Manchester United came back from behind twice to earn an important point against Atalanta. Cristiano Ronaldo got goals late in both halves to cancel out goals from Duvan Zapata and Josip Ilicic. United are joint top of Group F and will travel to Spain to face Villarreal in the Champions League after the international break.
First Half: Atalanta strike first
The Reds came into the game on the back of their 3-0 win against Spurs and manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer went with the back five yet again. Marcus Rashford, Eric Bailly and Paul Pogba were the only changes for the visitors.
The Red Devils began the game with intent and were almost 1-0 up after four minutes. Scott McTominay saw his effort rebound off the wrong side of the woodwork and the game remained level. Atalanta against the run of play took the lead through Ilicic. The ball found its way to the path of Zapata, who pulled it back for Ilicic, who fired home. David de Gea, who has been in fine form for United, should have done much better. There was an element of fortune surrounding this goal as Wan-Bissaka’s clearance was deflected into the path of Zapata, who then provided the assist. Furthermore, there was a VAR check as it appeared that there was a Atalanta player obstructing the view of United’s number one. However, the check was over and the goal was given.
Injury concern for Varane
Matters got worse for the United boss when Raphael Varane went down holding his hamstring. The France international has just come back from injury but looks set for a lengthy spell on the sidelines. Things almost got even worse for Solskjaer’s men as Pogba was caught in possession. The Frenchman’s pass was cut out and striker Zapata had a one on one. Eric Bailly got across and made a sensational block. The block was reminiscent of the one against Aston Villa last season. Pogba had an awful night and had little impact on the game. Consequently, United found it hard to create clear-cut opportunities.
A magical team goal got United the equaliser and it was that man Ronaldo. Some one touch passing from Greenwood, Fernandes and Ronaldo got the Reds the goal they were after. Fernandes’ pass and touch before the goal was simply sensational.
Second Half: Ronaldo scores late to deny Atalanta a historic win
United came out looking much sharper in the early stages of the second half, but found themselves behind just 11 minutes after the restart. Jose Palomino put Zapata through on goal with a delightful pass. Zapata got to the ball before Maguire and beat De Gea at his near post. His celebrations came to a halt as the linesman raised his flag. After a two minute VAR review, the goal was given as Maguire was playing the scorer onside.
Solskjaer made some changes as United tried to find an equaliser. Atalanta were content with the scoreline and were not looking to add to their two goals. They got many men behind the ball and tried to disrupt any rhythm United had with tactical fouls. Pogba was taken off for United with what was probably his worst game of the season. The Reds became much more direct with the introduction of Edison Cavani. Jadon Sancho and Donny van de Beek were also put on in what was seen as a desperate attempt from Solskjaer to salvage a point. With minutes left Mr Champions League stepped up to save United at the death. Ronaldo thundered home the equaliser from outside of the box after Mason Greenwood found him with a loose pass.
What’s next in Group F?
United will now go into their next game against Villarreal with a lot less pressure. If United did fall to defeat in Italy, they could have been eliminated by Villarreal. Ronaldo’s goal means United remain top of Group F with their fate in the UEFA Champions League still in their own hands. The Red Devils will travel to Spain and then host Young Boys in the final game of the group stage. A win against Villlarreal and the Red Devils are virtually through to the knockout stages. However, Solskjaer has no time to think about the game against Villarreal as the under-pressure manager must now turn his attention to the Manchester derby on Saturday.