LONDON: Manchester United staged a stirring second-half comeback to beat Atalanta 3:2 in the Champions League at Old Trafford. Victory lifted them top of the group after, at one stage during the game, they had been bottom.
Pressure is the name of the game at Old Trafford, always exacerbated when progress in the Champions League is at stake.
United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer believes he can see that progress in the Premier League despite a 4-2 weekend defeat by Leicester. That meant United started against Atlanta with a record of only two wins in their previous seven matches.
Solksjaer insisted that this defeat, allied to public criticism from Paul Pogba, would provoke a reaction against the Serie A outfit. He said: “I’m looking forward to the response on the pitch. We’ve progressed over the years since I was first here for half a season: sixth, third, second. This season we still want to improve again.”
First United had Atalanta to deal with.
Solskjaer took a brave decision in dropping Pogba, who had been outspokenly critical of the team at the weekend, and went with a central midfield partnership of Scott McTominay and Fred. Marcus Rashford started in attack.
United made the worst possible start, falling behind in the 15th minute. A quick Atalanta free kick caught United by surprise and the former Chelsea fullback Davide Zappacosta crossed for Mario Pasalic to score from close range. At that moment, with Villarreal winning, United were bottom of the group.
Worse was to follow in the 29th minute when central defender Merih Demirel, on loan from Juventus, headed his first goal for Atalanta from a right-wing corner. The goal sparked the first boos from United’s own fans. Fred could have rescued the situation just before halftime but shot wide.
Solskjaer clearly delivered his own equivalent of Sir Alex Ferguson’s hairdryer at halftime. United were much more aggressive and pulled a goal back after Fernandes sent in Rashford to score.
United sent on Pogba and Edinson Cavani then Jadon Sancho in pursuit of the equaliser. As the pressure built up so Musso saved well from first Ronaldo and then Maguire who then made no mistake after a flick on from the Uruguayan.
The red tide continued to flood forward. Ronaldo had a free kick is deflected for a corner after which he rose to home Luke Shaw’s cross to put United ahead. It was 124th goal for United on his 300th appearance.