It looked like the writing was on the wall for Ole Gunnar Solskjær on Tuesday in Bergamo. As we entered second half stoppage time, Atalanta held a 2-1 lead. Manchester United’s attack had been disjointed, so much so that Paul Pogba was hooked in the 69th minute and Donny van de Beek was allowed to escape from his cave.
Third place in Group F — behind the global might of Atalanta (town population of 120,000) and Villarreal (population 50,000) — beckoned. But there’s a stronger force out there, one that bends every narrative to its will, leaving behind a path of used Therabody muscle massage machines (“I STILL MAINTAIN THE SHAPE”), twins and teammates going one direction while he goes another to hit an almighty “SIUUU” — that force is Cristiano Ronaldo.
Manchester United landed three shots on target against Atalanta, and Ronaldo produced all three of them. After falling behind 1-0 early thanks to some poor goalkeeping from David de Gea, it was the Portuguese legend who brought the Red Devils equal at the 45+1’ mark thanks to some insanely good play from his international compatriot Bruno Fernandes.
Fernandes started the move in Atalanta’s third with a pass to Ronaldo before storming into the area. Mason Greenwood picked out that run, and Fernandes took one touch before delicately supplying Ronaldo with a backheel.
WHO ELSE BUT CRISTIANO. RONALDO. pic.twitter.com/u084ROYTq1
But Atalanta deservedly restored its advantage in the 56th minute after Harry Maguire kept Duván Zapata onside before failing to properly recover while waving his arms for offside. Old Slab Head is the gift that keeps on giving.
UNITED GO DOWN AGAIN pic.twitter.com/kEF5LBpVKC
It was a goal that Zapata deserved, and it looked like what Atalanta was missing during that collapse at Old Trafford was now remedied by the work of Teun Koopmeiners and Marten de Roon in midfield. Gewiss Stadium was bouncing and there was no clear way back for United — expect, of course, through some sort of Ronaldo devilry.
The 36-year-old did just that at the death with a right-footed volley from 20 yards out that found its way inside the far post. It’s almost comical how devastating this finish is.
CRISTIANO RONALDO DOES IT AGAIN pic.twitter.com/alMk5dK2AV
Manchester United now leads Group F by virtue of head-to-head points against Villarreal. Atalanta finds itself in third and only content in the knowledge that they won’t have to face Ronaldo again.