Barney Ronay on Ronaldo being Ronaldo
Jamie Jackson was there to witness it all. Here’s his report. You know what to do. Thanks for reading this MBM. Nighty night!
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer gives a broad, crowd-pleasing performance on BT. “The fans are a big part of this club. The singing section kept everyone going. That is what you do with Manchester United in the Champions League. This corner [arms outstretched] are the best in the world. They keep going. I am good. I thought we played well in the first half, but two chances, two goals, this has to stop. We have a habit of doing this at this club. But we never stopped believing, kept on going.”
Des Kelly then points out that the players clearly put in a shift for him. “Don’t start. Don’t disrespect the players, they play for Man United. They know they are the luckiest men in the world, and I said that to them tonight. The XI plus the subs are the ones who can play for Man United, and that’s what millions of boys and girls want to do. If anyone wants to criticise Cristiano Ronaldo for work-rate or attitude, just watch this game.”
United captain Harry Maguire speaks to BT Sport. “We conceded two bad goals. We created a lot of chances in the first half, so we knew coming in at half time the next goal would be crucial. I think in the end we deserved the victory. Yes, we made it difficult, but it’s a great victory in the end. We showed great togetherness in the dressing room at half time. We got cheered and clapped off at half time, the fans gave us great energy and we got the result they deserved.”
Some aggressive bampot bursts from the crowd and makes a beeline for Ronaldo, nearly getting hold of his shirt before stewards drag him off to the cooler. Ronaldo, unperturbed, walks away from the scene smiling. A celebratory atmosphere in Old Trafford, as the Atalanta players trudge off sadly, the home heroes walking on air. To think United were booed off by a section of the crowd at half time! They were bottom of Group F at one point this evening ... but now they’re top with six points. Big game in Italy coming up on Matchday Four. Big game against Liverpool coming up on Sunday, too; they’ll go into that with their tails most firmly up.
FULL TIME: Manchester United 3-2 Atalanta
Say what you like about Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, the man knows how to get a result when the jig looks up. What a comeback! One of the great European nights at Old Trafford.
90 min +5: Zappacosta’s shot is dragged wide left, and that is surely that!
90 min +4: Cavani is booked for clattering into Malinovskyi. A free kick out on the right. One last chance for the visitors to draw level.
90 min +3: Matic is booked for faffing around at the free kick.
90 min +2: Palomino clatters into Shaw. For the first time this evening, Atalanta betray some frustration.
90 min +1: De Roon strips Ronaldo of possession. Ronaldo goes down slyly and earns a very cheap free kick. De Roon throws himself to the floor in anger and anguish. Ronaldo wanders away with a cute smile playing across his face, as the clock ticks on.
90 min: There will be four extra minutes.
89 min: A corner on the right leads to another on the left. United struggle to clear the second one, but do just enough to force Palomino into running the ball out for a goal kick.
88 min: Before it can be taken, Fred - feeling his hamstring - is replaced by Matic.
87 min: Atalanta won’t give up, though, and Maehle busies himself down the right to win a corner off Cavani.
85 min: Paul Scholes called this on BT Sport, let’s remember. As things stand, it’s been a good night all round for Old Trafford living legends.
84 min: The roof has come off Old Trafford, as you’d imagine. To be fair, it was in a pretty rickety state already, but the point stands.
82 min: ... and to think there have been rumours that Solskjaer had lost the dressing room. This second-half performance would firmly suggest otherwise.
GOAL! Manchester United 3-2 Atalanta (Ronaldo 81)
... you always knew it. Ronaldo’s free kick is deflected out for a corner. And from that, the ball’s worked back up the wing for Shaw, who swings one into the mixer. Ronaldo rises imperiously, eight yards out, and plants a stunning header into the bottom left, Musso given no chance! What a header! What a turnaround!
81 min: Palomino is booked for fouling Fernandes out on the left. Before the free kick can be taken, Pezzella replaces Koopmeiners. And then ...
