Wednesday 3 November 2021

Match report: Atalanta 2-2 Man United

 Cristiano Ronaldo's latest act of derring do salvaged a point in Bergamo and kept United on track for Champions League qualification.
Having headed the winner in the Reds climb-off-the-canvas escape act between the sides at Old Trafford, CR7 popped up at the death again as he volleyed in a Mason Greenwood flick-on to put United top of the pile and needing a win in Spain on Matchday Five - against Villarreal - to ensure progress to the last 16.

United were 2-1 down and in third place in the 'as it stands' table and knowing defeat to Unai Emery's side would send us out if things stayed as they were, we were again indebted to Ronaldo who has now scored in every Champions League tie this term. 

There were three changes from the weekend win over Spurs in what turned out to be Nuno Espirito Santo's last game in charge of Tottenham. Eric Bailly was handed only his second start of the season, in lieu of the injured Victor Lindelof, whilst Paul Pogba and Marcus Rashford started ahead of Fred and Edinson Cavani.

Our first ever trip to Atalanta started brightly for the Reds as Ronaldo went close early on, Rashford had a shot blocked and Scott McTominay struck a post. But, just as they had in M16, Gianpiero Gasperini's men took the lead inside the opening 15 minutes against the run of play.

Duvan Zapata burst down the left and found Slovenian international Josip Ilicic. David de Gea should probably have done better but proved powerless to stop the ball on its way in and, despite a VAR check for offside, the goal was given.

Juan Musso saved at the feet of Ronaldo and Luke Shaw volleyed over before CR7 went close again, this time with a header which flew over the top.

Atalanta then saw the best chance of the half and, indeed, perhaps the entire match, go begging. Pogba's long ball forward was charged down and dropped invitingly for Zapata, in front of De Gea and onside. But Bailly sprang into action, belying his lack of minutes with a monumental goal saving block to save United from further damage. 

United then suffered a further setback when Raphael Varane - only just back from injury - was forced from the field with a hamstring injury eight minutes before the break. Greenwood came on as the Reds reverted to our familiar 4-2-3-1 shape in search of a leveller. 

On the cusp of half time, that's exactly what we got with Greenwood heavily involved. Having been picked out by Ronaldo, our no.11 in turn found Bruno Fernandes and he backheeled the ball into Ronaldo to sweep home from close range. 

Zapata had a strike deflected wide from distance and the omnipotent Ronaldo saw his effort blocked at the other end before Greenwood hit a post - but he was offside anyway. 

Just when it seemed as though the Reds were starting to wrestle back control, Atalanta led again. Jose Luis Palomino played the ball in behind United's backline, Harry Maguire was caught napping and Zapata ghosted in to slot beyond De Gea. There was an agonising three minute wait as VAR checked, re-checked and checked again, but eventually the goal was given with Zapata adjudged to be onside.

Despite the introduction of Cavani and Nemanja Matic, Atalanta - in trademark Italian style - proved resilient, organised and difficult to get through.
Aaron Wan - Bissaka's angled drive inadvertently struck team-mate Greenwood and bounced to safety before another stunning acrobatic clearance from Bailly kept out Joakim Maehle as he shaped to shoot, with the Atalanta man well placed.

Zapata headed over the bar and De Gea then saved well from the same player and his substitute strike partner, fellow Colombian Luis Muriel. 
With time running out and United on the ropes, up stepped that man Ronaldo - yet again - to crash home a volley and send us top of Group F, one win away from qualification. 

Overall team performance: 5/10
United Faithful Man of the Match: Ronaldo will get the plaudits but Eric Bailly was colossal. 

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