Ronaldo again rides to Man Utd's Champions League rescue
MANCHESTER: Manchester United needed another Champions League fightback finished off by Cristiano Ronaldo as they came from two goals down to beat Atalanta 3-2 at Old Trafford on Wednesday (Oct 20).
Goals from Mario Pasalic and Merih Demiral had Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s men on course for a fifth defeat in eight games.
However, United’s attacking arsenal blew the Italians away after the break as Marcus Rashford and Harry Maguire drew them level before Ronaldo powered home a header nine minutes from time.
“We have a habit of doing this at this club,” said Solskjaer, who famously completed a late comeback to win the Champions League as a player in 1999.
“I thought in the first half we played some good stuff, created chances, we just couldn’t take them. The difference was the quality of finishing was much better in the second half.”
Ronaldo also scored a 96th-minute winner against Villarreal in United’s previous Champions League game to mask an otherwise unconvincing performance.
Questions will continue to be asked of Solskjaer’s ability to get the best out of such a richly talented squad.
But a much-needed win to move to the top of Group F eases the mounting pressure on the Norwegian.
“Don’t disrespect the players,” added Solskjaer when asked if the players were playing for him. “They played for Man Utd. They are the luckiest men in the world because they are the ones that can play for Man Utd.”
SANCHO, POGBA DROPPED
Solskjaer responded to Saturday’s 4-2 defeat at Leicester by dropping Jadon Sancho and Paul Pogba.
However, an extra body in midfield could not prevent United leaking chances as they have now kept one clean sheet in 20 games.
Atalanta played through the hosts with ease for the opening goal as Josip Ilicic fed Davide Zappacosta down the right and his low cross was turned home by Pasalic.
Maguire endured a torrid return from injury against his former club at the weekend and was outjumped by Demiral as the Turkish defender headed home from a corner.
Old Trafford was growing restless, but luckily for United they were up against a defence as suspect as their own.
Fred fired another huge chance wide before Rashford hit the bar with just Juan Musso to beat before the break.
Rashford found his range to halve the home side’s deficit with a calm finish from Bruno Fernandes’ pass eight minutes into the second half.
Scott McTominay then fired against the post and Musso was forced to full stretch to turn a low Ronaldo shot to safety.
Solskjaer unloaded his wealth of attacking options off the bench as Pogba, Sancho and Edinson Cavani were introduced for the final quarter.
But United’s awful defending nearly gave them too much of a mountain to climb.
Duvan Zapata spun Victor Lindelof with ease and forced David de Gea into a stunning save before the Spaniard parried Ruslan Malinovskyi’s follow-up strike over.
It took just two minutes to prove the value of those saves as Maguire hammered home at the back post from Cavani’s flick-on.
Fernandes should have completed the comeback when he fired too close to Musso.
But that cleared the way for Ronaldo to provide another fairytale ending as he rose highest to power home Luke Shaw’s cross for his sixth goal in nine appearances since returning to the club where he first became a world star.