80 min: Fernandes dances his way into the Atalanta box from the right. He beats a couple of men before sending a power curler towards the bottom left. Musso sticks out a strong hand to parry. What a game this is!
79 min: Atalanta aren’t likely to take this lying down, though, and Zappacosta makes a nuisance of himself down the right. The ball’s eventually worked left for Zapata, who tees up Koopmeiners for a low drive that flies harmlessly wide right.
77 min: That’s got Old Trafford bouncing. The comeback complete! And with plenty of time to find a winner as well!
GOAL! Manchester United 2-2 Atalanta (Maguire 75)
Yep. Bruno swings a cross in from the right. Cavani goes to head the dropping ball but dummies for Maguire, who, coming into space from the left, sweeps a shot into the bottom left from 12 yards! What a finish that is!
74 min: Fernandes’ corner is met by Maguire, whose downward header is snaffled by Musso. There are surely more goals in this game.
73 min: Sancho comes on for Greenwood, and immediately wins a corner down the right.
72 min: At the corner, the ball drops to Palomino, ten yards out. His snapshot is deflected over. Nothing comes of the second corner. United suddenly hanging on again. It’s been a to-and-fro tussle all right.
71 min: An astonishing double save by De Gea keeps United in it! Zapata spins Lindelof with ease down the inside right and steps into the box. His low drive is hacked clear by the keeper and falls to Malinovskyi, who smacks goalwards from 25 yards. De Gea tips away for a corner.
70 min: Greenwood tries to release Ronaldo down the inside left but the pass is miscontrolled. Atalanta so nearly opened up.
68 min: A double change for Atalanta now. Ilicic and Pasalic are replaced by Malinovskyi and Miranchuk.
66 min: Pogba and Cavani come on for McTominay and Rashford, the latter having spent the last couple of minutes rubbing his left thigh.
64 min: This is breathless. Bruno finds Ronaldo with a slide-rule pass down the inside left. Ronaldo spins and shoots towards the bottom right. Musso parries well. Atalanta break, and Shaw is booked for a cynical check on Zappacosta. This will surely not end 1-2.
62 min: Now Koopmeiners has a dig from distance. His shot is blocked and dribbles though to De Gea. Some much needed respite for Atalanta, if nothing else.
61 min: Maehle finds a bit of room down the left, glides inside, and aims a riser towards the top right. Always high and wide.
59 min: Atalanta still carry a threat, though, and Zapata bursts down the left, his low cross towards Ilicic hooked out of his own six-yard box by Fred. Attack might be the best form of defence for both these teams.
58 min: United are a completely different animal now! Greenwood works some room down the right and crosses low for McTominay at the near stick. McTominay shins an effort onto the right-hand post and away!
57 min: Two more yellow cards for Atalanta in a few seconds, Pasalic and De Roon panicked into rash fouls with United’s dander up. The Old Trafford faithful fancy this now. The place is a cauldron. Atalanta are in danger of losing their heads ... and have replaced Muriel with Zapata.
56 min: Ronaldo takes it himself, and in a very strange fashion, a low dipper that’s always heading wide left.
55 min: Atalanta are rocking. Ronaldo goes romping down the inside-right channel, chasing after a long pass. As he reaches the edge of the box, he’s cynically clattered by Lovato. Just a booking - it wasn’t yet a clear goalscoring opportunity - but it’s a free kick in a very dangerous position.
GOAL! Manchester United 1-2 Atalanta (Rashford 53)
Game on! And what a goal this is! Fernandes, on the edge of the centre circle, his back to play, nips one around the corner to release Rashford down the inside-left channel with one insouciant, elegant flick! Rashford strides towards the box, takes a touch to steady himself, and smoothly dispatches a shot across Musso and into the bottom right! A famous comeback begins here?
52 min: Cavani is warming up with purpose ... as is Atalanta top scorer Zapata.
