What did we learn?
1. Cristiano in the middle
Mr Champions League is CR7. In the competition’s history, he has scored the most goals. He is, however, 36 years old. This means that, in the past, he might take up residence throughout large areas before raiding centrally to achieve his objectives, but that is no longer practicable. At least not if the squad intends to play in a functional manner.
United lacked threat whenever CR7 played wide. He came alive as he moved into the centre zones, between the widths of the penalty box. His touches became more lethal, and his play became more sophisticated. Of course, that’s where he does his greatest work: scoring goals. As when he rises with 10 minutes left to slam home Luke Shaw’s cross and win the game.
Cristiano Ronaldo has now scored against 38 different teams in the Champions League, more than any player has managed in the competition’s history.
So far this season, he’s scored three goals in three Champions League games. His second game-winning goal came late in the contest. He has a total of 137 goals and no one believes that he can still be a threat in the midfield. The issue is persuading him to stay in these central regions for the duration of the game; if Ole Gunnar Solskjaer succeeds, his no. 7 will provide him with many years of outstanding service.
2. Demiral the wounded warrior
For the first half of the game, Demiral was hobbling around Old Trafford. A more cautious coach would have pulled him from the game, but Gian Piero Gasperini was glad to keep him on the field. He was able to do so in part because he was defending so brilliantly.
Demiral was at the heart of a much-changed Atalanta defence, but his defending consistently blocked United’s attacks. In only one half, he made four clearances, and although he only had one tackle, it was a stunning last-ditch effort in which he raced Rashford back and prevented him from getting a clear shot on goal.
Oh, and he also scored the game’s second goal with a tremendous header. He was even limping after scoring as if he was about to fall off. But he stuck it out, and United couldn’t get past Atalanta while he was on the field.
3. Bruno Fernandes is THE MAN
In the first half, Bruno Fernandes was as terrible as he has been all season. The 4-2-4 shape didn’t help him at all because he was way too far removed from the crucial build-up period. It seems that if anyone was going to be arrested, it may as well be him.
However, in the second half, Fernandes slid 5-10 yards deeper, and the player you thought was out of it was suddenly back on it. Fernandes provided two incredible assists to help United come back from a 2-0 deficit to 2-2. His second goal, a long deep cross to Harry Maguire, was great, but his outside of his boot pass to play Marcus Rashford in was incredible.
On the night, the Portuguese produced eight opportunities, the most by any team in a single game this season. He also owns the Premier League record (10, against Aston Villa). His record number of opportunities created in a single Champions League game is also a Manchester United record. Bruno Fernandes is the man, so don’t doubt him. Without a doubt, the best Manchester United player and one of the best in the Premier League.
4. The gamble of 4-2-4
Manchester United will play 4-2-4 tonight, according to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, who proudly declared this before the game. It’s never a good idea to do that right away because it’s so open and straightforward, and it leaves you vulnerable to being raided on the break. And, sure enough, that’s exactly what transpired at Old Trafford in the first 45 minutes.
“It’s the formation that’s been bad,” Paul Scholes stated at halftime, with United behind 2-0. When you play against a European team, a good European club, you’re going to get smashed, no matter who those two players in the midfield area, Ole remarked.
Neither wide player is running back, and Fernandes is making a weird attempt to get in and assist them, but they will be annihilated. If United were to face a very excellent team here, they could be looking at a 4 or 5.”
Scholes, on the other hand, believes United can win the game; “the formation makes it a gamble.” With Atalanta’s second-string defence fatigued and missing their captain, Demiral, and Fernandes sliding a bit deeper (4-2-1-3, to be honest), the gamble began to pay off as United began to hunt down the goals they want.
The risk paid off against Atalanta’s open style, and we should see it again in Bergamo, but it’s not one Ole would take again.
5. Solskjaer gets his win but the cracks are huge
What a triumph.
After modest tactical modifications and important players stepping up, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s team fought their way back to win another crucial European game.
Marcus Rashford’s movement was electrifying throughout the game, but his finishing was woeful in the first half, as he squandered two of three fantastic chances. The Englishman, on the other hand, retained his calm in the second half to score the game’s first goal and give the Red Devils hope. He already has two goals in two games since returning from injury, and his pace and astute movement give such a potent dimension to the United assault.
Then, with an outrageously cool finish at the back-post, Harry Maguire, who had been so poor in the first half, stepped up and equalized. Seriously, watch the goal; the calmness and technique displayed by United’s captain were worthy of any striker on the field. He didn’t flinch, he didn’t hesitate, and he buried a very difficult opportunity. He also tightened at the back, and his huge block, combined with Aaron Wan- Bissaka’s, was a significant factor in United’s clean sheet in the second half.
Then after Bruno Fernandes’ two assists, Luke Shaw stepped up and curved a gorgeous cross in for Cristiano to win it. From 0-2 down to 3-2 up and Old Trafford was rocking and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was praising his singing section of fans as the best in the world and insisting that his players were “lucky” because they got to represent Manchester United, all while Robbie Savage belted out “VIVA RONALDO!!”
Paul Scholes again appeared as the lone voice of reason amid all the hype, pointing out that United “conceded so many chances,” which is true. Atalanta waltzed through them with comedic ease. The Englishman then added “Now if you’re playing against quality players, there’s no way you’re winning that game, not a chance you win that game.”
“Everyone will get a little bit carried away with this enthusiasm now,” Scholes said, referring to United’s forthcoming match against Liverpool. “Will he play that way on Sunday against Liverpool?” It was that good, everyone was smiling, and everyone was delighted. Go ahead and do it against Liverpool on Sunday and see what happens. Imagine Jurgen Klopp being able to see that from the comfort of his own home. “Rubbing his hands together.”
He concluded, “You can’t get too carried away.” And he’s right; as happy as the fans may be, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer understands that he needs to improve his team’s setup because if he brings that type of tactical foolishness to Jurgen Klopp’s Reds, he’ll be devoured by one of the finest sides in the world right now. In the first half, Atalanta dominated them on the break, and even in the second half, they had a couple of wonderful chances to score only to be thwarted by David de Gea.
For all the rhetoric about “taking this win on,” it was also said after Villarreal’s win, which came after two consecutive defeats. But the last-gasp aspect and exhilaration of that European victory didn’t help United against Everton and Leicester when they only got one point out of six and were lucky to earn it because it only covered the gaps. Just as this victory has. Manchester United has serious structural issues, and no amount of late-game heroics will solve that.
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