Cristiano Ronaldo gives Solskjaer a lifeline after dramatic Man Utd winner papers over first-half cracks

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·28-min read
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Cristiano Ronaldo of Manchester United celebrates after scoring their side's third goal during the UEFA Champions League group F match between Manchester United and Atalanta - Naomi Baker/Getty Images
Cristiano Ronaldo of Manchester United celebrates after scoring their side's third goal during the UEFA Champions League group F match between Manchester United and Atalanta - Naomi Baker/Getty Images

Gory, gory Man United to glory, glory Man United. Football really can be the strangest, most magnificent, most compelling of sports. And it helps when Cristiano Ronaldo is in your side as he capped a memorable comeback from 2-0 down at half-time to keep United’s Champions League hopes alive. He even accomplished it with a brilliant, trademark, thunderous header.

Viva Ronaldo. Viva, also, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. Here was his muddied management distilled into one remarkable match with both clear evidence that he is out of his depth and a counter-argument that he still deserves to be backed. Victory papered over the cracks but those fissures remain deep.

If the over-riding feeling was, yet again, that United are a team crammed with outstanding individuals who they overly depend upon, that they lack a discernable style of play and look under-coached and vulnerable, does that appear churlish after a wonderful evening when the atmosphere crackled inside Old Trafford and the fans went away happy? Whatever the analysis, it was a great game. It certainly was not boring.

It was summed up by Ronaldo. At half-time he was throwing his arms in the air in impotent frustration. At full-time he was dropping to his knees in relief and celebration having harangued the Polish referee to blow the final whistle. At half-time United were bottom of Group F. At full-time they were top.

Manchester United's Portuguese striker Cristiano Ronaldo (R) scores his team's third goal during the UEFA Champions league group F football match between Manchester United and Atalanta - PAUL ELLIS/AFP via Getty Images
Manchester United's Portuguese striker Cristiano Ronaldo (R) scores his team's third goal during the UEFA Champions league group F football match between Manchester United and Atalanta - PAUL ELLIS/AFP via Getty Images

At times the fans did not know what to do. The match started with them chanting “Ole’s at the wheel”, followed by boos, there were pleas of “attack, attack, attack”, there were more boos - and at the end Solskjaer was back in control and his name was cheered again.

What a topsy-turvy team United are. They were also fortunate that Atalanta had five players out, lost their best defender Merih Demiral to injury, had a 21-year-old midfielder at centre-back and another make-shift in Marten de Roon beside him.

But defeat was unthinkable for United. It would have been five losses in eight, their chances of getting through to the last-16 of the Champions League were in grave danger and Liverpool loom large on the horizon this Sunday. No matter the backing of Solskjaer from the United hierarchy, the pressure would have been fierce - and still might be given the run of games to come.

Jurgen Klopp will have watched this game and seen how vulnerable United are. He will also have seen how they can turn to substitutes such as Paul Pogba, who had been dropped, Edinson Cavani and Jadon Sancho - richly-assembled cavalry - but he will expect that Liverpool will not fold the way Atalanta did, even if United were indebted to David De Gea for a fine double save when the score was still 1-2.

It was a shocking first 45 minutes. It appeared United did not have any kind of formation - at times it was 4-2-4 with Bruno Fernandes playing his own game - while the two goals they conceded were the result of awful defending. Solskjaer bizarrely claimed United played well in the first half and talked about “DNA”, but goodness knows what the core structure is.

It was Atalanta playing the football and they profited to take an early lead, easily cutting through United. Luis Muriel started it, finding Teun Koopmeiners who simply slid the ball through to the overlapping Davide Zappacosta who was allowed to run free. The former Chelsea wing-back crossed low and there was Mario Pasalic, another former Chelsea player, stealing in ahead of Scott McTominay to side-foot home from close range.

Atalanta's Mario Pasalic scores their first goal - REUTERS/Phil Noble
Atalanta's Mario Pasalic scores their first goal - REUTERS/Phil Noble

It all stemmed from a quickly taken free-kick. What an indictment of United. Having lost to Young Boys, having been fortunate to beat Villarreal, United were a defensive shambles as they conceded again. From Koopmeiners’ corner, Demiral rose completely unopposed in the six-yard area and powerfully headed home. Luke Shaw was nearest to him, but did not get close, while inexplicably Harry Maguire was not marking anyone. Why was the biggest threat in the air from Atalanta being challenged - if it could be said to be a challenge - by Shaw? Little wonder it is now just one clean sheet in 20 games.

