Premier League title rivals Manchester United and Manchester City both closed on the Champions League knockout phase on Wednesday, as Real Madrid sealed their place in the last 16.
United won 2-0 at home to Romanian champions Otelul Galati in Group C, which means that last season’s beaten finalists can make sure of a place in the next round with victory at home to Benfica in their next game on Nov. 23.
Having lamented the 6-1 “derby debacle” against City last month in his program notes, manager Alex Ferguson sent out an ultra--attacking United side that took an early lead when Antonio Valencia converted Phil Jones’ low cross.
The hosts’ momentum was punctured by an injury to Michael Owen in the first half and they struggled to press home their advantage until Cristian Sarghi deflected Wayne Rooney’s shot past his own goalkeeper in the 87th minute.
“Winning was important. Our opponents were very aggressive and defended very well, but it’s down to us now,” Ferguson said. “If we beat Benfica, we’ll win the group. The incentive is fantastic with the history between the clubs.”
Benfica looked destined for the round of 16 after Rodrigo put them ahead in the fourth minute against Basel, but Benjamin Huggel’s equalizer meant the Portuguese giants finished the night level on points with United.
City muscled into position in Group A with a 3-0 victory at -injury-ravaged Villarreal — their first away win in the competition’s history.
Yaya Toure broke the deadlock in the 30th minute at El Madrigal, bending a right-footed shot into the bottom-right corner from David Silva’s pass.
As ever, Mario Balotelli made sure of a share of the headlines, diving to win a penalty in first-half injury-time and rolling away the spot-kick, before Toure danced through the home defense to make the game safe in the 71st minute.
“We know in the Champions League anything can happen, but we are going very well and want to improve if possible,” City coach Roberto Mancini said after his side’s seventh straight victory.
The win lifted City into second place in the group, above a Napoli team whose last-16 hopes took a blow in a 3-2 defeat at Bayern Munich.
In rampant form domestically, group leaders Bayern went 3-0 up through a first-half Mario Gomez hat-trick.
Federico Fernandez got on the score-sheet twice, becoming the first opposition player to score at the Allianz Arena since Borussia Moenchengladbach’s Igor de Camargo on Aug. 7, but Bayern held on.
City now lead third-place -Napoli by two points and could book their place in the knockout phase with victory over Walter Mazzari’s side at Stadio San Paolo later this month.
Having seen his eternal rival Lionel Messi score his 200th and 201st goals for Barcelona on Tuesday, Cristiano Ronaldo reached the 100-goal milestone for Real Madrid with both goals in a 2-0 success at Lyon.
He broke the deadlock in the 24th minute with a low free-kick through the wall and made the points safe with a 69th-minute penalty that secured Real’s first ever win at Stade de Gerland and a place in the last 16.
“We produced a complete, focused performance on a difficult pitch,” Real coach Jose Mourinho said. “Qualification is assured, but now we want to hold on to first place.”
Defeat for Lyon was doubly damaging, as it coincided with a 4-0 victory for Ajax at home to Dinamo Zagreb that lifted the Dutch giants three points clear of OL ahead of the two sides’ meeting at Gerland on Nov. 22.