Match Report: Atalanta 2-2 Manchester United

Manchester United grabbed a last-minute equaliser at the Stadio di Bergamo through a sublime Cristiano Ronaldo volley. Josip Iličić opened the scoring in the first half before Ronaldo found an equaliser just before the half-time whistle. It was a similar second half, where Duván Zapata gave Atalanta the lead again, but then Mr Champions League came up clutch again. Ridiculous.

The performance was lacklustre from Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side, but it was an important point that gives United the possibility of qualification with a win against Villarreal in two weeks.

Story of the game

United started the game in the same system which saw them see off Tottenham Hotspur on the weekend, with five defenders, and Scott McTominay sat in front of them; Paul Pogba joined him in the middle rather than Fred.

It was almost a great start for the Red Devils, with McTominay having a deflected shot hit the post in agonising style. After a great interception from Luke Shaw, Marcus Rashford fired a shot towards goal, but it was blocked well. The ball then eventually found its way to the Scotsman on the edge of the area and his deflected shot span towards the left post in slow motion but hit the wrong side of the woodwork for United.

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Atalanta started to find spaces in between United’s lines afterwards – something that shouldn’t have been happening with the shape that the English side were operating in. And it was an attempted pass between United’s lines which led to the opening goal for the hosts.

With a pass being played towards Duván Zapata, McTominay looked to intercept, but could only guide the ball towards the left side of his own penalty area. Zapata crosses low towards Josip Iličić the goalscorer, whose shot was tame towards David de Gea’s goal, but whether the United number one was put off by the movement of Mario Pašalić or not, he should’ve done better to keep the effort out.

Solskjaer’s side struggled to get out of first gear, with their only real showing of slick attacking play coming after some impressive interplay between Pogba and Bruno Fernandes. The pair combined with a one-two on the edge of Atalanta’s box, and Pogba found himself with space on the right side of the box. Ronaldo moved towards the front post, wanting the ball played to his feet, but the Frenchman played the cross in the air and United’s no.7 couldn’t guide the header goalwards.

It was then Atalanta who thought they deserved a penalty after Zapata’s shot was blocked incredibly by Eric Bailly, who was in for his first start of the season. It was a mistake on the ball by Pogba which led to the chance, but it was in fact fine defensive work from the Ivorian and an example of why he’s an incredibly fun defender to watch when he’s fit.

Minutes later, Raphael Varane was replaced by Mason Greenwood, after he signalled to come off. It was a return to the 4-2-3-1 shape for the Reds, and it didn’t take long for the academy graduate to get involved in the eventual equaliser for United.

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After a couple passes in the final third, it was Greenwood who cut the defence open with a firm pass in behind to Bruno Fernandes. The Portuguese playmaker was one-on-one inside the box, and not one person would’ve expected anything but a shot. Yet, United’s no.18, of course, did the unexpected and set Cristiano Ronaldo up with a smart backheel.

Inside the box. First-time shot. Ronaldo made no mistake and scored the equaliser for his side on the stroke of half-time. It was his fourth Champions League goal in four games this season, and it was unsurprisingly assisted by his fellow countryman.

It was an improved start to the second half for United, who came close to scoring within two minutes, with Ronaldo finding Fernandes inside the box this time. An unconventional spin and shot was smart by the midfielder, but it was well blocked. Mason Greenwood then thundered a shot against the crossbar a minute later, but the offside flag was raised afterwards.

Their impressive start was squandered on 55 minutes when Atalanta found a goal courtesy of Zapata. It was a hopeful ball over the top that found the Columbian striker, who would’ve been surprised to see that the United goalkeeper had remained on his goal line.

He then latched onto the ball and after Harry Maguire failed to make a fairly routine challenge inside the box, the forward finished well past De Gea to put his team back in the lead.

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A reaction from the Reds is what was expected, but all that was seen was some disjointed attacks which ultimately led to nothing. It was fortunate that Zapata couldn’t finish the game off when he headed over from a lovely cross on the right.

It seemed like it would be another loss for Manchester United this season as the game entered the 90th minute. But, they had Cristiano Ronaldo.

With just a couple of minutes of added time left, Ronaldo was probing on the edge of the box. The ball found Greenwood and he then lifts the ball back towards his striker on the edge of the box. It wasn’t even half a chance with multiple defenders in the way.

However, a perfect volley from the greatest player in Champions League history found the bottom left corner and it saved United in the closing stages. It was an unbelievable goal and meant that the spoils were shared on the night.

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Papering over the cracks

Two incredible goals from Cristiano Ronaldo meant that United avoided a loss, but there is no way that another performance like the one the team produced was acceptable, but it happened. Again.

It’s lucky that United are still at the top of their group, and it still feels like Solskjaer is on borrowed time. A good performance and result against Spurs was supposed to build towards stronger form, but the showing in Italy tonight suggested anything but stronger form.

Jadon Sancho, one of the best creators in world football, managed to get less than 10 minutes on the pitch. United need to be defensively secure, but cannot let that be at the expense of creative talent such as the English winger. There are problems, but tonight, they were saved by Cristiano Ronaldo.

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