Manchester United drew 2-2 with Atalanta in the fourth UEFA Champions League group stage match. Josip Iličić opened the scoring in the 12th minute of the match before Cristiano Ronaldo struck in added time at the end of the first half to level the match. Just eleven minutes into the second half, Duván Zapata doubled the home sides lead with United looking poor in the night – especially after losing Raphael Varane to injury once again. Ronaldo struck again in added time at the end of the second half to rescue a draw for United. This would then lead to pundits and the media stating that United should not be relying on Ronaldo.
After a mixed start, United started to find out how much Atalanta wanted the win in this match with their pressing but United’s back three seemed to avert the danger early on. However, in the 12th minute of the match, Josip Iličić broke the deadlock, assisted by Duván Zapata. United would have to come from behind again. Solskjaer’s side was lucky the damage was not doubled with the home side seeking to punish United, as they did a fortnight ago in the first meeting between the two sides. In the 31st minute, a penalty was called for after Eric Bailly blocked a shot but VAR gave nothing – and rightly so.
United suffered a setback in the 38th minute after Raphael Varane had to come off injured and Solskjaer brought Mason Greenwood on, reverting United to a defensive four with Marcus Rashford on the left flank, Greenwood on the right and Cristiano Ronaldo as the main striker. In the first minute of added time, Bruno Fernandes and Ronaldo were on the attack through the middle with the former passing back for the latter to equalise, scoring his eighth goal in the eleven matches he has played since returning to the Old Trafford club. In the second half, United needed to be quicker with their passing, also cutting out their mistakes.
United conceded again 11 minutes into the second half with Zapata scoring and José Luis Palomino assisting. VAR was involved in the decision though, which seemed to take an age. The goal was given. United seemed to have reverted to the poor team they had been in September and October, and looked like passengers on conceding a second goal. Solskjaer made a double substitution with Nemanja Matic and Edinson Cavani replacing Paul Pogba and Rashford. Atalanta seemed to be up for this match, having lost late in the game two weeks ago. United just seemed to be unable to find the equaliser at this time.
United still found themselves trying to get back from behind with Atalanta still pushing to secure the win. Solskjaer made another double substitution in the 87th minute of the match with Donny van de Beek and Scott McTominay. United started to find their feet after the second double substitution as Ronaldo found his ninth goal for United in 11 matches, equalising the score, assisted by Greenwood. It was by no means a vintage performance for United, but the score was no level and United’s fortunes in the Champions League have changed with that goal, sending United back to the top of the group.
Five minutes were played at the end of the second half, and United did not have the time to seek a winner in this match. The draw would have to do – it was better than a defeat. Would the negative so-called United supporters accept that though? But who cares about them. Win, lose or draw – United is the team for me. Ronaldo has scored five goals in the Champions League this season, which is a great result for the 36-year-old who was written off after that proposed move to Manchester City came to a halt after United got themselves involved. What a return to the Theatre of Dreams for the Portuguese legend.
United need to get themselves in order ahead of the Manchester City match this weekend. There is a chance that Varane may not make it for the weekend after the injury he sustained in the first half of the match. Victor Lindelof suffered an injury in training on Monday, so he will remain a doubt so it could well be that either Teden Mengi is brought into the first team or Phil Jones is able to make his Premier League return this weekend. Either way, the pressure will be on ahead of Saturday’s derby at the Theatre of Dreams and with City coming back from a 2-0 defeat to Crysta Palace, they will be looking to beat United once again at Old Trafford.
United face Manchester City in the first Manchester derby of the Premier League season at Old Trafford on Saturday, which is another big match for Solskjaer’s side. The pressure will be immense going into the match and the media will be trying to find the weaknesses in the team ahead of the match, writing United off until the match is over. It is a shame is has to be like this as United are the team that everyone wants to read about, whether they are winning, drawing or losing. The international break cannot come quick enough, which will buy some time for some of the squad to rest, recover and find a way back to business.
Goals: Josip Iličić 12′, Duván Zapata 56′; Cristiano Ronaldo 45+1′, 90+1′
Assists: Duván Zapata 12′, José Luis Palomino 56′; Bruno Fernandes 45+1′, Mason Greenwood 90+1′
Manchester United: De Gea; Bailly, Varane (Greenwood 38′), Maguire; Wan-Bissaka, McTominay (Sancho 87′), Pogba (Matic 69′), Shaw; Fernandes (Van de Beek 87′); Rashford (Cavani 69′), Ronaldo
Substitutes Not Used: Henderson; Dalot, Telles; Mata, Lingard, Fred; Martial
Bookings: Scott McTominay 51′
Written by John Walker