Atalanta 2, Manchester United 2
Manchester United have Cristiano Ronaldo to thank for delivering an unlikely draw in Italy after he scored twice to spare their blushes against Atalanta.Embed from Getty Images
Only 14,900 spectators could watch United’s first game in Bergamo due to local COVID restrictions and they were treated to another vintage performance by Ronaldo who rescued another abject performance by United with late injury time equalisers in each half.
Both sides also hit the woodwork but United will be more concerned about the danger posed by Manchester City who will be coming to Old Trafford this Saturday with the Reds potentially Victor Lindelof and Raphael Varane with injury doubts alongside the suspended Paul Pogba.
Only Norwich City (28) and Leicester (25) have conceded more goals in all competitions amongst Premier League sides this season as United have now kept only one clean sheet in their last 15 Champions League matches.
United should have paid heavily for their leaky defence as goals by Josip Ilicic and Duvan Zapata put them on the back foot only for Cristiano Ronaldo to rescue them from the depths of despair in added time.
Ronaldo acknowledged the difficult opponent and declared that United needed more time to adapt to the new formation and tactics, saying:
“It was a difficult game in Atalanta.
“We never gave up, we believed until the end and it’s a good result for us.
“In the beginning it was tough, Atalanta were always difficult to play against when I was with Juventus.
“But we must improve, we have different players and a different system and we must adapt.
“But we have time to improve and be better.”
United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was in a bullish mood after the point.
He aid: “It was a tight game, they scored two goals, I thought the first one was offside.
“The second one was close too but Cristiano is just incredible.
“If there’s anyone you want the ball to fall to in the last minute it’s him.”
Solskjaer was in no mood to take his foot off the gas after the late point in Italy.
He added: “Nobody can question the character of these players because they don’t give up.
They may have to be without experienced defender Raphael Varane who had only just come back from a knock only to be taken off in the first half.
Solskjaer explained: “Varane felt his hamstring – you can’t take any risks – Rafa has been such a calming influence but we lost him.
Admitting the defending was not always top notch recently without Varane, he conceded: “The quality wasn’t always there, but the character was there.”
United persist with 3-5-2 but Raphael Varane injury hits them hard
Solskjær made three changes from the side that crushed Tottenham at the weekend.
Victor Lindelof was injured in training yesterday, and he was replaced by Eric Bailly, with Fred replaced by Paul Pogba, who cannot play in the derby at the weekend due to suspension.
The final change saw Edinson Cavani rested while Marcus Rashford joined Cristiano Ronaldo up front as United continued with their 3-5-2 formation in Italy against injury-hit Atalanta.
After 5 minutes Juan Musso could only sit and watch Scott McTominay’s deflected shot bobble agonisingly onto the post where it was lashed away by relieved defenders after Pogba had laid the ball off to him.
It all started disastrously for United who were stunned again by Josip Ilicic as the home side scored again after 12 minutes when slack defending allowed Duvan Zapata to break into the area and slide the ball across the box where Josip Ilicic struck the ball through the legs of Shaw and past an unsighted David De Gea.
There was a lengthy VAR check but the goal was confirmed.
Ronaldo had a handful of half chances including a header over the bar and a save which took Musso over the line with the ball – a blatant foul – while Luke Shaw volleyed the ball into the ground and over the bar.
Zapata could have doubled the lead but Bailly got in him way as United continued to be frustrated by the home side’s spoiling tactics but the Reds were hit by a 38th minute injury to Raphael Varane who limped off to be replaced by Mason Greenwood.
Ronaldo came to United’s rescue with a lashed in equaliser after United pressure finally paid off after their change in shape.
A quick passing move ended with a clever back heel into the path of the veteran striker who made no mistake in added time for his 8th goal in 11 games – his 4th in four Champions League games – the first time a United player had achieved that since Ruud van Nistelrooy in April 2003 on his way to nine on the bounce.
United were almost behind again when Zapata vollyed wide after being flagged offside from an Atalanta attack after the break.
Atalanta go ahead again, but Ronaldo has the last word
Greenwood hit the post while Jose Luis Palomino blocked a shot from Fernandes before Atalanta retook the lead when Zapata lifted the ball over De Gea after striding over Maguire’s despairing challenge getting on the end of a long ball forward from Jose Luis Palomino.
The referee had originally given offside but after an interminably long check for offside by VAR – all of 2 minutes and 6 seconds of it – they concluded that he had beaten the offside trap.
Maguire had been poor all night and another passenger – Pogba – was removed for the last 21 minutes when Nemanja Matic and Cavani came on for the Frenchman and Rashford.
Matic had a shot deflected wide soon after coming on but Bailly prevented a third Atalanta goal with another block while Zapata headed a cross over and Luis Muriel, on as a sub, had a tame shot which was easy for De Gea.
Zapata had another shot tipped away by De Gea as time ran out for the Reds wh had a last throw of the dice – sending Jadon Sancho and Donny van de Beek on for McTominay and Fernandes as United had to go for it.
But of course, come injury time, Ronaldo came up with the goods again with a ticket into the back of the Atalanta net after Greenwood lifted the loose ball to him n the edge of the area and the man of the moment thrashed in the equaliser from the edge of the area.
The drama continued, though, and VAR came up again and threatened to rule it out for handball before the referee indicated the goal stood – Ronaldo’s 9th goal in 11 games for the Reds and 5th goal in 4 Champions League games this term – who were utterly reliant on him tonight.
Ronaldo, at 36 years and 270 days, is now the oldest player to score two or more goals in a single game for United in Europe as the records kept tumbling for the legend who has singlehandly dragged United through this European campaign.
The draw meant everything to United as they avoided dropping to third and staring an early Champions League exit in the face and instead finished the day clinging onto top spot in their group with a win against Villarreal in the next round good enough to send them into the knock out round.
GOALS – Atalanta 2, Manchester United 2
Atalanta 1, Man Utd 0: 12. Josip Ilicic converted Duvan Zapata’s cross from the left after he broke into the United box leaving the ball to squeeze under an unsighted David De Gea’s body after going through Luke Shaw’s legs.
Atalanta 1, Man Utd 1: 45+1. A quick passing move ended with Ronaldo lashing home with a goal from 10 yards out after Bruno Fernandes back heeled the ball into his path.
Atalanta 2, Man Utd 1: 56. Duvan Zapata got on the scoresheet after getting on the end of a long ball from midfield, skipping a lunge by Harry Maguire before lifting the ball over David De Gea from close range.
Atalanta 2, Man Utd 2: 90+1. Cristiano Ronaldo dribbled along the edge of the area, lost the ball, but got it back from Mason Greenwood before volleying a low shot past Juan Musso.
MATCH STATS – Atalanta 2, Manchester United 2
Atalanta: Musso, de Roon, Demiral, Palomino, Zappacosta, Frueler, Koopmeiners, Maehle, Ilicic (Muriel 71), Pasalic (Djimsiti 46), Zapata
Atalanta subs: Rossi, Sportiello, Pezzella, Malinovskyi, Scalvini, Al Mirancuk, Lovato, Piccoli
Goals: Ilicic 12, Zapata 56
Man Utd: De Gea, Bailly, Varane (Greenwood 38), Maguire, Wan-Bissaka, Fernandes (van de Beek 87), McTominay (Sancho 87), Pogba (Matic 69), Shaw, Ronaldo, Rashford (Cavani 69)
Man Utd subs: Henderson, Mata, Martial, Lingard, Fred, Dalot, Telles, Matic
Booked: McTominay 51 (rugby tackle on Joakim Maehle)
Goals: Ronaldo 45+1, 90+1
Referee: Slavko Vincic