50 min: United have definitely been issued with some clear, no-nonsense advice during the break. Wan-Bissaka flies down the right and wins a corner. Maguire nearly meets the set piece with a header; Rashford sends another shot wide left. So much better from the hosts, who have made chances all evening, despite it all. Next goal means so much.
48 min: ... and the deficit should have been halved. Fernandes slips a pass down the middle for Ronaldo, who is one on one with Musso ... but slams his shot straight at the keeper. The ball breaks wide left for Rashford, who sends a first-time shot miles off target. Now that would have changed the momentum.
47 min: United have clearly upped the tempo. They’re flying into everything.
Atalanta get the ball rolling for the second half. Two positives for United, who are two down at half time at home for the first time in the Champions League: Demiral, Atalanta’s man of the first half, has succumbed to injury. He’s replaced by Lovato. And they’re attacking the Stretford End in this second half, just as they like it. The crowd roar defiance. Here we go, then.
On BT Sport, Paul Scholes, United living legend, suggests all is not yet lost. “The formation makes it a 50-50 game. It’s a gamble. United could come back and win this game 3-2 or 4-2.” He also admits they could go on to “get beat four or five”. When you’re two down at the break, you take anything that’s on offer.
Half-time postbag. “Worth mentioning that there is another United legend available now if Ole gets the chop tonight?” - Peter Ferry.
“I don’t often bother myself with scientific concerns but, every time I watch this United team, I find myself wondering ‘what’s the opposite of alchemy?’ If I was Ronaldo, I’d be keeping all those ballons d’or well away from this manager” - Oliver Dungey.
“Poor, poor, pitiful Ronaldo must be rueing his move to the wrong United. Had he just held out for a couple of months, he could have made a fortune at Newcastle. And probably been given the player-manager job too” - Justin Kavanagh.
HALF TIME: Manchester United 0-2 Atalanta
The whistle is met with plenty of booing, though the quiet majority in Old Trafford are either too stunned, resigned or depressed into reacting. Big half-time team-talk for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer coming up.
45 min +1: A long pass down the right, Fernandes to Rashford. He’s free! He strides into the box and lashes a shot across Musso ... and off the top of the crossbar! For all United’s dismal display, they could quite easily have notched three goals.
45 min: There will be one added minute. Let’s wait for the reception, it could be quite revealing.
44 min: A huge chance for Fred to put a different spin on this first half! He one-twos cutely with Fernandes down the inside left, glides inside, and opens his body to shoot. His curler, meant for the bottom right, sails wide. Ronaldo throws his arms in the air in theatrical dismay. Pity poor Fred, though; on another night, he could quite easily have had two goals. He’s come closest for United.
42 min: Bruno, quarterbacking from the right-back position, releases Rashford with an astonishing rake! Rashford is one on one with the keeper. He shapes to shoot on the edge of the box, and ... the ball’s whisked away by a perfectly timed slide from Demiral, who is having one hell of a game.
41 min: Atalanta are first to almost everything right now. Muriel sends a pea-roller towards De Gea. Another smattering of discontent from the home fans.
39 min: United, shaping to launch an attack, faff around and are forced to play the ball all the way back to De Gea. A few boos. I’m sensing rancour. “Does Ole have his heart set on winning the Europa League?” quips Gary J Byrne, because somebody had to.
37 min: Shaw pings a long pass down the inside left for Ronaldo, who can’t quite control. He’d have been free on goal had he managed to keep that glued to his boot. Ah, the flag goes up for offside anyway.
35 min: A few misplaced United passes. A few groans. It’s turning into that sort of evening. Ronaldo cuts in from the left, enters the box, and shanks a shot, falling over under pressure from Demiral. He claims a penalty, but no no no.
33 min: No response as of yet from United, who seem beyond shocked at the state of play right now. That gives us time to consider the following from our very own Philip Cornwall: “BT’s Darren Fletcher just described a goal scored after 14 minutes and 37 seconds as ‘the worst possible start for Manchester United’. Fletcher was in Madrid last night commentating on Atlético going 2-0 down inside 13 minutes – does he have a short-term memory problem? And is this the latest recorded misuse of ‘worst possible start’?”