But the Italians always offer their opponents chances. They attack, they push up high and as ill-disciplined as Fernandes was he started to create. Fred wasted one, Marcus Rashford clipped the crossbar with another and goalkeeper Juan Musso saved well to deny Ronaldo with a third.

That was in the second-half. United had been sent out early and appeared chastened. They were also transformed and when Fernandes fashioned a fourth chance it was taken. His smart stabbed touch, with the outside of his boot, set Rashford running through on the left and he calmly sidefooted across Musso.

Marcus Rashford of Manchester United scores their first goal during the UEFA Champions League group F match between Manchester United and Atalanta - Matthew Peters/Manchester United via Getty Images
Marcus Rashford of Manchester United scores their first goal during the UEFA Champions League group F match between Manchester United and Atalanta - Matthew Peters/Manchester United via Getty Images

Suddenly it was game on. There was plenty of time, there was a discernable swing of momentum and the crowd believed as Atalanta were stretched, collecting cautions and trying to shore things up through substitutions. It was wave after wave of attack, though, with McTominay striking the post from Mason Greenwood’s cross. But maybe the pivotal incident occurred at the other end as De Gea beat out Duvan Zapata’s shot, after the substitute easily rolled Victor Lindelof, and reacted quickly to turn over the follow-up by another replacement, Ruslan Malinovskyi.

That could have settled it. Instead United capitalised with Cavani ducking under Fernandes' cross, the ball running through to Maguire and the captain striking it expertly low into the corner of the goal.

By now there was a sense of destiny and Ronaldo knows all about seizing those moments. Another cross was swung in, this time by Shaw, and Ronaldo leapt high, with that unnatural hang-time that only he can achieve, to plant a powerful header that both changed everything and confirmed what we already know.

09:25 PM

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer speaks

They [the fans] are a big part of this club. The singing section gave the players belief. This corner is the best in the world. They keep going.

I'm good. I thought we played well first-half. Two chances two goals. We have to stop to make it past 50 [suggesting the tension could prove fatal].

[You could tell the players are playing for you?] Don't go there. Don't disrespect the players, they are the luckiest men in the world. They play for Man Utd and I told them that.

I said as long as we don't concede the next goal we will win the game because we created so many chances in the first half.

09:14 PM

BT Sport's spin

From Ferdinand, Jake Humphrey and a particularly bilge-heavy Robbie Savage has been absurd tonight. Manchester United did well to come back from 2-0 down to win but it's papering over the cracks of that first-half mess.

09:12 PM

Paul Scholes speaks

I was worried by that first-half performance. It stuck with me. I'll get slagged off by United fans and I get it about the excitement.

But I think of playing against Liverpool and Man City and I'm worried.

Everyone will get carried away by that [second-half] performance. But go and do that against Liverpool and see what happens. Jurgen Klopp would be rubbing his hands watching that.

09:10 PM

Harry Maguire

The first half we conceded two bad goals, two bad moments in the game. We created a lot of chances in the first half and so we knew the next goal would be crucial. We knew we were right in the game. We have to sharpen up at that.

I knew Marcus, when he had that third one-on-one, wouldn't miss.

[On Ronaldo] His leap, his timing it was the perfect header. I was right behind him.

I've had a lot of chnaces with my head this year and haven't managed to put one away. It was a proud moment.

A lot of togetherness at half-time, we had the crowd behind us.

08:56 PM

Full time

Manchester United overcome a shockingly inept first-half performance to beat Atalanta with an almost hysterical second-half fervour.

But there are enormous flaws in this side that all the individual brilliance of their players will not mask against Europe's elite. Fun, though.

08:53 PM

90+5 min Man Utd 3 Atalanta 2

Ronaldo gets back to clear an Atalanta free-kick from the right, knocking it out for a throw-in from which Zappacosta, with the last kick of the game, torpedoes a right-foot shot wide.

08:52 PM

90+4 min Man Utd 3 Atalanta 2

Robbie Savage says this shows that they respect and are fighting for their manager. Just because Savage, Scholes and Ferdinand want it to be so doesn't make it so. The revival should not mask the dreadful incoherence of the first half against a team without its best three defenders.

