In what was billed as their most important Champions League contest of the season, Manchester United managed to snatch a last-gasp point as they played out an action-packed 2-2 draw against Atalanta on Tuesday night.
While the Premier League heavyweights might have once again struggled to find any real stability out in Bergamo, they were saved by their attacking talisman as Cristiano Ronaldo found the net late on in both halves.
A contest that matched the five-goal thriller that Atalanta and United played out at Old Trafford a fortnight ago, we have taken a look at the key talking points Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side avoided a major European nightmare.
Ronaldo to the rescue
Playing a vital role as Manchester United clinched a much-needed 3-0 romp away at Tottenham over the weekend, it will be no surprise to many that it was Cristiano Ronaldo who once again dragged Solskjaer’s side over the finish line.
While the five-time Ballon d’Or winner might have come under some recent scrutiny over the past month, Ronaldo once again underlined just why he is the greatest goalscorer in Champions League history.
Despite failing to gain much of a foothold in proceedings on either side of the break, United’s returning icon clicked into gear as he powered home a slick move in first-half injury-time following Bruno Fernandes’ layoff.
Almost single-handily keeping the pressure on Solskjaer’s shoulders at a bearable level, there was time for Ronaldo to once again recreate his Old Trafford heroics from a fortnight ago.
Much like the former Real Madrid superstar managed in first-half injury time, Ronaldo produced a sublime 91st-minute volley from the edge of the box as he sent the traveling away support into overdrive.
Leaving Bergamo with his Champions League tally now on 139 goals, you have to wonder where United’s European ambitions would be without their stellar number seven?
United papering over cracks
Although Ronaldo’s heroics might once again steal most of the headlines following Tuesday’s last-gasp point on foreign soil, there is no doubt that United fans would have been concerned by what was another downbeat display.
While Solskjaer might have elected to stick with the same five at the back formation that saw them breeze past Tottenham last weekend, Edinson Cavani’s omission meant that the Reds lacked any real enthusiasm.
Also having to watch a returning Raphaël Varane limp off down the tunnel during the first-half, Paul Pogba put in a nightmare display as he made his first appearance since that straight red in United’s 5-0 defeat against Liverpool last month.
With Solskjaer breathing a huge sigh of relief following Ronaldo’s injury-time equalizer, the English giants also managed to avoid breaking what would have been a hugely concerning European record.
Opening up their Champions League adventure with a shock 1-0 loss against Young Boys back in September, another defeat on Tuesday would have been the first time in United’s history that they would have suffered four away European losses on the spin.
With the Manchester derby taking center stage this weekend, Solskjaer will know that his side needs to find some stability sooner rather than later.
More Champions League heartbreak for La Dea
Left heartbroken at Old Trafford a fortnight ago as they watched United mount a trademark second-half comeback, Atalanta were desperate to rewrite history on a night they billed as their greatest European contest in Bergamo.
While Head Coach Gian Piero Gasperini might have once again been without a host of first-team stars on Tuesday night, La Dea did take a deserved first-half lead as Josip Iličić’s effort somehow squirmed under David de Gea with just 12 minutes on the clock.
Although the midweek hosts might have been left stunned by Ronaldo’s equalizer in first-half injury-time, Atalanta showed no signs of feeling sorry for themselves as they once again dominated proceedings after the interval.
With Gasperini making the decision to bring top scorer Duván Zapata back into his starting XI following their 3-2 defeat at Old Trafford, that decision appeared a stroke of genius as the 30-year-old caused United a host of issues.
Getting the better of Harry Maguire just 11 minutes into the second-half, Zapata finished well past De Gea before having to wait over two minutes to have his goal allowed thanks to VAR.
Nevertheless, despite another eye-catching display against heavyweight opposition, Gasperini and their noisy home support will be rueing another golden chance that slipped through their fingers.
Atalanta: Musso, De Roon, Demiral, Palomino, Zappacosta, Koopmeiners, Freuler, Maehle, Pasalic, Ilicic, Zapata
Subs: Djimsiti, Muriel
Manchester United: De Gea, Bailly, Varane, Maguire, Wan-Bissaka, Pogba, McTominay, Shaw, Fernandes, Rashford, Ronaldo
Subs: Greenwood, Sancho, Van de Beek, Cavani, Matic
Goals: Manchester United: Ronaldo 45+1′, 90+1′ – Atalanta: Iličić 12′, Zapata 56′
Yellow Cards: McTominay
Red Cards: N/A
Referee: Slavko Vincic
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