31 min: A defiant roar from the home faithful. Celebrations in the away section. Ronaldo flings a sod of turf to the floor in great frustration. Solskjaer throws an arm around his right-hand man Mike Phelan. Everyone doing their best to process what’s developing here.
GOAL! Manchester United 0-2 Atalanta (Demiral 29)
The corner comes in from the right at speed. Demiral rises at the right-hand corner of the six-yard box. Neither Maguire nor Shaw make much of a challenge, and the on-loan Juve defender plants a header across De Gea and into the net. Old Trafford takes a collective gasp, falling silent for a nanosecond.
28 min: Fernandes intercepts a loose ball and drives down the middle of the park. He’s got time and space, Ronaldo to his left, Rashford to his right. He inexplicably plays the ball straight to Palomino. The visitors stream up the other end and win their first corner of the night, from which ...
26 min: Ronaldo dribbles with purpose down the inside-right channel. He drives into the box, drops a shoulder, and fizzes low and hard towards the bottom right. Musso refuses to be beaten at his near post; he parries and gathers.
25 min: Some space for Rashford down the left. He whips towards Ronaldo at the near post, but Demiral, seemingly recovered after his early injury scare, clears. Then another phase of play sees Fernandes attack down the left; his cross is shouldered behind by the very same Demiral. Nothing happens at the corner, but United are beginning to ask some questions now.
23 min: Wan-Bissaka crosses from the right. The ball’s blocked by Palomino, though it hits him on the upper arm. It’s right by the side of his body, though, and though the crowd bay for a penalty, they’re not getting one.
22 min: Ronaldo makes good down the left and feeds Fernandes infield. Bruno shoots. It’s blocked. This is much better from United.
21 min: Nothing comes of the resulting corner, but that little phase of play will give United some much-needed succour.
20 min: Villarreal are already 2-0 up at Young Boys. As things stand, United are bottom of Group F. A long, long, long way to go, though ... and as if to prove it, Ronaldo teases his way down the right, reaches the byline, and stands one up at the far post for Fred, whose rising screamer is tipped over by Musso. So close to a picturesque equaliser!
19 min: Muriel probes down the left this time, and wins a free kick. Nothing comes of the quickly taken set piece, but United are a little ragged all of a sudden, and struggling to keep hold of the ball.
17 min: There’s a VAR check for offside, but the goal’s good. While the decision was being ratified, Ronaldo was waving his arms about in frustration and Bruno was frowning quite a lot. United a study in collective frustration right now.
GOAL! Manchester United 0-1 Atalanta (Pasalic 15)
A quick free kick in the middle of the park. Muriel chases after a ball down the right channel. He eventually feeds Zappacosta on the overlap. Zappacosta fires low into the six-yard box, where Pasalic slams home from close range.
14 min: Demiral might have injured himself in that footrace with Ronaldo. He’s limping around gingerly, and on the bench, Lovato is preparing his shinpads, just in case.
12 min: Bruno’s corner is no good, easily cleared by the first man Freuler. He tries again, and can’t get past Zappacosta. The crowd groan. It’s uncharacteristically poor. Hey, he’s saved up plenty of moral credit.
11 min: McTominay sprays a long pass from deep down the left for Ronaldo, who does enough to pressure his old pal Demiral into the concession of a corner.
9 min: Musso races from his area to head clear a long ball. Under pressure from Ronaldo, he panics and only manages a weak header towards Rashford, who knows the keeper is off his line, the goal unguarded. But he can’t get proper purchase on a first-time return from 30 yards. He shanks the ball into the sky, and Zappacosta again tidies up.
8 min: Fernandes robs a dozing Koopmeiners, 35 yards from goal, and nearly releases Rashford with a first-time slide down the inside left. Zappacosta covers and clears.