It's been exciting to watch but not very persuasive of Solskjaer's coaching ability.

08:50 PM

90+2 min Man Utd 3 Atalanta 2

Ronaldo goes down clutching his shin and earns a free-kick just inside the United half when De Roon didn't touch him ... unless he had an invisible third leg. Ronaldo laughs his head off when he recovers and trots forward.

08:48 PM

90 min Man Utd 3 Atalanta 2

United defend the corner scrappily but ultimately effectively. There will be four minutes of stoppage time.

08:46 PM

88 min Man Utd 3 Atalanta 2

Matic replaces the hamstrung Fred and immediaetly heads the corner behind for another, this one from the left.

08:46 PM

86 min Man Utd 3 Atalanta 2

Corner for Atalanta after diligent work up the right.

Manchester United's Cristiano Ronaldo scores their third goal - REUTERS/Phil Noble
Manchester United's Cristiano Ronaldo scores their third goal - REUTERS/Phil Noble

08:43 PM

84 min Man Utd 3 Atalanta 2

Pezzella is on for Koopmeiners.

Manchester United's Harry Maguire celebrates scoring their second goal  - REUTERS/Phil Noble
Manchester United's Harry Maguire celebrates scoring their second goal - REUTERS/Phil Noble

08:41 PM

83 min Man Utd 3 Atalanta 2

From the second phase of a broken down corner, Shaw whips over a cross from the left and Ronaldo, neck tendons standing out like steel cables, drifted between De Roon and Palomino, and bulleted his header into the bottom left corner.

08:39 PM

GOAL!!

Man Utd 3 Atalanta 2 (Ronaldo)

It's that man again.

08:39 PM

81 min Man Utd 2 Atalanta 2

Great footwork from Bruno Fernandes down the inside right to beat Lovato and shift it on to his left to shoot ... straight at the starfishing Musso.

08:37 PM

79 min Man Utd 2 Atalanta 2

Zapata again is too strong for Lindelof, holding him off with his back to goal as he cushions a pass and rolls it back to Koopmeiners 20 yards out but the Dutch midfielder flays his shot wide of the right post.

08:36 PM

77 min Man Utd 2 Atalanta 2

Before United had grabbed the equaliser, Sancho had come on for Greenwood and gets to play on the right at last.

08:34 PM

76 min Man Utd 2 Atalanta 2

Right-foot shot from the left of the box creeps in at the left post after Fernandes' Barnes-Wallis bouncing bomb of a cross that Cavani misses, maybe on purpose, and ends up at Maguire's feet, who had peeled away after the corner.

08:33 PM

GOAL!!!

Man Utd 2 Atalanta 2 (Maguire)

08:32 PM

74 min Man Utd 1 Atalanta 2

Wan-Bissaka to the rescue with a brave block from the corner. United race up the other end to win a corner for themselves. Maguire wins the header but puts it too close to Musso.

08:30 PM

72 min Man Utd 1 Atalanta 2

Terrific double save from De Gea after Zapata easily rolls the timid and frankly grossly expensive Lindelof to thump a shot at goal from 16 yards. De Gea blocks the first effort with his feet and then tips Malinovskyi's effort from the rebound over.

08:28 PM

71 min Man Utd 1 Atalanta 2

Ronaldo makes the perfect run down the inside left but Greenwood can't find the right pass with his left and also ignored Bruno Fernandes' equally threatening run.

08:27 PM

69 min Man Utd 1 Atalanta 2

Atalanta are enjoying a better spell of possession and can dictate a slower tempo to take the sting out of United's revival.

08:26 PM

68 min Man Utd 1 Atalanta 2

Cavani's first touch is too heavy in a give and go with Shaw and the ball rolls out for a goalkick.

Double Atalanta substitute: Malinovskyi and Miranchuk replace Ilicic and Pasalic.

08:24 PM

67 min Man Utd 1 Atalanta 2

Man Utd changes: Pogba for McTominay and Cavani for Rashford.

08:23 PM

65 min Man Utd 1 Atalanta 2

Ronaldo runs to the left of the box through the D from the right to take Bruno's reverse pass and strike it with his left. Turned out to be more of a cross than a shot but no one was there to gobble it up.

08:21 PM

63 min Man Utd 1 Atalanta 2

Shaw stands up a deep cross from the left ... for no one. The day breaks, your mind aches ...

