Atalanta vs Manchester United
Manchester United faced off with Serie A outfit Atalanta a short time ago in what was their 4th Champions League group clash of the season.
Man United bounced back from their 5-0 drubbing at the hands of Liverpool by beating Tottenham 3-0 this past weekend and were looking to continue that newfound form into Tuesday as well.
The Red Devils headed into the game top of Group F knowing that a win would all but guarantee they advance to the 2021/22 Champions League knockout rounds.
But, when all was said and done at the Atleti Azzurri d’Italia, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and co. could not manage this. They instead drew 2-2 and slipped down to 2nd in their group.
Things did not get off to a great start for Solskjaer and co. They dominated the early stages, but Duvan Zapata would burst into the box before cutting it back to Josip Ilicic.
Atalanta lead Man Utd! ⚫️🔵
A familiar situation arises for the Red Devils once again!
Just like at Old Trafford in matchday three, there’s work for Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s men to do in Bergamo… pic.twitter.com/QMgI8KpyGa
— Football on BT Sport (@btsportfootball) November 2, 2021
However, as always, Cristiano Ronald stepped up to rescue Man United at the end of the first 45 slotting home from a cute Bruno Fernandes backheel. United being level did not last long, though, as Zapata scored his second of the day 57 minutes in after a lengthy VAR check for offside.
But yet again, it would be Ronaldo who stepped up in the dying moments of the game to score a goal out of nothing and rescue Solskjaer.
Here are five things 101 learned from the match.
There is still room for Rashford in a back-three
After the success of the back-three/five vs Tottenham over the weekend, it was expected that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer would stick with this new system for the Atalanta tie.
However, though it worked out for Man United vs Spurs, the formation change did look to spell bad news for some players such as Jadon Sancho and Jesse Lingard, neither of which really fit into a 3-5-2, which uses wing-backs instead of actual wingers for the width.
One player who still looks set to be handed plenty of minutes despite being a winger, however, is Marcus Rashford, who started up top alongside Cristiano Ronaldo instead of Edinson Cavani.
This comes despite Rashford not really being used as an actual striker for some years now.
United did end up going back to a four-man defence when Raphael Varane was injured, but should Ole use a three in the future, Rashford should have a place in the attack.
No defending, just vibes
With the squad at their disposal now, it is not at all unfair to expect this Manchester United side to be challenging for major honours like the Premier League and Champions League.
Most of the time, sides who are able to go all the way in Europe or win the Premier League have a very solid foundation, which sees them leak very few goals.
However, it is very much fair to say that this Man United team do not have a good defence to rely on.
After conceding first vs Atalanta, United have now gone behind first in seven of their last 10 games across all competitions, and have kept just one clean sheet in their last 10 Champions League games.
The switch to a back-three should have offered United more security defensively. And whilst it did so against a goal-shy Tottenham, the Atalanta game looks to have proven that said match was something of an outlier, with United still quite clearly pretty poor at the back despite having two world-class defenders in the form of Harry Maguire and Raphael Varane.
Mason Greenwood needs to start
Varane would be injured during the first half on Tuesday. And whilst that in itself is a blow, it did allow Solskjaer to revert back his favoured 4-2-3-1, bringing on Mason Greenwood for the Frenchman.
And though Greenwood did only get the pre-assist for Ronaldo’s equaliser, his presence made United’s attack much, much sharper on the night.
Greenwood might still only be young, but he, along with Fernandes and Ronaldo, are clearly United’s best players this term and need to be starting every game.
And as Solskjaer clearly isn’t a good enough coach to get United playing a clear, solid style of football, he needs players like Greenwood on the pitch at all times to bail him out with moments of brilliance.
Solskjaer isn’t good enough tactically
This has become fairly obvious to all regular watchers of Man United – except the club’s board apparently – but Solskjaer just isn’t a good enough coach at the highest level.
It was once again apparent against Atalanta that this Man United side are poorly coached. They are a team filled with quality players who, on paper, are much better than Atalanta, yet United were outclassed on the night, not because Atalanta had the better players, but simply because their coach is much more tactically astute.
Just one example of this came in the second 45. Man United moved to back-four towards the end of the first half – not because OGS made a tactical choice but because Varane went off injured and United had no more senior centre-backs on the bench. This led to United gaining more of an attacking foothold in the tie and scoring before the break.
So, to limit United’s effectiveness going forward, Gian Gasperini had Marten de Roon man-mark Bruno Fernandes for much of the second half. It worked very well and is just a small sample of something Solskajer would, especially only at 1-1, not think of doing to gain a tactical edge.
The Reds were a disjointed side throughout the 90 minutes, relying on nothing but moments of individual brilliance from the likes of Ronaldo and Fernandes to keep them in the game and, in the case of the former, rescue them a point late in the tie.
Solskjaer might be a positive character who has the respect of the higher-ups and did a good job of steadying the ship after Jose Mourinho left, but Man United will never, ever win anything major under him and, as long as he remains in the job, United fans will see nothing but mediocrity from their side.
Yes, they might scrape up a few big wins now and again, but in the grand scheme of things, this United squad are miles away from the likes of Chelsea and Liverpool, simply because of the coaching.
Ronaldo remains one of the greatest of all time
On the whole, it was, as shown above, a fairly poor display from Man United on the night and Atalanta likely feel very hard done by.
But, as he had done twice in this competition already this season, Ronald stepped up and earned Man United a huge point.
Some have tried to pin United’s poor start to 2021/22 on CR7 and his lack of pressing from the front, but is it obvious that without the Portuguese, Man United would be in a much worse state this season.
Despite being 36, Cristiano Ronaldo remains one of the greatest of all time.
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