Cristiano Ronaldo saved Manchester United in the Champions League once again as his equalizer to injury time dragged them to 2-2 at Atalanta.
United’s fond memories of their 3-0 win over Tottenham on Saturday were banished within 12 minutes as Josip Ilicic fired Atalanta ahead from Duvan Zapata’s post, aided by David de Gea’s fumbling of the Slovenian’s relatively straightforward effort.
A fine one-touch move brought United level at the end of a well-known uninspiring first half as Bruno Fernandes’ perfect back heel put Ronaldo up and beat Juan Musso from eight yards.
Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s team looked sharper after the break, but was behind again 11 minutes into the second period.
Jose Palomino’s ball behind caught United’s defense and found Zapata right inside, but after hitting De Gea on his nearest post, he was forced to wait more than two minutes for a VAR pass to topple the line judge’s first raised flag.
United pressed on but could not find a way to test Musso until more Ronaldo magic in injury time saw the veteran find the bottom corner with a 20-yard volley, for the fifth point he has earned his side in the competition from four games . That goal lifted them to the top of Group F and could qualify for the quarter-finals with victory over Villarreal next time.
Atalanta: Musso (6), De Roon (6), Demiral (7), Palomino (7), Zappacosta (7), Freuler (6), Koopmeiners (7), Maehle (6), Ilicic (7), Pasalic (6) , Zapata (7).
Subs: Djimsiti (7), Muriel (6).
Man Utd: De Gea (5), Wan-Bissaka (6), Bailly (7), Varane (6), Maguire (4), Shaw (6), McTominay (7), Pogba (4), Fernandes (6), Rashford (6) 5), Ronaldo (8).
Subs: Greenwood (7), Matic (5), Cavani (5), Sancho, Van de Beek (n / a).
Man of the match: Cristiano Ronaldo
Ronaldo pulls United towards the quarter-finals with a decisive double
There was extra intrigue about how United would fare in Bergamo based on their reborn performance at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on Saturday, and the early signs were good as Scott McTominay’s deflected attack returned from the woodwork after four minutes.
But United’s defense, which was so watertight at the weekend, took just 12 minutes to be overridden as McTominay’s attempt to intercept deflected Zapata’s path, and after checking back from Aaron Wan-Bissaka, he put himself in place for Ilicic, whose shot into De Gea’s body was bundled. into the corner by the goalkeeper’s clumsy save.
Zapata fired a warning shot at the danger his pace would later pose when he was played in behind by Davide Zappacosta’s long ball, which he hit wide with Ilicic in space at the far post, shortly before United got more defensive concerns as Raphael Varane was forced out. by a hamstring injury.
With the alarm bells ringing and United returning to form with the break approaching, a moment of brilliance with three of United’s strikers brought them level. Fernandes, Ronaldo and Mason Greenwood took one touch each before Fernandes laid the ball wonderfully off for Ronaldo to even things out.
United looked to have had a lucky escape when the otherwise impressive Eric Bailly lost Zapata after the striker ran on Palomino’s ball from behind and hit De Gea from 12 yards, with an offside flag interrupting the striker’s festivities.
But a VAR review lasting two minutes and six seconds judged that he had been played onside by Harry Maguire and their relief was short-lived.
From there, Atalanta looked to see the victory, with Musso barely tested by United in the final half hour of the match.
But Ronaldo, who had already scored late winners in the guests’ two previous Champions League matches, had other ideas. Greenwood lifted a loose ball into his path on the edge of the box, which the 36-year-old caught with typical precision to put the ball inside the far post and save United by death.
What the manager said …
Manchester United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer told BT Sport: “It’s a close match, missing both ways. Their two goals are very close to being offside. Firstly, I feel it’s very close to a player interfering with David’s prospects, and secondly it is very close to.
“But Cristiano is just incredible. That’s what he does. If there’s a chance you’ll fall for at the last minute, and a hard chance, it’s him.
“He keeps an eye on the ball and his technique on that volley is incredible. It’s football. No one can question the character of these players as they did not give up, they do not give in and they continue.”
Man of the match – Cristiano Ronaldo
At the end of another match, where Ronaldo offered a bit in open play, he left with two more goals to his name.
He could have spent 89 of those 90 minutes without having any impact on the game and still have given the two most crucial moments with such wonderfully taken endings at the end of each half.
Should United reach the quarter-finals, which looks increasingly likely, they owe their number seven great gratitude. Without him, their hopes could already be over.
- Atalanta have only won one of their six matches against English teams in the UEFA Champions League (D2 L3), and that victory came away from home in Liverpool last season.
- Only Norwich (28) and Leicester (25) have conceded more goals in all tournaments among the Premier League teams this season than Man Utd (23).
- Manchester United have conceded first in nine of their 14 UEFA Champions League matches under Ole Gunnar Solskjær (W2 D1 L6 in matches when they got first).
- Cristiano Ronaldo has now scored 127 goals in all tournaments for Manchester United (303 apps), one more than his current manager Ole Gunnar Solskjær recorded for the Red Devils (126 goals in 366 apps).
- Cristiano Ronaldo (36y 270d) is the oldest player to score 2+ goals in a single match for Manchester United in European competition.
- Cristiano Ronaldo is the first player to score in four consecutive UEFA Champions League matches for Manchester United since Ruud van Nistelrooy in April 2003 (in a row of nine).
- Since his Man Utd debut in February 2020, Bruno Fernandes has been directly involved in more goals in all tournaments than any other Premier League player (77 – 44 goals, 33 assists).
- Josip Ilicic has scored the most UEFA Champions League goals for Atalanta (7), while Duvan Zapata now leads for assists for them in the competition (5).
Manchester United is back Sky Sports in a huge match with Manchester City on Saturday from kl. kick-off at 12.30.
Atalanta travel to bottom side Cagliari in their next Serie A match on Saturday; Kick-off at 19.45.