Manchester United and Chelsea head for Champions League knockouts as Barça stagnate

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Energized by a managerial change and another opportunistic finish from Cristiano Ronaldo, Manchester United qualified for the Champions League round of 16 with a match to spare on Tuesday.

However, another newly appointed coach has work to do for Barcelona to enter the round of 16.

United were first managed by Michael Carrick after Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s firing at the weekend and, like his predecessor, the interim manager was grateful for a goal from the Champions League’s top scorer.

Ronaldo produced a sublime shot to put United ahead against Villarreal and a 90-minute goal from Jadon Sancho, his first goal since joining for $ 100 million in the offseason, sealed a 2-0 win to secure Progress as Group F winner. Ronaldo has scored in all five group stage matches so far, and now has a career record of 140 Champions League goals.

Another English team, defending champion Chelsea, also advanced thanks to a 4-0 win over already qualified Juventus, which fell to their biggest defeat in the Champions League. With Liverpool also qualified and Manchester City likely to join them, the Premier League will once again be well represented in the knockout phase.

Barcelona, ​​now coached by former star midfielder Xavi Hernández, have advanced from their group every season for nearly two decades, but a 0-0 draw at home to Benfica means the Spanish club may need to beat 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 for their final matches after Lille and Sevilla’s victories over Salzburg and Wolfsburg respectively.

Ronaldo meets again

Ronaldo had already scored two winners and a late draw in the Champions League this season before his lead goal against Villarreal in the 78th minute, driven by Fred winning the ball high up on the field.

And both Fred and Ronaldo participated in a counterattack that ended with a Sancho shot from the bottom of the crossbar to seal the victory.

Carrick made a big decision in his first game in charge by eliminating playmaker Bruno Fernandes in an attempt to set up in a more solid way and protect a defense that has been overrun this season. Led to a first clean sheet of the group stage.

More joy followed, as Atalanta’s wild 3-3 draw at the Young Boys meant United cannot be displaced as group leader thanks to their superior head-to-head record against Villarreal, who are three points behind second. place.

Atalanta, who are one point behind, got a point thanks to Luis Muriel’s free-kick in the 87th minute with his first touch after entering as a substitute.

Bittersweet for Chelsea

It was a bittersweet night for Chelsea manager Thomas Tuchel.

Juventus’ win, achieved thanks to goals from homegrown players Trevoh Chalobah, Reece James and Callum Hudson-Odoi, as well as a fourth from substitute Timo Werner, was marred by knee injuries to key players N’Golo Kante and Ben Chilwell.

Kante left in the first half, while Chilwell looked agonizing as he was helped off the field in 71.

Chelsea and Juventus, who are tied at 12 points with one game to play, both started an American in Christian Pulisic and Weston McKennie, respectively. They were two of six Americans who started Tuesday, a record for a group game night.

Zenit St Petersburg are assured of finishing third and moving on to the Europa League knockout stage after drawing 1-1 in Malmo, which will finish the group stage in last place, but at least they have one goal to show for their effort.

Edgy finish

Barcelona wasted a number of occasions at the Camp Nou and stayed two points ahead of Benfica.

If Barça fail to beat Bayern away, Benfica could overtake the Spanish club with a home win against the already-eliminated Dynamo Kyiv. If they finish tied on points, Benfica would advance thanks to their head-to-head record.

Helping Barça is the fact that Bayern have little to play for, except perhaps the chance to knock out a historic rival, albeit one that has lost its aura following the departure of Lionel Messi and other big-name players in middle of financial problems.

Bayern had already qualified for the round of 16 before their 2-1 win at Dynamo Kyiv and the result secured the German champions first place in the group.

Robert Lewandowski, with a kick over the head, and Kingsley Coman scored the goals for a threadbare Bayern squad that is missing nine players, and seven were unavailable because they tested positive for the coronavirus or were not vaccinated and had contact with a positive case.

Top Lille

Lille moved into first place in their group after Canadian forward Jonathan David scored his 12th goal of the season to seal a 1-0 win over Salzburg, who lost a point in second place.

Sevilla jumped to third place, ahead of Wolfsburg, with a 2-0 victory over the German team thanks to goals from Joan Jordán and Rafa Mir.

In the final games, Wolfsburg host Lille and Salzburg play Sevilla at home.

(AP)