Late Ronaldo goal salvages a vital point for Manchester United in the Champions League
Cristiano Ronaldo continued his one-man show for Manchester United in the Champions League as the Portuguese striker grabbed a last-gasp leveller against Atalanta.
United were heading for a 2-1 defeat at the Stadio di Bergamo when the ball fell to Ronaldo outside the box and the veteran drilled home a stunning volley into the bottom corner to keep United in pole position heading into the final two Group F games.
There was a frantic start in Bergamo and United almost took the lead in fortuitous circumstances. Scott McTominay’s effort took a massive deflection off José Palomino and slowly rolled towards the empty net before bouncing off the left post.
But it was Atalanta who took a 12th-minute lead when striker Duvan Zapata cut in from the left and fed Josip Ilicic and the Slovenian’s low drive crept under the body of United keeper David De Gea.
United almost drew level immediately as Ronaldo tried to latch on to a through ball but Musso was quick off his line and managed to get to it just before the Portugal international.
In the 32nd minute, only a fine block from the excellent Eric Bailly prevented Zapata from doubling his team’s lead after Paul Pogba was again guilty of surrendering possession in a dangerous position.
Problems mounted for United as Raphael Varane had to go off with a hamstring injury, and the defender will likely be a doubt for Saturday’s Premier League derby against Manchester City.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was forced to abandon his three-central defenders formation in the 38th minute when France international Raphael Varane suffered a hamstring injury and had to be replaced.
With Eric Bailly starting for the injured Victor Lindelof, United had no choice but to revert to an orthodox four-man defence and they once again struggled in that formation.
But just before the break, the visitors produced a superbly worked goal with a flowing passing move ending with a clever back-heel from Bruno Fernandes to Ronaldo, who buried the chance.
Gian Piero Gasperini’s side were well on top after the break and they restored their advantage in the 56th minute when Zapata broke past Harry Maguire, burst into the box, and beat De Gea.
United desperately searched for an equalizer and, right at the death, Ronaldo pounced on a loose ball on the edge of the box and with his trademark technique and precision blasted home a low volley to earn a precious point.
“It was a difficult game, I know when we play in Bergamo it is always difficult, but we believe until the end and I am so happy,” Ronaldo, who has scored nine goals in 11 games since returning to the Red Devils, told BT Sport after the game.
“We never give up, we believe until the end, it is a good result for us. The beginning was tough, we knew Atalanta would do a lot of pressure, they have a fantastic coach, when I played at Juventus they were always difficult to play against We were a little bit lucky in the end but that is football.
“We have to still improve, we have different players, different system, we have to adapt with each other, but it will take time. we have time to improve and be better.”
The late goal papered over more cracks for United’s under-fire coach Ole Gunnar Solskjær, whose side were outplayed for long periods by their Serie A opponents.
“It is a tight game, flowed both ways,” the United boss said.
“Their two goals were very tight and we thought the first was offside. I thought he interfered with David De Gea’s view, but Cristiano is just incredible if there is anyone you want a chance to fall to and a difficult chance, it is just incredible.
“That is football. No one can question the character of these players, because they don’t ever give up and give in, they just keep going. We had to make changes and they worked.
“The (first) goal was a proper team goal, great quality on the passing, four or five or six passes before that little exchange as well.
“You don’t plan to concede a goal, I thought it was offside, usually he would save that one. The atmosphere was electric, very physical, and hard to play against.”
Elsewhere in the group, Villarreal beat Young Boys 2-0 thanks to a goal in each half from Étienne Capoue and Arnaut Danjuma Groeneveld.