08:20 PM

61 min Man Utd 1 Atalanta 2

Maehle dips his shoulder and has a dig from 25 yards, spearing his shot into the crowd. Rashford has hurt his left thigh but will continue.

Marcus Rashford of Manchester United scores their side's first goal during the UEFA Champions League group F match between Manchester United and Atalanta - 275114544 
Marcus Rashford of Manchester United scores their side's first goal during the UEFA Champions League group F match between Manchester United and Atalanta - 275114544

08:17 PM

59 min Man Utd 1 Atalanta 2

De Roon and Pasalic are booked in rapid succession for cheap, tactical fouls. Shaw takes this free-kick from the left, Lovato heads it clear. All the momentum is with United now. And McTominay hits the post with a near-post run to meet Greenwood's fizzing right-wing cross with his knee.

Zapata replaces Muriel for Atalanta.

08:14 PM

57 min Man Utd 1 Atalanta 2

He goes for a an up and under whip from the right aiming inside the right post but floats it wide.

08:14 PM

56 min Man Utd 1 Atalanta 2

Lovato hauls down Ronaldo 20 yards out as they raced after a pass. Ronaldo lines up the free-kick after Lovato is booked.

08:12 PM

55 min Man Utd 1 Atalanta 2

Finally United find the clinical finish to exploit Atalanta's high-line. Lovely pass from the centre, 45 yards out by Fernandes after picking off Pasalic's wayward ball. He clipped it with the outside of his foot straight into the galloping Rashford's stride.

Rashford took it into the box, opened his body and bent a right-foot shot under Musso's dive and into the bottom right.

08:10 PM

GOAL!!

Man Utd 1-2 Atalanta (Rashford)

08:10 PM

53 min Man Utd 0 Atalanta 2

Palomino cuts out Bruno Fernandes' cross and Lindelof ruins United's hopes of mounting another attack by fouling Muriel as he tried to wrestle the ball back.

08:08 PM

51 min Man Utd 0 Atalanta 2

Maehle's block-tackle on Wan-Bissaka earns Man Utd a corner that McTominay nods on to Rashford by the 18-yard line. He cushions the ball, lets it bounce, then hooks a half-volley wide.

08:07 PM

49 min Man Utd 0 Atalanta 2

Ronaldo is played through the D by Bruno's diagonal from the right. His first touch is sublime to set up the shot which he scuds straight at Musso's chest as the keeper did the flying squid block. Rashford thumps the rtebound wide of the left post.

08:05 PM

47 min Man Utd 0 Atalanta 2

United fans singing old fave Bad Moon Rising as they probe up the left but can't pierce the defence and Fred then fouls Koopmeiners.

08:04 PM

46 min Man Utd 0 Atalanta 2

No changes for the home side, Matteo Lovato replaces Demiral who kept clutching and then stretching his left hamstring for the last 30 minutes.

08:03 PM

Ole's at the wheel etc

Manchester United's head coach Ole Gunnar Solskjaer reacts during the UEFA Champions League group F soccer match between Manchester United and Atalanta BC - Peter Powell/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock
Manchester United's head coach Ole Gunnar Solskjaer reacts during the UEFA Champions League group F soccer match between Manchester United and Atalanta BC - Peter Powell/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

07:50 PM

Half-time Man Utd 0 Atalanta 2

Boos ring out when the whistle goes a moment after Rashford, clean through down the right of the box, bludgeons his shot with no defender between him and the keeper on to the crossbar.

United are in deep trouble and Solskjaer's grip on this squad is hanging on a shoogly peg, however much Ed Woodward insists he will retain his job come what may.

Time for some half-time hairdryer and some well-aimed tea-cups.

07:47 PM

44 min Man Utd 0 Atalanta 2

Fred misses a golden opportunity, having been played in as he cut in from the left. Fernandes slipped the pass to feet, he tacked to the right to beat De Roon then tried to wrap his instep round a shot to bend it around Demiral and into the bottom right but he couldn't get it to turn back towards goal. Ronaldo is a picture of exasperation as the ball hits the electronic hoarding.

07:44 PM

42 min Man Utd 0 Atalanta 2

Superb tackle from Demiral but Rashford dithered too long over the shot as he raced through to meet a ball from the right that Greenwood astutely left. He would have been one-on-one but as he waited for the ball to run across his body to hit it with his left he gave the Turkey centre-half the opportunity to catch him, slide in and dispossess him.

