Late goals from Cristiano Ronaldo and Jadon Sancho fired Manchester United into the last 16 of the UEFA Champions League (UCL) after a 2-0 victory against Villarreal at the Estadio de la Ceramica in Spain.
Interim manager Micheal Carrick made four changes from Saturday’s loss at Watford, with Donny van de Beek, Jadon Sancho and Anthony Martial supporting Cristiano Ronaldo up front. Villarreal had Manuel Trigueros and Arnaut Danjuma in attack as they were looking to cause an upset.
United goalkeeper David de Gea saved Moi Gomez’s low shot early in the game, before denying Trigueros midway through the first half as the two teams went in level at the break.
In the second half, De Gea turned Trigueros’ well-struck shot behind for a corner as the hosts looked to increase the pressure on the visitors, only for a double substitution by Carrick to change the flow of the game. Carrick then brought on Fernandes and Marcus Rashford to replace Martial and van de Beek.
In the 78th minute, United took the lead when Ronaldo lobbed Villarreal goalkeeper Rulli after good work by Fred, whose pressure on Etienne Capoue led to the ball falling to the Portuguese on the edge of the box.
United created more chances to extend its lead, before sealing the win after a lovely counter-attack move involving Fred, who won back possession deep in his half.
Ronaldo, Rashford and Fernandes combined to find Sancho, who found the net with a stunning finish to score his first goal for the club since joining them for £73m last summer.
Manchester United qualified as group winners for the knockout phases with a game to spare after the 2-0 result, while Villarreal will have to fight it out with Atalanta, who drew 3-3 with Young Boys, for the runners-up spot.
This result ends Manchester United’s three-game winless run that led to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer losing his job on Sunday.
“The result obviously is a major plus from the run we’ve gone on, we can’t hide that,” Interim Manchester United boss Michael Carrick said.
“To get that feeling of winning a football match for the players is huge, and to keep a clean sheet, David (De Gea) was important again so all round there’s a lot of positives to take. The biggest (positive) I’ll take is how everyone adapted, the reaction and how they pulled together.”
Villarreal host Barcelona in La Liga on Saturday, while Manchester United will battle Premier League leaders Chelsea at Stamford Bridge on Sunday.
UEFA Champions League results
Dynamo Kyiv 1-2 Bayern Munich
Barcelona 0-0 Benfica
Villarreal 0-2 Manchester United
Young Boys 3-3 Atalanta
Lille 1-0 FC Salzburg
Sevilla 2-0 Wolfsburg
Chelsea 4-0 Juventus
Malmo FF 1-1 Zenit St. Petersburg.