BERGAMO: Ole Gunnar Solskjaer compared Cristiano Ronaldo’s talismanic influence at Manchester United to NBA legend Michael Jordan after he scored twice to salvage a 2-2 draw at Atalanta on Tuesday. For the third time in four Champions League games since returning for a second spell at Old Trafford, Ronaldo rescued United with a late goal as his sweetly struck volley in the 91st minute snatched a barely deserved point in Bergamo.
The 36-year-old also scored late winners at home to Villarreal and Atalanta, when United came from 2-0 down to win 3-2 two weeks ago. However, another disjointed display bailed out by Ronaldo’s brilliant finishing will do little to ease the pressure on United boss Solskjaer.
“Ronaldo is one of the best that’s ever played this game. I’m sure this is the same feeling Chicago Bulls got with Michael Jordan,” said Solskjaer, referring to the American star who won six NBA titles in two spells with the Bulls. “If you want the ball to fall to someone in the last minute, Cristiano is the one. He’s done it so many times for us and I’m okay with him scoring more goals than me.” Ronaldo’s double took him past Solskjaer’s 126 goals for the club. Solskjaer’s switch to a back three for a 3-0 win at Tottenham on Saturday resulted in some much-needed defensive solidity after a humiliating 5-0 thrashing at home to Liverpool.
However, that was just the Red Devils second clean sheet in 22 games and their problems at the back were again easily exposed in Bergamo. David de Gea has been one of United’s best performers of a desperately disappointing season so far, but he was at fault as he let Josip Ilicic’s shot squirm under his body and over the line. Duvan Zapata had two glorious chances to double the Italians’ lead, but the Colombian firstly fired high and wide before being denied by a brilliant block by Eric Bailly.
United suffered another blow when Raphael Varane was forced off midway through the first-half with what appeared the recurrence of a groin injury. However, the individual quality in the United squad was in evidence for a brilliant equalizer in first-half stoppage time. Mason Greenwood played in Bruno Fernandes, who picked out Ronaldo with a backheel for the Portuguese to blast home his eighth goal in 12 games since returning to Old Trafford in August. But United have only won five of those games as Solskjaer continues to struggle to find the right balance goes on.
The offside flag initially came to United’s rescue when Zapata finally found the net 11 minutes into the second period. After a review that took over two minutes, the Gewiss Stadium erupted in celebration when the goal was given. Despite being starved of service for the majority of the second-half, Ronaldo delivered again in stoppage time. Greenwood flicked the ball towards the five-time Ballon d’Or, who arrowed the ball into the bottom corner.
United even had a late chance to snatch all three points when substitute Donny Van de Beek was denied by Juan Musso from a narrow angle. But a point is enough to keep them ahead of Villarreal at the top of Group F on head-to-head record with both sides locked on seven points. Atalanta are two points further back with two games remaining. – AFP