United got off to the worst start imaginable as goals from Mario Pasalic and Merih Demiral gave the visiting Italian side a 2-0 lead in the first half hour.
However, United came out of the half-time break as a completely different team and Marcus Rashford’s early strike halved the deficit and rocked home fans.
Captain Harry Maguire then equalized United with a smart finish with 15 minutes remaining, before a leap and a Ronaldo scoring just eight minutes from time secured a 3-2 victory to cap another memorable evening of the Champions League under the lights of Old Trafford.
Slow start, fast end
It was imperative that United set the tone early on in trying to win the affection of the crowd on a night that would be fraught with tension and possibly crucial to Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s tenure as manager.
However, from the first whistle it never seemed likely as Atalanta started on the front foot and opened the scoring in 15 minutes.
It only took a single hopeful pass into United’s half of the pitch to separate the home defense as Atalanta then worked the ball well to find Davide Zappacosta, whose low cross was transformed into the net by Pasalic at close range.
Atalanta’s second goal was even worse, at least from United’s perspective.
All it took to break United’s defense this time around was Teun Koopmeiners’ corner, which was headed home by the completely undercover Demiral.
Atalanta’s two first-half goals only served to highlight United’s recent defensive problems, which have seen Solskjær’s side keep only one clean sheet in their previous 20 games. .
Fred then missed a huge chance to cut the deficit in half just before the half-time break after being found in the box by a magnificent first pass from Fernandes, but the midfielder could only fold his shot off the post. Ronaldo, a mere passenger in the game so far, held his arms outstretched in frustration as if he expected a pass.
Rashford was then played flawlessly on goal moments later, but his shot cut off the top of the crossbar in what was the last effort of an action-packed first half.
There were boos from home fans as United players exited the pitch, but those taunts quickly turned to cheers in the second half.
United looked like a completely different team and Rashford eventually scored his goal, running over Fernandes’ cross ball and brilliantly throwing the ball into the far corner.
That strike changed the whole dynamic of the game and it seemed like it was only a matter of time before United found an equalizer, but goalkeeper David De Gea still had to make two vital saves to ensure the Atalanta does not restore their two-goal lead.
Luckily for United, this season he has a player who has scored a lot more Champions League goals than that – 136 more to be precise.
Much of Ronaldo’s career has been defined by great goals in great moments and the Portuguese striker now has another to add to the list as he returned home from the brilliant cross from Luke Shaw to score his 137th goal in this competition and send Old Trafford wild.
Few inside the United stadium will have been more thrilled with the goal than Solskjær, who has been forced to answer a growing number of questions about his job security following a string of poor results.
The victory will ease the pressure – at least for a short time – but the Norwegian manager knows his side still have a lot to do after this first-half performance.
United are now top of Group F, despite being at their lowest at half-time, and their fans are hoping the second-half display is a sign of things to come.
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