Boosted by a change of manager and a new opportunistic finish from Cristiano Ronaldo, Manchester United qualified for the knockout stages of the Champions League with a game to play on Tuesday.
Another newly appointed manager, however, has work to do to bring Barcelona into the last 16.
United were first led by Michael Carrick after Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s sacking at the weekend and, like his predecessor, the interim manager had to thank the Champions League record scorer.
Ronaldo produced a sublime lobed finish to put United the advantage against Villarreal and a 90th-minute strike from Jadon Sancho – his first goal since coming in for $ 100million in the offseason – sealed a 2-0 victory to ensure progression as the winner of Group F. Ronaldo has scored in all five group games so far and now has a record 140 Champions League goals during his career.
Another English side, defending champion Chelsea, also advanced with a 4-0 victory over already-qualifying Juventus, who dropped to their heaviest Champions League loss on record. With Liverpool also qualified and Manchester City likely to join them, the Premier League will once again be well represented in the knockout stage.
Barcelona, now coached by former star midfielder Xavi Hernandez, have progressed in their squad every season for almost two decades, but a 0-0 home draw against Benfica means the Spanish club may need to beat the Bayern Munich in the last round of games to advance.
The four teams in Group G are separated by three points and could still qualify before their final games after Lille and Sevilla wins against Salzburg and Wolfsburg, respectively.
Ronaldo delivers again
Ronaldo had already scored two game-winning goals and a late equalizer in the Champions League this season before his intelligently scored goal against Villarreal in the 78th minute, pushed by Fred winning the ball high up the pitch.
And both Fred and Ronaldo came on a counterattack that ended with Sancho shooting under the crossbar to seal the victory.
Carrick made a big call in his first game in charge as he ditched playmaker Bruno Fernandes in an attempt to settle down more solidly and protect a defense that has been overtaken this season. This led to a first blank sheet of the group stage.
More joy was to follow as Atalanta’s 3-3 draw against Young Boys meant United could not be moved as group leaders thanks to their superior head-to-head record against Villarreal, who are three points behind. second place.
Atalanta, who are a point ahead, scored a point thanks to Luis Muriel’s 87th-minute free kick with his first touch after coming on as a substitute.
Bittersweet for Chelsea
It was a bittersweet night for Chelsea manager Thomas Tuchel.
Juventus’ beating, achieved thanks to goals from academy graduates Trevoh Chalobah, Reece James and Callum Hudson-Odoi as well as a fourth by substitute Timo Werner, was marred by knee injuries of key players N’Golo Kante and Ben Chilwell.
Kante left in the first half while Chilwell looked in agony as he was helped off the pitch in the 71st.
Chelsea and Juventus, who are tied with 12 points with one game to go, both started an American at Christian Pulisic and Weston McKennie, respectively. They were two of six Americans to start Tuesday, a record in one night of group play.
Zenit Saint Petersburg are guaranteed to finish third and enter the knockout stage of the Europa League after a 1-1 draw at Malmö, which will end the group stage in last place but has at least one goal to show for his efforts.
Barcelona missed a series of chances at Camp Nou and kept two points ahead of Benfica.
If Barca fail to beat Bayern, Benfica could overtake the Spanish club with a home win over already eliminated Dynamo Kyiv. If they finish level on points, Benfica would advance thanks to their head-to-head record.
Helping Barca is the fact that Bayern have little to play for – except, perhaps, the chance to knock out a historic rival, even though he lost his aura after Lionel Messi left and other famous players in the midst of financial problems.
Bayern had already qualified for the round of 16 ahead of their 2-1 win at Dynamo Kyiv and the result secured the German champions top spot in the group.
Robert Lewandowski – with an overhead kick – and Kingsley Coman scored the goals for an eliminated Bayern side missing nine players, including seven unavailable because they tested positive for coronavirus or were not not vaccinated and have been in contact with a positive case.
Lille took the lead in their group after Canadian forward Jonathan David scored his 12th goal of the season to seal a 1-0 victory over Salzburg, who dropped a point in second.
Sevilla jumped to third place, over Wolfsburg, with a 2-0 victory over the German side thanks to goals from Joan Jordán and Rafa Mir.
In the last matches, Wolfsburg hosts Lille and Salzburg hosts Sevilla.