Ronaldo, Sancho score as Manchester United reaches Champions League last 16

Late goals from Cristiano Ronaldo and Jadon Sancho were enough to earn an underwhelming Manchester United a 2-0 victory at Villarreal on Tuesday to confirm a last 16 spot.

Jadon Sancho

Jadon Sancho scored his first goal for Manchester United during the 2-0 Champions League win over Villareal on Tuesday.   -  AP

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 guarantees it a spot in the Champions League knockout stages.

United came into the contest knowing victory would see it 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 the better chances, with United goalkeeper David de Gea bailing his side out with several fines saves, the best of which denied Manu Trigueros a goal.

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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 lofted 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, which can no longer catch Carrick's side due to its inferior head-to-head record.

"It's massive for our season," United captain Harry Maguire told BT Sport. "The last couple of months have been nowhere near good enough. We needed the result for our season and for our fans – we know how tough it’s been for them in recent weeks. We have to make sure this is just the start.”

With the travelling United fans singing the name of the man Carrick replaced – Ole Gunnar Solskjaer – in the first half, there was little other action of note to get them too excited.

A Ronaldo header, straight at the goalkeeper, was United's only shot on target in the half, with De Gea forced into two good saves to deny Trigueros and Yeremi Pino down the other end.

As United continued to sit back, Trigueros forced an even better save from De Gea at the start of the second half, with Villarreal sensing a beleaguered United might be there for the taking.

It took until the 72nd minute for United to put together a real attack of note with Sancho denied by a smart save, before the home goalkeeper's error changed the course of the match.

Sancho picked an opportune moment to score his first of the season in all competitions, hammering the ball in off the underside of the crossbar to seal an important victory for the visitors in an otherwise disappointing season.

After the match, Carrick said, "The game panned out as I thought. When you've had results we've had and gone through what we have, it would be very foolish to think it would be freeflowing and everything would be wonderful," Carrick said.

"I had a feeling it would be a tight game. I thought we'd be better after half time but it proved to be a little bit tougher at the start of the second half.

"We had players to change it, and in the end it worked out."

However, he also said Tuesday's 2-0 victory was a huge boost for the players following their recent poor run of form.

"Tonight isn't about me by any stretch ... I have a responsibility to be here and manage the team and I take great pride in that," Carrick said.

"It's been an emotional few days. The first person I spoke to when it all happened and (United's executive vice-chairman) Ed (Woodward) asked me to do the role was Ole to see what he thought about it, because I felt that was the right thing to do.

"The result is a major plus from the run we've gone on, we can't hide from that. To get that feeling of winning a match again is huge for the players ... I am delighted."

READ: Chelsea defeats Juve 4-0 to reach Champions League last 16

Atalanta grabs last-gasp equaliser at Young Boys

Atalanta's Luis Muriel came off the bench to equalise two minutes from time and snatch a 3-3 draw at Young Boys Berne in a frenetic finish to their match.

The Italians had been 2-1 up with 10 minutes remaining and looking to move into second place in the group before the Swiss rallied with two goals in a four-minute spell to go ahead.

But Muriel’s 88th minute strike kept Atalanta in the race for a top two finish and a knockout stage berth - effectively needing to beat Villarreal in its last group game on December 8.

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