A rousing comeback from Manchester United eased the pressure on Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. At half-time, he was in big trouble, his team trailing 0-2, but second-half goals from Marcus Rashford, Harry Maguire and Cristiano Ronaldo turned the game around in devastating style.
Solskjaer's began the game in the ascendancy, but proved themselves unable to keep a clean sheet for the 12th game in a row, switching off at the back from a quickly taken free-kick and staying switched off as Mario Pasalic slid Atalanta ahead on 15 minutes. Then, on 29 minutes, United – who employed a set-piece coach because they defended them so poorly last season - conceded a second from a corner, headed home by Merih Demiral, before missing various stupendous chances to get back into the game.
United started the second half quickly, spurning further opportunities before Rashford gave them hope on 53 minutes. Atalanta tottered before righting themselves, then United stepped it up again, Maguire finishing expertly on 75, and on 81 a majestic Ronaldo header sent them to the top of Champions League Group F.
The brilliance of United's comeback should not divert attention from the shoddy nature of the defending that necessitated it. This summer, United employed a specialist set-piece coach to look after that precise aspect of the team because it was so poor last season, but they conceded from restarts twice.
MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 20: Merih Demiral of Atalanta celebrates scoring their second goal during the UEFA Champions League group F match between Manchester United and Atalanta at Old Trafford on October 20, 2021 in Manchester, England. (Photo by Ma
Image credit: Getty Images
There was also a carelessness in attack and lack of connectedness in midfield. Against a better team than Atalanta - Liverpool, for example, who United meet on Sunday - they'd have been out of the game by then.
However, after half-time United were able to sustain their attacks and their energy, Bruno Fernandes playing deeper than before, and they looked a different team. If they can maintain that structure in future, they might just become as good as they should be.
MAN OF THE MATCH - Bruno Fernandes (Manchester United)
The ability to create chances fused with the bravery to keep trying things, his second-half performance decided the game.
MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 20: Marcus Rashford of Manchester United celebrates with teammate Bruno Fernandes scores their side's first goal during the UEFA Champions League group F match between Manchester United and Atalanta at Old Trafford on October
15’ - GOAL! Manchester United 0-1 Atalanta (Pasalic) A quick free-kick sends Murial running the channel, and when he turns to send it backwards, Ilicic plays a tremendous reverse-pass into the area he vacated, putting Zappacosta away; his cross is low and hard, slid home by Pasalic, and United are in huge trouble!
29’ - GOAL! Manchester United 0-2 Atalanta (Demiral) Koopmeiners whips in a superb corner and Demiral, behind Shaw and in front of Maguire, uses the pace to flick unchallenged past De Gea. That is so, so weak from United, but Atalanta are buzzing!
45+1’ - AND THEY DO! Bruno drops deep, lofts a hopeful ball over the top, and Demiral misses it! Rashford is in, right side of the box, and he absolutely clatters it ... against the bar! United can't do anything right!
53’ - GOAL! Manchester United 1-2 Atalanta (Rashford) GAME ON! A stray pass from Zappacosta goes straight to Bruno, who crafts a ludicrous, outside-of-the-foot pass that sticks Rashford in! His first touch is lovely and he opens his body, sliding delicately into the far corner! Hold tight!
58’ - United come again, Wan-Bissaka and Greenwood linking up down the right and Greenwood slams a low cross that McTominay launches a leg at, kneeing the ball onto the post and away!
71’ - DE GEA SAVES UNITED! A ball over the top and Zapata rolls Lindelof far too easily, cracking a shot that De Gea beats away, then when Malinovskyi controls the rebound and fires again, he beats over the bar!
75’ - GOAL! Manchester United 2-2 Atalanta (Maguire) But United keep the pressure up, and when Sancho taps to Fernandes, he crosses low and flat, Cavani ducks under it, and Maguire, still up from the corner, netted a captain's goal and striker's finish inside the near post! What a match this is!
81’ - GOAL! Manchester United 3-2 Atalanta (Ronaldo) THIS IS INCREDIBLE! The corner goes short, and when it's cleared, United recycle possession well, then Shaw curls in a sensational cross and you know the rest! Ronaldo leaps, arches, flexes and powers a devastating header into the bottom corner!
Manchester United have won a Champions League game from two or more goals down for the third time – no side has done so more often in the competition, though Arsenal have also done so three times.