MAN UNITED 3, ATALANTA 2
What a crazy night at Old Trafford as Manchester United went from the depths of despair to utter delight and delirium in a pulsating Champions League group game against Atalanta.
The Reds, 2-0 down at half time when they were bottom of Group F with the pressure intensifying on manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, produced another memorable European night after a staggering second-half fightback against the Italian side.
Goals from Marcus Rashford, captain Harry Maguire and a late winner from Cristiano Ronaldo capped a remarkable recovery as they ended the night top of the group.
This was the third time United had won a Champions League game from being two goals down, a feat no other side can surpass as they equalled Arsenal’s record.
Solskjaer was convinced the game was winnable, even when they were 2-0 behind.Embed from Getty Images
He said: “We never stopped believing and kept going.
“We played well in the first half but gave them two chances from which they scored two goals which has to stop
“As long as we didn’t concede another goal, I was sure we would not lose the game. We created chances in the first half but didn’t take them.”
Solskjaer was unhappy when questioned about the players performing for him.
“Don’t disrespect the players. They are the luckiest men in the world, the 11 plus the substitutes who are playing for Manchester United, something they got to do and which many millions of boys and girls would want to do,” he said.
There was also praise for Ronaldo who has also been under fire in recent matches.
Solskjaer continued: “If anyone criticises him for him attitude and workrate, watch him in this game running around.”
Maguire added United, with only one clean sheet in 20 matches, need to improve defensively.
He explained: “In the first half we conceded two bad goals. Two big moments in the game. For the first they caught us out and then the second it is a set-play that we shouldn’t be conceding.
“We created a lot of chances in the first half so we knew at half-time that the next goal would be crucial. We got the goals we needed, and I think we deserved the win in the end. Yes, we made it difficult, but it is a tremendous victory.
“I had eyes on it all the way [Cristiano Ronaldo’s goal]. I was right behind him. His leap, his timing, it was perfect right in the corner. We see it day in, day out in training and in the goals he has scored throughout his career. He has come up with a massive goal for us again in the Champions League.
“It is normally with my head [that he scores]. I have not manged to put one away. It is my first goal for the season and the Champions League. A proud moment with my family here.
“We were two goals down and we need to sharpen up with that. But we had plenty of chances. I think Marcus [Rashford] had two one-on-ones in the first half. We are working hard to be more solid, but it is about winning and the last three or four games we have conceded too many set-pieces. It is fine margins, but we need to do better. We showed great togetherness. We were clapped off at half-time by some of these fans and they gave us the belief we needed.”
Solskjaer made three changes from the defeat at Leicester City, the major one Paul Pogba losing his place.
Nemanja Matic and Jadon Sancho also missed out as Scott McTominay and Fred were reunited in the centre of midfield and there was also a first start of the season for the fit-again Rashford
The Atalanta side included former Chelsea player Davide Zappacosta and ex-Middlesbrough midfielder Martin de Roon.
Rashford had an early chance when he was put clean through by McTominay but fired wide. He was flagged for offside, though, to spare his blushes.
United fell behind yet again in the Champions League, for a fifth time in Solskjaer’s eight games in the competition.
Zappacosta’s low cross from the right was converted by Mario Pasalic from inside the six-yard box as he got goal side of McTominay.
United had a chance to equalise but Fred’s effort was well turned over by goalkeeper Juan Musso. Ronaldo’s cross was headed by Bruno Fernandes into the path of the Brazilian.
And the night got worse for United when Atalanta doubled their lead in the 28th minute when Merih Demiral scored his first Champions League goal as the centre back was left unchecked five yards out to glance home a header from Teun Koopmeiners’ corner.
Fred had a great chance to halve the deficit shortly before half time. He cut in from the left but fired wide from 12 yards when he looked set to score.
And in stoppage time Rashford struck the crossbar after Demiral failed to cut out a long through ball which was followed by them leaving the field to a chorus of boos.
United began the second half at an electrifying pace and far removed to the opening period.
They had another great chance when Fernandes’ slide-rule pass released Ronaldo whose shot from 16 yard struck the chest of Musso.
United were finally rewarded in the 53rd minute when Rashford scored in back-to-back games.
Fernandes’ great diagonal ball released Rashford who fired low into the far corner.
Suddenly United came alive as Atalanta had three players booked in a two-minute spell.
United almost equalised when McTominay met Mason Greenwood’s low cross at the near post but his effort from inside the six-yard box struck the upright before Ronaldo forced a great save from Musso low to his left.
Solskjaer made two changes mid-half as McTominay and Rashford made way for Pogba and Edinson Cavani.
Atalanta seemed to get second wind as substitutes Duvan Zapata and Ruslan Malinovskyl were both denied by super saves by David De Gea in the same move.
Solskjaer made another change, Sancho for Greenwood.
Old Trafford was rocking with 15 minutes left when Maguire scored his first Champions League goal for the Reds and opener for the current campaign.
Fernandes provided the cross from the right and it eluded everyone to find Maguire, who had stayed upfield from a corner, to sweep home from seven yards.
And who else but Ronaldo who conjured an 81st minute winner with a towering header from Luke Shaw’s cross, his sixth goal in eight appearances since re-signing.
Ronaldo found the net for a third successive Champions League match which he also did for the Reds in 2007 en route to winning the trophy.
United brought on Matic for Fred to close out the closing minutes which they managed well in contrast to the opening.
And at the final whistle, the sight of Ronaldo sinking to his knee in unbridled joy summed up what it meant to the player who has won everything in the game.