Cristiano Ronaldo’s late header saw Manchester United come from 2-0 down at half-time to produce a stunning second-half comeback to relieve the pressure on boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer with a 3-2 victory against Atalanta on a dramatic Champions League night at Old Trafford.
Solskjaer’s position at United was firmly in the spotlight Saturday’s 4-2 defeat at Leicester and the pressure looked to be mounting on the Norwegian as goals from Mario Pasalic and Merih Demiral saw Atalanta take a 2-0 lead into the interval.
The half-time whistle was greeted by boos from the home fans but whatever Solskjaer said to his side at the break worked wonders as goals from Marcus Rashford (53) and Harry Maguire (75) brought the home side level with 15 minutes to play.
It was all set up for a grandstand finish and with time running out, it was that man Ronaldo who provided the finishing touch, heading home to complete what was a sensational comeback from Solskjaer’s side.
Victory sees United, who at one stage during the match sat bottom of the group, move to the top of Group F with three matches remaining and it gives them a welcome boost ahead of Sunday’s Premier League encounter with Liverpool, which is live on Sky Sports (kick-off 4.30pm).
Group F standings…
How Man Utd’s dramatic comeback stunned Atalanta…
Manchester United started with intent as Scott McTominay drove forward and played in Rashford, but the England international, whose blushes were eventually spared by the offside flag, pulled his shot wide of the target.
Despite United’s positive start, Atalanta were not overawed and opened the scoring after 15 minutes.
A quickly taken free-kick caught the hosts out, with smart hold-up play from Luis Muriel eventually allowing Davide Zappacosta to cross for Pasalic to score from close range. A VAR check for offside ensued but Pasalic just timed his run and the goal stood.
Things went from bad to worse for the home side as they fell further behind in the 28th minute. Teun Koopmeiners sent in a corner from the right and Demiral rose above Luke Shaw and Maguire to head past David de Gea and into the far corner.
The frustration began to build around Old Trafford and it heightened as United wasted a host of glorious chances to get back into the game before half-time.
Bruno Fernandes’ flick played Fred in, who kept his composure and got past one challenge before bending his strike wide of the far post from close range.
There was one final chance for the hosts before the break and it fell to Rashford in first-half stoppage time, but his effort clipped the top of the crossbar, with the half-time whistle greeted by boos from the home fans.
It was a big team talk for Solskjaer and his side returned strongly from the break and they quickly pulled one goal back in the 53rd minute. Fernandes’ first-time pass released Rashford, who slotted a right-footed shot home from a tight angle
The momentum was now with the home side and McTominay hit the post as United continued to push forward, but Atalanta remained a threat on the break, with De Gea forced into action with a fine double save to deny substitutes Duvan Zapata and Ruslan Malinovskyi.
Man Utd team news
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer made three changes for Manchester United’s Champions
League match against Atalanta.
Paul Pogba and Nemanja Matic were replaced by Fred and Scott McTominay after
Saturday’s 4-2 loss at Leicester.
Marcus Rashford made his first United start since May’s Europa League final in
place of Jadon Sancho.
However, United pulled level in the 75th minute when Fernandes’ cross was flicked on by Edinson Cavani and the ball fell to Maguire, who swept home a fine finish at the far post.
Then came Ronaldo’s big moment. Shaw whipped an inch-perfect left-footed cross over for the leaping Ronaldo to power a header beyond the Atalanta goalkeeper to spark wild Old Trafford celebrations.
Pundit view: ‘Defensive concerns still there for United’
Lee Hendrie on Soccer Special on Sky Sports News:
“Manchester United conceded two goals again.
“If that’s against Liverpool or Man City, it’s game over.
“I’m just thinking to myself, yes, it’s a great result on the whole and they’ve responded really well. Paul Pogba came on and I felt like he had a big impact. Jadon Sancho was decent when he came on as well.
“They have enough quality in that forward line to go and punish teams, which we’ve seen there with Ronaldo being the saviour.
“But defensively again, I just have to put a massive question mark on it because they will be punished against the top teams in the Premier League.”
Opta stats: United on the comeback trail again…
Manchester United have won a Champions League game from 2+ goals down for the third time – no side has done so more often in the competition (Arsenal also 3).
United have conceded in each of their last 12 home games in all competitions, their longest run without a clean sheet at Old Trafford since February 1964 (13).
Atalanta led 2-0 after 28 minutes, the second earliest a team has led 2-0 at Old Trafford in the Champions League, after Braga in October 2012 (20 minutes). Manchester United also came back to win that match 3-2.
Marcus Rashford’s strike was the 300th scored for Manchester United in all competitions under Ole Gunnar Solskjær, with Rashford also scoring the first back in December 2018.
Bruno Fernandes created eight chances in this match, the most on record for a Manchester United player in a single Champions League game (since 2003-04).
What’s next for Man Utd?
Manchester United host Liverpool in the Premier League on Super Sunday; kick-off 4.30pm, live on Sky Sports.
Their next Champions League assignment is a trip to Atalanta on November 2; kick-off 8pm.