ItalyTwo Cristiano Ronaldo goals helped Man Utd to a 2-2 draw at Atalanta in Champions League Group F, on the evening of 2 November.
Before the match, Ronaldo shared the emotions of returning to Italy, where he spent three years with Juventus. On the pitch, the Portugal forward proved that he still remembers how teams conceded here. Ronaldo’s performance has once again eased the burden on Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, three days after contributing one goal, one assist in Tottenham 3-0 in the English Premier League.
Similar to the first leg on 20 October, when he led by two goals and then won 3-2 on the reverse, Man Utd did not start well. They conceded in the 12th minute, through Josip Ilicic’s shot from the edge of the penalty box. Man Utd were also unlucky as Scott McTominay’s earlier save accidentally created the conditions for Duvan Zapata to cross and stretch for Ilicic. Before that, McTominay hit the Atalanta column.
Compared to the victory over Tottenham, coach Solskjaer has three personnel adjustments. Eric Bailly replaced the injured Victor Lindelof, while Paul Pogba and Marcus Rashford replaced Fred and Edinson Cavani.
Initially, Norwegian strategists maintained a 3-5-2 formation instead of going back to 4-2-3-1. But Man Utd only played according to the new scheme for about 38 minutes. Injury prevented centre-back Raphael Varane from continuing the match. And in order to take the lead, coach Solskjaer decided to strengthen striker Mason Greenwood.
After minutes of pressure, Man Utd came back late in the first half and equalized after coordinating a short ball. Receiving the ball from Greenwood in the box, Bruno Fernandes didn’t finish, but he dug in a heel to create an opportunity for Ronaldo to score in a more advantageous position. Ronaldo became the first player to score in four consecutive Champions League games for Man Utd since Ruud van Nistelrooy in April 2003.
However, Atalanta only needed 10 minutes of the second half to regain their lead. Bailly’s momentary distraction allowed Zapata to clear the offside trap. Harry Maguire withdrew but could not stop the Colombian striker from beating David De Gea in the face-to-face phase.
Man Utd were forced to bounce for the rest of the time. However, even though Cavani entered the field, the visitors’ ball phase did not get much attention. Instead, they run the risk of a backlash. Zapata once he headed the bar, once from a distance he forced De Gea to block.
Just when many thought Man Utd would leave empty-handed, Ronaldo was back in the role of a savior. His one-touch shot from outside the box sent Juan Musso down just in time. At 36 years and 270 days, Ronaldo is the oldest player to score at least two goals for Man Utd in a European Cup match.
The 2-2 result helped the “Red Devils” retain the top of Group F. They are equal to Villarreal but better than their head-to-head record. Atalanta are third, two points behind. In the next game, Man Utd are guests of Villarreal, and Atalanta march to Switzerland to meet Young Boys.
But right ahead of Man Utd is the Manchester derby against Man City in the English Premier League this Saturday.
Atalanta: Musso, de Roon, Demiral, Palomino, Zappacosta, Freuler, Koopmeiners, Maehle, Ilicic (Muriel 71′), Articleic (Djimsiti 46′), Zapata.
Manchester United: de Gea, Wan Bissaka, Bailly, Varane (Greenwood 38′), Maguire, Shaw, Bruno Fernandes (Van de Beek 87′), McTominay (Sancho 87′), Pogba (Matic 69′), Rashford (Cavani 69′) , Ronaldo.