Cristiano Ronaldo netted in stoppage time at the end of both halves as Manchester United salvaged a fortuitous 2-2 draw away at Atalanta on Tuesday. It was another far from convincing performance from Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s men, but the point keeps United top of their Champions League group heading into the final two fixtures.
United almost struck lucky after five minutes, when a scuffed Scott McTominay shot took a massive deflection, away from goalkeeper Juan Musso and towards the bottom corner. Alas, the ball trickled against the post, and the hosts narrowly avoided conceding an early opener.
Within 10 minutes, Atalanta were ahead. Striker Duván Zapata pulled into the left channel to receive possession, before cutting onto his right foot and laying off for the onrushing Josip Iličić. The Slovenian was quickly closed down by Luke Shaw, but not quickly enough—his first-time effort from the edge of the area nestled in the bottom corner of David de Gea’s goal, and the Italians had the lead.
United offered little in attack for the remainder of the first half, and only a brilliant last-gasp intervention from Eric Bailly prevented Zapata from doubling Atalanta’s lead just past the half-hour.
Things went from bad to worse for United a couple of minutes later, when Raphaël Varane broke down after an innocuous passage of play—apparently feeling some sort of muscle twinge. But the injury triggered a formation change from Solskjær, who introduced Mason Greenwood in a switch from a back three to a more attack-minded four.
The change paid dividends in stoppage time at the end of the first half, when United pieced together the best passage of play of the entire match. Some slick passing sliced straight through the Atalanta defence: Greenwood found Bruno Fernandes, whose backheel was tucked home by Cristiano Ronaldo for 1-1.
United looked lively at the start of the second half, but Atalanta restored their advantage just short of the hour mark. Centre-half José Luis Palomino chipped a perfectly-weighted ball in between Bailly and Harry Maguire, which Zapata swept up and slotted past de Gea from point-blank range. The linesman raised his flag to signal for offside, but the goal was restored after an extraordinarily long VAR review.
With little sign of an equaliser as the game ticked into its final quarter, Solskjær introduced Nemanja Matić and Edinson Cavani for the ineffectual Pogba and Marcus Rashford. Still United offered little in attack, and Zapata might’ve killed the game off when he headed a Davide Zappacosta cross inches wide with 10 minutes left on the clock.
Solskjær rolled the dice a final time with three minutes left, with McTominay and Fernandes making way for Donny van de Beek and Jadon Sancho. In the end, however, only another moment of Ronaldo brilliance salvaged a crucial point.
In stoppage time, Greenwood flicked a loose ball Ronaldo’s way. From the edge of the area, the Portuguese forward struck a low volley along the turf and inside the far post. It was a lucky, lucky escape for United, but Solskjær will live to fight another day.