7 min: A great atmosphere at Old Trafford, by the way. The home fans making the most racket by sheer weight of numbers, though the away supporters are doing everything they can to make themselves heard. If the goals start flying in at either end, we could have one of those electric European nights on our hands.
5 min: Muriel and Zappacosta take turns to dribble down the inside-right channel and cause United a little concern. It’s a wide-open, easy-on-the-eye start.
3 min: McTominay, haring in the direction of the East Stand, slips a ball down the middle for Rashford, who is free! One on one with the keeper! Easy as that! Rashford reaches the edge of the box before drawing Musso and slipping his low shot wide left. He should have done better - he should have found the net, really - but the flag goes up to save his blushes.
2 min: Atalanta are kicking towards the Stretford End in this first half.
Manchester United kick off ... but only after all 22 players take the knee. There’s no room for racism. Kick it out.
The teams are out! Manchester United wear their famous red, Atalanta are in second-choice white with blue and black pinstripe. A nice moment in the tunnel beforehand as Atalanta defender Merih Demiral, on loan from Juventus, warmly embraces his former team-mate Cristiano Ronaldo. We’ll be off in a minute!
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer talks to BT Sport. “We’ve got plenty of games. The last two games we’ve looked a little bit open, we’ve been too easy to play through on counter attacks. So today we pick a team that will give us legs, energy. Our fans want to see us on the front foot. We have a 4-2-4 system more or less. It’s nice for Marcus Rashford to play football freely, now he feels 100 percent fit, you can see a smile, and Marcus enjoying football is one of the best sights you can see. We will have to defend really well, to then hopefully win the ball in good positions, go forward quickly, because we want to spend most of the time in their half.”
Elsewhere in Europe this evening ... Patson Daka, fresh from icing Leicester’s cake against United on Saturday, scored four as the Foxes came back from the dead against Spartak Moscow in the Europa League. Paul Doyle tells it as it is.
Elsewhere in the Champions League this evening ... Chelsea host 1979 finalists Malmo. Rob Smyth is all over that one.
Pre-match entertainment. Stop, look ...
... and listen.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has made three changes to the Manchester United starting XI in the wake of last Saturday’s 4-2 defeat at Leicester City. Paul Pogba and Nemanja Matic are replaced in midfield by Fred and Scott McTominay, while Marcus Rashford makes his first United start since the Europa League final at Jadon Sancho’s expense.
Manchester United: de Gea, Wan Bissaka, Lindelof, Maguire, Shaw, McTominay, Fred, Greenwood, Bruno Fernandes, Rashford, Ronaldo.
Subs: Bailly, Pogba, Mata, Lingard, Dalot, Cavani, Sancho, Henderson, Alex Telles, Matic, van de Beek, Elanga.
Atalanta: Musso, de Roon, Demiral, Palomino, Zappacosta, Freuler, Koopmeiners, Maehle, Pasalic, Ilicic, Muriel.
Subs: Pezzella, Malinovsky, Rossi, Scalvini, Sportiello, Miranchuk, Lovato, Zapata, Piccoli.
Referee: Szymon Marciniak (Poland).
Sixth place in the Premier League takes on sixth in Serie A tonight at Old Trafford. Both teams can attack with panache; neither is particularly dependable at the back. So good luck predicting this one.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer really could do with a win, partly to get a proper foothold in Group F, but mainly to quieten the inevitable chatter that comes with a run of four defeats and only two victories from seven in all competitions. He’ll gain succour from United’s last two meetings with Italian sides: 2-1 and 8-5 (!) aggregate wins over Milan and Roma respectively in last season’s Europa League.
Atalanta’s previous trips to England suggest something special could be on the cards, one way or another. They were thrashed 5-1 at Manchester City in the 2019-20 groups, but won 2-0 at Liverpool last season. Their only other visit to Blighty saw them batter Everton 5-1 at Goodison Park in the Europa League back in 2017.
So, yes, good luck predicting this one. Kick off is at 8pm BST. It’s on!