…As COVID-hit Bayern also seal top spot
Late goals from Cristiano Ronaldo and Jadon Sancho were enough to earn an underwhelming Manchester United a 2-0 victory at Villarreal on Tuesday that guaranteed them a spot in the Champions League knockout stages.
United came into the contest knowing victory would see them through to the last 16 with one group match left to play, but in Michael Carrick’s first game as interim manager, United looked shorn of ideas in attack in the Estadio de la Ceramica.
The home side had much better chances, with United goalkeeper David de Gea bailing his side out with several fine saves, the best of which denied Manu Trigueros a goal.
Out of nowhere, however, a poor pass from Villarreal keeper Geronimo Rulli that was miscontrolled by Etienne Capoue was then seized upon by Ronaldo, who lifted the ball over the stranded Rulli to give United the lead in the 78th minute.
Ronaldo’s goals have been crucial for United in Europe this season. He scored late winners against Atalanta and Villarreal in the reverse fixture, while also netting a leveller in stoppage time at Atalanta in the last match.
The Portuguese forward got more than a helping hand for this important strike, but his finish was clinical. He also played a role in the second and clinching goal, laying the ball into substitute Bruno Fernandes, who squared for Sancho to put the result beyond doubt.
The performance may have been disappointing, but United got the job done, moving top of Group F with 10 points, three ahead of Villarreal, who can no longer catch Carrick’s side due to their inferior head-to-head record.
Meanwhile, Bayern Munich, missing half a dozen players to COVID-19 quarantine, edged past Dynamo Kyiv 2-1 to secure top spot in Champions League Group E with a game to spare.
First-half goals from striker Robert Lewandowski, who struck with a spectacular 14th-minute overhead kick, and Kingsley Coman three minutes from halftime and amid heavy snowfall, put the German champions in front.
Dynamo, who are now eliminated from the competition, cut the deficit with their maiden group-stage goal through Denys Garmash in the 70th.