They don’t make it easy, these tricky reds. The comeback kings were at it once again as Manchester United came out 3-2 victors in an epic second-half comeback against Serie A outfit and neutral favourites Atalanta.
The reds lined up in their regular 4-2-3-1 formation. The McFred midfield was reinstated. Marcus Rashford started on the left with the in-form Mason Greenwood on the right and Cristiano Ronaldo leading the line. Paul Pogba and Jadon Sancho were the notable omissions.
Atalanta had to make some adjustments to their lineup with Martin de Roon moved to right centre back due to an injury suffered by captain Rafael Toloi.
United under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer love nothing more than a side that adopts a strict man-marking system and it only took four minutes to see it play out. Scott McTominay and Mason Greenwood combined before the Scottsman played a simple through ball for the onrushing Marcus Rashford, who looked sharp all game. Rashford’s shot went wide but it wouldn't have counted as he was ruled offside, anyway. The signs were good.
Atalanta then got a foothold of the game and sent bodies forward as expected. It was an open contest as both sides were getting into the opposition’s box with a few passes. It was the team from Bergamo, though, who would open the scoring with a goal in the 15th minute.
Davide Zappacosta, who posed a threat in the early minutes, played a ball in the corridor of uncertainty to cap off a brilliant move that saw Mario Pasalic on the end of it.
Fred, who would go on to have a few chances at goal in the game, came close in the 20th minute after some good work from Ronaldo but Jan Musso made one of his many saves of the day to deny the Brazilian.
For all the chat surrounding United’s new set-piece coach before the start of the season, it was the old nemesis that once again was Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s undoing. Merih Demiral made it 2-0 with an excellent header from a corner 30 minutes in after a fantastic delivery from Teun Koopmeiners.
Old Trafford looked stunned and the early momentum seemed to have dissipated. Bruno Fernandes was misplacing his passes but showed why he’s undroppable in this side when he found Marcus Rashford just before the half ended for United’s best chance of the game. Rashford didn’t quite have his shooting boots on, skying this one but would get his just rewards in the second half.
Fernandes’ persistence to play the difficult ball at every opportunity can be a bit exasperating but in the second half, he showed signs of why he’s been the talisman of this side since his arrival. United were sniffing a goal with Ronaldo coming close and Rashford getting it just wide after the rebound.
Rashford got his goal in the 53rd minute after a brilliant Cantonaesque pass from Fernandes. Rashford’s finish was reminiscent of another Frenchman, who donned the colours of rivals, Arsenal. The comeback seemed inevitable. United were now peppering Atalanta’s goal with shots. McTominay hit the post and Ronaldo came close again with his left foot.
Fans were likely playing flashbacks of United’s 3-2 win over Newcastle United in Jose Mourinho’s final season at the club in their head.
A double substitution was then made with Edinson Cavani and Paul Pogba coming on for Marcus Rashford and Scott McTominay. Rashford’s still coming back from a long period out and had a little knock just before leaving.
Cavani’s substitution paid immediate dividends. It took a moment of genius from the Uruguayan for United to score their second of the evening. Fernades played a dangerous cross in the area before a dummy deceived the entire Atalanta backline, including their goalkeeper, before Harry Maguire placed the ball in the back of the net with a first-time finish.
United were in the ascendency now but they still needed two saves in quick succession from the in-form De Gea to stay in the game. Duvan Zapata and Ruslan Malinovsky with the shots.
To no one’s surprise, it was once again Cristiano Ronaldo who took all the headlines. Ronaldo’s lost a step but he’s arguably the best header of a ball even today and scored his first headed goal since returning to complete the comeback after a sumptuous cross from Luke Shaw.
Nemanja Matic came on for Fred to sure things up. The questions surrounding Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s future are unlikely to go away but this was one of United’s better performances this season with many standout performances. Unlike the Villareal game, the Reds were worthy winners on a thrilling Champions League night at Old Trafford.
United now sit in first place in the group with six points. They’re not safe yet but have given themselves a great chance to go through to the knockout stages.