07:42 PM

39 min Man Utd 0 Atalanta 2

Atalanta beat Liverpool 2-0 at Anfield last year, let's not forget. They are an excellent team. Manchester United now have Ronaldo on the left, Fernandes on the right, Rashford as the 10 and Greenwood as centre-forward. Fernandes just fizzed over a centre from the right that was demi-blocked by Palomino and it arced gently into the keeper's arms.

07:39 PM

37 min Man Utd 0 Atalanta 2

Bruno Fernandes jitterbugs down the inside left, draws De Roon but his pass for Rashford is overhit and skips into touch for a goalkick.

07:38 PM

35 min Man Utd 0 Atalanta 2

Good pass from Fernandes in a one-two with Ronaldo who takes it into the box from the left with only one thought ... which isn't to pass to McTominay. He tries to bend a right foot shot inside the right post but he is bumped and can't connect properly. He wants a penalty but the referee shakes his head as the ball bobbles out towards the corner flag.

Atalanta's Merih Demiral scores their second goal  - REUTERS/Phil Noble
Atalanta's Merih Demiral scores their second goal - REUTERS/Phil Noble

07:34 PM

32 min Man Utd 0 Atalanta 2

That raucous atmosphere at the start has dissipated into a kind of stunned murmur. Bruno Fernandes keeps giving the ball away. Ronaldo's return is turning into a nightmare for him and the team. And this is about as tactically inept against Atalanta as you can get. Yes, they have the quality to turn it around. But do they have the discipline and belief?

07:32 PM

30 min Man Utd 0 Atalanta 2

Goes from bad to worse for United. Maguire goes to sleep as a viciously whipped corner from the right bisects the leaping Shaw and Maguire, standing off Demiral, who steers it into the top left corner of the goal. Cristiano Ronaldo goes ballistic.

07:30 PM

GOAL!!

Man Utd 0 Atalanta 2 (Demiral)

07:27 PM

27 min Man Utd 0 Atalanta 1

Bruno takes the corner short to Rashford who opens his body to shoot from the left angle of the box, 18-yards out. Ilicic throws himself in front of the thunderous drive to block it with no little courage. That would have smarted.

07:26 PM

25 min Man Utd 0 Atalanta 1

Ronaldo is trying to seize the initiative and drive United forward, bombing down the left again and this time crossing towards the near post. Demiral deflects it behind.

07:25 PM

23 min Man Utd 0 Atalanta 1

Ronaldo skitters down the inside left and tees up Bruno Fernandes for a shot that's blocked.

Atalanta's Mario Pasalic scores their first goal  - REUTERS/Phil Noble
Atalanta's Mario Pasalic scores their first goal - REUTERS/Phil Noble

07:23 PM

21 min Man Utd 0 Atalanta 1

Man Utd corner on the right after Musso turns over Fred's blistering half volley. A good move with quick passing to find space on the right to cross. Shaw's inswinging corner comes to naught.

With Villarreal beating Young Boys 2-0, United are bottom of the group as it stands.

07:21 PM

19 min Man Utd 0 Atalanta 1

Solskjaer's 4-4-2 has left Shaw dangerously exposed and he had to deal with two players singlehandedly again just now, this time successfully.

07:20 PM

18 min Man Utd 0 Atalanta 1

Atalanta surprise United with a quick free-kick, knocking it long up the right for Ilicic who takes it into the box, turns to shield it then rolls it to Zappacosta who was belting forward on the overlap, untracked by either Shaw or Rashford. It gave him the opportunity to run freely beyond the 18-yard line and slide a dasiy-cutter through the six-yard box for the former Chelsea trainee Pasalic to turn in at the near post. De Gea had no chance.

Rip van United. Dozing at the back and in midfield again.

07:17 PM

Yes, it's a goal

Man Utd 0-1 Atalanta (Pasalic)

07:17 PM

VAR check on the goal

Was he behind the ball when the cross came in?

07:16 PM

GOAL!!

