Report: Atalanta 2 United 2
Manchester United claimed a vital point away to Atalanta in the UEFA Champions League on Tuesday evening thanks to two magnificent goals from Cristiano Ronaldo.
Our first-ever visit to Bergamo looked set to be a disappointing one for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s Reds but Ronaldo once again showed his world-class ability in both first-half and second-half stoppage time as his two strikes salvaged a crucial draw in Group F.
Before the late drama, Slovenian forward Josip Ilicic put the hosts ahead in the 12th minute, against the run of play as United started on the front foot.
The Reds got an equaliser on the stroke of half-time as Ronaldo finished off a lovely move for his 126th United goal, the same tally that our manager has for the club.
Duvan Zapata ran in behind in the 55th-minute before sending La Dea ahead from close range. The goal was assessed for offside by VAR but was given after a lengthy check.
As the game reached its final stages it looked like it was a lost affair, but a game is never over until it’s over, certainly when Ronaldo’s on the pitch. And our no.7, aka Mr Champions League, stepped up to volley a stupendous strike into the bottom corner to make it 2-2.
FIRST HALF – RONALDO RESPONDS TO ATALANTA OPENER
The Reds came firing out of the blocks in Italy. Ronaldo, who had scored in all our Champions League matches before the clash in Bergamo, tested his shooting boots within 20 seconds but the long-range effort was saved by Musso.
In the fourth minute, Marcus Rashford dribbled his way into the box and got a shot away which was blocked but it ended up at the feet of Paul Pogba, who then found Scott McTominay. Our no.39 took aim and saw his strike deflect off a defender and onto the post, but not into the net.
Despite a strong Reds start, it was, unfortunately, the hosts who took the lead in North Italy. Duvan Zapata, from the left wing, found Josip Ilicic with a low cross and the Slovenian's powerful strike beat David De Gea to send the home supporters wild. VAR had a look at it, but after a lengthy check the goal stood.
Ronaldo almost responded instantly as our no.7 tried to reach a ball in behind, but Musso dived at his feet to collect the ball. Shortly after the Portugal captain found Shaw with a cross to the back stick but Shaw's volley went into the ground and looped over Atalanta’s goal. Four minutes later, Pogba and Fernandes combined nicely in attack before our no.6 crossed to Ronaldo who couldn’t keep his header on target.
The Serie A outfit took more control of the ball and created one of the biggest chances of the half on 30 minutes. A blocked long ball from Pogba landed at the feet of Zapata, who was in acres of space just in front of De Gea. Thankfully, Eric Bailly came to the rescue with an incredible block to save the Reds from going two goals behind.
In the 37th minute, Raphael Varane sat down in clear discomfort and had to be brought off. Greenwood came on to replace the World Cup winner as Ole switched to a back four in search of an equaliser in Italy. And that's exactly what we got, with our no.11 playing a big part in the goal. After being found by Ronaldo, Greenwood picked out Fernandes inside the Atalanta box and he backheeled the ball brilliantly to Ronaldo, who scored in his fourth Champions League game in a row to make it 1-1 just before the break.
SECOND HALF - RONALDO SAVES A POINT
The hosts produced the first dangerous moment after the interval, inside the first minute, as a deflected shot went high in the air towards Zapata but the striker was waved offside.
Ronaldo then wanted to return the favour to Fernandes as the Reds created a big opportunity in the 48th minute. Our no.7 burst towards goal and set up his fellow Portuguese international inside the Atlanta box, but his strike was blocked.
Greenwood then smashed the ball off the post and out from an acute angle, but the 20-year-old was in an offside position. Scott McTominay then received a rather soft booking following a duel with Joakim Maehle.
In the 56th minute, Zapata ran in behind the United backline and fired home from close range. The striker was initially judged to be offside as the ball in behind was played, but after a three-minute VAR check, the goal stood as the home side regained the lead.
The hosts continued to press United and created some dangerous moments, but no shots on target came from the Italian side’s moves.
On 69 minutes Ole made two changes in an attempt to change the game in the Reds’ favour. Paul Pogba and Marcus Rashford were replaced by Nemanja Matic and Edinson Cavani as United took control and put pressure on Atalanta.
The Reds kept attacking but struggled to get past a compact Atalanta side, who looked to break on the counter in the game’s final stages. With 15 minutes to go an attack reached Wan-Bissaka at the corner of the hosts’ area but this time his effort unfortunately hit Greenwood and bounced clear.
Bailly then produced another stunning clearance in the air to prevent a ball reaching an unmarked Atalanta attacker, before Zapata headed over shortly after. Substitute Luis Muriel and the lively Zapata tested De Gea, but our no.1 stood firm.
Donny van de Beek and Jadon Sancho came on for the final five minutes for McTominay and Fernandes as we went in search of another dramatic European goal. And, of course, Ronaldo found one with a magnificent strike from the edge of the area to ensure we remain top of Group F.
United: De Gea; Wan-Bissaka, Bailly, Varane (Greenwood 38), Maguire, Shaw; McTominay (van de Beek 87), Pogba (Matic 69), Fernandes, (Sancho 87); Ronaldo, Rashford (Cavani 69).
Subs not used: Henderson, Mata, Martial, Lingard, Fred, Dalot, Telles.
Goals: Ronaldo 45+1, 90+1.
Atalanta: Musso; De Roon, Demiral, Palomino; Zappacosta, Pasalic (Djimsiti 46), Freuler, Koopmeiners, Maehle; Ilicic (Muriel 71), Zapata.
Subs not used: Rossi, Sportiello, Pezzella, Malinovskyi, Scalvini, Miranchuk, Lovato, Piccoli.
Goals: Ilicic 12, Zapata 56.