung on for a 0-0 draw in Spain.
Benfica defender Nicolas Otamendi’s thunderous drive in off the bar was disallowed for the ball going out of play and Haris Seferovic missed an open goal in an injury-time counter.
“In the end we could have won, but it didn’t happen,” said man of the match defender Otamendi to Eleven Sports. “We now have a final at home – we’ll try to play to win and try to qualify.”
But the woodwork rescued the Portuguese from Yusuf Demir’s curling shot and Ronald Araujo also had a potential late winner disallowed for Barca, who were led by new coach Xavi for the first time in the Champions League.
They now likely need a win at perfect Bayern Munich next time to escape Group E in second as Benfica, two points behind, could jump them with a home win over Dynamo Kiev.
Bayern made it five wins from five thanks to Robert Lewandowski’s brilliant overhead kick and Kingsley Coman securing a 2-1 win in an early kick-off in Kiev.
Denys Garmash grabbed a consolation for eliminated Kiev, who could not find a late equalizer 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 Suele and Josip Stanisic being infected.
“Of course if the players who are not vaccinated have to keep going into quarantine then that always has a little danger for the season goals,” Bayern coach Julian Nagelsmann told DAZN.
Lille beat Red Bull Salzburg 1-0 and Sevilla downed Wolfsburg 2-0 to set up a thrilling finale in Group G. Wolfsburg are last on five points but host leaders Lille (eight) while Salzburg (seven) welcome Sevilla (six).