Man Utd 0-1 Atalanta (Pasalic)

07:16 PM

13 min Man Utd 0 Atalanta 0

Garbage Bruno Fernandes corner on the left, not beating the first defensive sentry with his first or second effort. The corner came from a fine McTominay ball diagonally down the left for Ronaldo to chase. Demiral shoved him over with a barge when they came together but the referee gave only the corner rather than the free-kick United's No7 wanted. Ronaldo smiles with studied sarcasm.

Cristiano Ronaldo of Manchester United during the UEFA Champions League group F match between Manchester United and Atalanta - Matthew Ashton - AMA/Getty Images
Cristiano Ronaldo of Manchester United during the UEFA Champions League group F match between Manchester United and Atalanta - Matthew Ashton - AMA/Getty Images

07:12 PM

11 min Man Utd 0 Atalanta 0

Ronaldo uses his dazzling feet, short-striding, stamping, trying to sell the defender before picking his direction, but then lays it off to Bruno Fernandes and Atalanta squeeze out the return pass when Ronaldo runs into the box.

07:10 PM

9 min Man Utd 0 Atalanta 0

United fans are making a rare old racket as both sides ping the ball about, looking for a breakneck start. Atalanta push out of defence at every opportunity which gave Rashford the idea of trying a shot from distance when Musso was also off his line but he shanked it from 25 yards.

07:09 PM

7 min Man Utd 0 Atalanta 0

Koopmeiners and Zappacosta are combining well to instigate raids down the right. Maguire has had to be alert a couple of times to thwart them. Shaw has his hands full with the Duracell bunny running of Zappacosta.

07:06 PM

5 min Man Utd 0 Atalanta 0

Maguire gets in front of a dribbling Zappacosta who was taking it to the byline, exaggerates the former Chelsea wing-back's impact with his arm on his back, spreadeagles himself on the floor and is awarded a free-kick.

07:05 PM

4 min Man Utd 0 Atalanta 0

Rashford screws a one-one one with the keeper from 20 yards wide of the left post after a terrific pass from McTominay but no bother, he was offside when he received the pass.

07:04 PM

3 min Man Utd 0 Atalanta 0

Wan-Bissaka takes the ball up the right and skims a pass up the touchline for Greenwood who turns it on for Bruno Fernandes but Paolomino, the Argentina defender, bullies him off the ball.

07:02 PM

1 min Man Utd 0 Atalanta 0

All 22 players take the knee and Manchester United kick-off, attacking from left to right. They recycle the ball back across the defence and then probe up the inside left until De Roon, playing as a right-sided centre-back, wins the ball back and they work it back to Musso.

06:59 PM

Rousing reception

For Manchester United - U-N-I T-E-D etc plus a lot of 'Ole, ole ole ole'.

06:56 PM

The players are in the tunnel

United in red, Atalanta with tracksuit tops or stadium jackets as they're now called covering their white shirts with lovely black and blue pinstripes.

Cue:

Ce sont les meilleures équipes
Sie sind die allerbesten Mannschaften
The main event

Die Meister
Die Besten
Les grandes équipes
The champions

06:46 PM

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer speaks

We’ve got plenty of games [to play]. The last two games we’ve looked a little bit open, we’ve been too easy to play through on counter attacks. So today we pick a team that will give us legs, energy.

Our fans want to see us on the front foot. We have a 4-2-4 system more or less.

It’s nice for Marcus to play football freely, now he feels 100 percent fit, you can see a smile, and Marcus enjoying football is one of the best sights you can see.

We will have to defend really well, then hopefully we win the ball in good positions because we want to play most of the game in their half obviously.

06:43 PM

Pre-match dissection

06:11 PM

Cristiano Ronaldo makes his 300th Man Utd appearance tonight

And he has scored 123 goals.

06:05 PM

Atalanta are missing two stalwarts

Neither Toloi nor Pessina make it ... even on to the bench.

06:04 PM

For those of you watching in black and white

Man Utd De Gea; Wan Bissaka, Lindelof, Maguire, Shaw; McTominay, Fred; Greenwood, Bruno Fernandes, Rashford; Ronaldo.
Subs Henderson, Bailly, Pogba, Mata, Lingard, Dalot, Cavani, Sancho, Alex Telles, Matic, Van de Beek, Elanga.

Atalanta Musso; De Roon, Demiral, Palomino; Zappacosta, Freuler, Koopmeiners, Maehle; Pasalic; Ilicic, Muriel.
Subs Rossi, Pezzella, Malinovsky, Scalvini, Sportiello, Miranchuk, Lovato, Zapata, Piccoli.

