Manchester United on Tuesday booked their place in the UEFA Champions League last 16 as Cristiano Ronaldo scored in a 2-0 victory at Villarreal, while holders Chelsea also reached the knockout phase by thumping Juventus.
Three-time European champions United went into their first game since sacking manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer over the weekend needing a win to confirm a top-two finish in Group F.
However, they were under massive pressure as defeat would have left their fate out of their hands.
David de Gea made two crucial saves and United, with Michael Carrick in caretaker charge, took advantage through Ronaldo’s 78th-minute lob.
Jadon Sancho, so often a peripheral figure since his big-money move from Borussia Dortmund, capped a fine individual display with his first goal for the club late on.
“It’s not an important result for me personally. It’s an important one for the players and the club,” Carrick said.
Ronaldo’s goal was the 799th of his career, his 140th in the Champions League and his sixth in the competition this season.
The other qualification spot in the group remains up for grabs after BSC Young Boys and Atalanta BC played out a thrilling 3-3 draw in Bern.
Late goals from Vincent Sierro and Silvan Hefti gave the Swiss champions a 3-2 lead, but Luis Muriel struck in the 88th minute for the visitors.
Atalanta face a winner-takes-all match against Villarreal in Bergamo next month.
Chelsea romped into the last 16 and to the top of Group H with an impressive 4-0 thrashing of Juventus at Stamford Bridge.
Thomas Tuchel’s men knew that qualification would be secured if they could avoid defeat or if Zenit Saint Petersburg failed to beat Malmo FF.
The Blues dominated the early stages and took the lead through young defender Trevoh Chalobah’s third goal of the season.
Chelsea’s defenders were consistently a menace from set-pieces, and Thiago Silva saw a header saved by Wojciech Szczesny early in the second period.
It was a defender who doubled Chelsea’s lead in the 56th minute.
England right-back Reece James hammered a fine volley into the bottom corner to net for the fifth time this term.
Chelsea grabbed their third goal less than two minutes later, with Ruben Loftus-Cheek prodding the ball to Hudson-Odoi, who smashed home from close range.
There was still time for Timo Werner, making his first appearance since an injury layoff, to come off the bench and score in added time.
“We did really well. It is so tough to score goals against Juventus and we created so much — full credit for an amazing performance and a fantastic result,” Tuchel said.
Zenit drew 1-1 with Malmo to secure a spot in the UEFA Europa League knockouts.
Barcelona were held to a goalless draw by SL Benfica at Camp Nou in Xavi’s second game as coach, but remain above the Portuguese side in Group E.
However, the Catalan club would need to beat Bayern Munich in Germany in their final group game to be sure of making the next round.
Benfica host already-eliminated Dynamo Kiev in their last match, trailing Barcelona by two points.
Barcelona endured a nervy first half that saw Gavi waste the only clear opportunity, blazing over from close range when Memphis Depay was waiting in the middle for a tap-in.
Xavi’s men improved after the interval, with Frenkie de Jong’s header forcing Benfica goalkeeper Odysseas Vlachodimos into a flying save.
However, it was Benfica who almost took a huge step toward the last 16 deep into stoppage-time, only for Haris Seferovic to shoot wide when he should have scored.
“We played well, but there’s a bitter aftertaste because we were here to win tonight,” Barcelona defender Ronald Araujo told uefa.com. “In front of our fans, our people — and now we simply must go and win in Munich.”
The other game in Group E saw Bayern Munich wrap up the top spot with a 2-1 victory at Dynamo Kiev.
Robert Lewandowski lit up a snowy evening in the Ukrainian capital by scoring a magnificent overhead kick, with Kingsley Coman also on the score sheet for the six-time winners.
In Group G, Lille OSC made Salzburg wait to reach the last 16, as Jonathan David scored a first-half winner in a 1-0 victory in France.
All four teams in the group can still go through, after Sevilla saw off VfL Wolfsburg 2-0.
Manchester United have spoken to Ernesto Valverde regarding becoming their interim manager. The 57-year-old was Barcelona’s manager from May 2017 until January, winning La Liga twice and a Copa del Rey, and is out of work.
It is understood that Valverde has discussed with John Murtough, United’s soccer director, taking over on a temporary basis, with the club conscious that having worked with Lionel Messi at Barcelona, he would be at ease managing Cristiano Ronaldo.
Valverde has started sounding out potential players that he could add to strengthen the squad should he be appointed.
On Sunday, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was sacked and Michael Carrick appointed as the caretaker on a match-to-match basis until an interim is acquired, with a view to appointing a permanent manager in the post-season.
In an interview for the Observer in June, Valverde, who has managed at six clubs since 2002, was asked about one day potentially working in England.
“Could be,” the Spaniard said. “I wouldn’t mind trying it. You get the feeling that there’s a respect there for what the game is.”
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