Posted by News Express | 30 September 2021 | 1,371 times
Cristiano Ronaldo marked his record-breaking 178th Champions League appearance with a 95th-minute winner as Manchester United snatched a 2-1 victory over Villarreal at Old Trafford on Wednesday.
The five-time Ballon d'Or winner had barely threatened until he fired past Geronimo Rulli at the back post to ease the mounting pressure on United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer with virtually the last kick of the game.
United were staring down the barrel of another embarrassing group stage exit from the Champions League after deservedly falling behind early in the second half to Paco Alcacer's smart finish.
Alex Telles' stunning strike quickly levelled, but a sixth draw from open play in as many meetings between the sides was on the cards until Ronaldo's late intervention.
Despite the result, there was little in the performance to quell the growing questions as to whether Solskjaer is the man to get the best out of a squad of supremely talented individuals that are yet to click as a collective.
Meanwhile, in Italy, Federico Chiesa proved to be a big game player once again with the only goal in Juventus’ 1-0 Champions League win over holders Chelsea which could kick-start their faltering season.
Sat 10th in Serie A after a succession of unconvincing performances domestically, Juve top Group H with a perfect six points thanks to a superbly taken winner 10 seconds after halftime from Chiesa, one of Italy's stars at Euro 2020.
Massimiliano Allegri's side took down the European champions, despite missing starting forwards Paulo Dybala and Alvaro Morata, with a disciplined performance that sucked the life out of the Blues and restricted them to very little in front of goal.
“We showed the Juventus spirit tonight, and that's what the coach asks of us,” Chiesa, who has been criticised by Allegri this season, told Amazon.
“There has never been any problem between me and the coach, I do what he asks of me. When Juve start off poorly there is always a lot of unnecessary noise: we all want to take the club back to the top."
Juve are three points clear of both Chelsea and Zenit, who they play in Saint Petersburg in three weeks.
“The players put in a great performance against the European champions. We were solid defensively and conceded very few chances. (Wojciech) Szczesny barely had a save to make,” said Allegri to Amazon.
“We also missed some really good chances on the counter but I'm happy. We haven’t conceded a goal, we have six points, it's another step towards qualifying.”
Chelsea dominated the ball in the early stages but it was the home side who had the first real chances of the game, both of which came after pouncing on sloppy passes in midfield.
And in Spain, Barcelona suffered more European humiliation on Wednesday after a 3-0 defeat by Benfica left them in serious danger of failing to make it out of their Champions League group.
A hammering in Lisbon, which saw Darwin Nunez score twice, including a second-half penalty, also delivered another heavy blow to Ronald Koeman's hopes of staying on as Barca coach.
Nunez’s double and a smart finish from Rafa Silva consigned Koeman's team to a second consecutive 3-0 loss in Group E, after they were thrashed by the same scoreline at the hands of Bayern Munich earlier this month.
Koeman’s tactics will again come under scrutiny, with Gerard Pique substituted after just 33 minutes, seemingly to avoid picking up another yellow card, only for Eric Garcia to be sent off late on for a second booking.
Frenkie de Jong, Barcelona's most creative player for the first half an hour, was also shifted into central defence to replace the departing Pique.
It is the first time since 2000 that Barcelona have lost back-to-back group games in the Champions League, which was also the last time the club failed to make the tournament's knock-out stage.
They have a mountain to climb now to avoid the same fate, sitting bottom of the table, with Benfica four points ahead in second and a crunch game at home to Dynamo Kiev to come next month.
Whether Koeman is still in charge for that game remains to be seen given his future is not even secure for this weekend, when Barcelona play at Spanish champions Atletico Madrid in LaLiga.
The club might view the upcoming international break as the more logical time to make a change but despite Koeman’s pleas for support, and perspective, his team have now won only one of their last five games and it appears a matter of when, not if. (Based on AFP reports)
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