Referee Szymon Marciniak (Poland)

05:57 PM

Three changes from the team that lost at Leicester

Marcus Rashford replaces Jadon Sancho and starts his first game since May, Paul Pogba and Nemanja Matic make way for Fred and Scott McTominay.

05:48 PM

Pogba dropped by Manchester United

05:20 PM

Good evening

And welcome to coverage of the Group F match from Old Trafford between Manchester United, who begin the evening in third place, and Atalanta in first. Ninety-fifth-minute goals settled both previous United ties, who conceded by virtue of Jesse Lingard's careless back-pass to lose in Bern and converted, thanks to Cristiano Ronaldo squeezing in a shot after a one-two with Lingard, to beat Villarreal three weeks ago. Atalanta have drawn 2-2 in El Madrigal and defeated Young Boys in Bergamo.

A win tonight, therefore, would put United two points ahead of Atalanta, a side whose style and structure, designed coherently by Gian Piero Gasperini to be greater than the sum of its parts, could teach United's ad hoc rag bag of talent a thing or too about distinctive attacking strategies, discipline, breathtaking fluidity and commitment to pressing and maintaining their shape when out of possession. No one could ever accuse an Atalanta player of not knowing his precise role nor the consequences of not fulfilling it.

They have invested in a philosophy that has brought them three successive third-place Serie A finishes for a club whose previous highest rank in almost a century of football pre Gasperini was a couple of sixth places, the last of them 50 years ago. It's exactly what United need - a lucid tactical plan, round pegs in round holes and utilising individual strengths for the common good.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer says he feels under pressure after two defeats and a draw in his last three Premier League games but has the club's full support for the way he has cleansed the Augean stables since taking over. He insists he is also the man to take them back to the top of English and European football. He is, according to his timetable, Sir Alex Ferguson circa 1991 ... the heavy lifting has been done (albeit in Solskjaer's case without a trophy) and his side are about to suddenly embark on a two-decade long, drunken-sailor spree of winning excess.

Old Trafford main stand - Charlotte Tattersall - UEFA/UEFA via Getty Image
Old Trafford main stand - Charlotte Tattersall - UEFA/UEFA via Getty Image

"You know, we've progressed over the years - sixth the first when I was there for half a season, then third, second," Solskjaer said on Monday. "You can see the progress, improvement, development and this season we still want to improve. Yeah, we've signed some players that have raised expectations. Other teams have signed players and improved as well so we're in the same boat as all the top teams. There's pressure all the time.

"I'm just looking forward to the response now and I'm in dialogue with the club all the time, so that's an open, honest discussion all the time."

Nessun Dorma

Gasperini, for one, has some sympathy for his position, at least he had before his team was woken up at the Radisson Edwardian hotel in the city centre this morning by fire alarms at 4.51am, 5am, 5.36am, 6.11am, 6.31am and 7.13am, disruptions which the wife of Ukraine midfielder Ruslan Malinovskyi thought were deliberate. "I don't think it was a casual incident. Do you think it's just a [coincidence]? I don't think so," she wrote on Instagram before rallying Atalanta supporters to go full eye-for-an-eye for the return on Nov 2: "Such a warm welcome from local people is terrible. I hope our fans will support our players and, perhaps, the same thing will happen in a hotel in Italy." Give over. The match is not until 8pm. They can sleep all day if they want. It's not as if the Radisson is going to turf them out at 10am with the rest of the plebs.

The Atalanta manager, speaking before his early morning calls, thinks United are by no means as poor as their recent performances. "They're going to want to pull out a really good reaction in front of their fans," he said. "This is a different competition and it's true to say that perhaps they've had a couple of setbacks of late, but by the same token I saw the game against Leicester and in the first half in particular they played really well.

"You have to bear in mind that sometimes you're playing against good teams as well.But I think that the fact of the matter is, we're playing against a top team. We are playing a top team and I don't think they're in crisis or difficulty from that point of view. I don't think that's the case at all."

Groins latest: Raphael Varane and Anthony Martial have been ruled out for the home side, Berat Djimsiti, Robin Gosens and Hans Hateboer for the visitors who also have Matteo Pessina and Rafael Toloi struggling to overcome more minor injuries.

Join us for the team news from around 6.30pm.

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