Manchester United came from two goals down at half-time against Atalanta to produce a stirring comeback victory to ease the pressure on under-fire Ole Gunnar Solskjaer
An epic comeback defined Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s Manchester United playing career and this one may just have done the same for him as manager.
With United trailing 2-0 at half-time and staring at a fifth defeat in eight games, Solskjaer’s position was looking increasingly precarious, despite assurances from the club that he was safe.
But just as Solskjaer capped the most remarkable comeback in United’s history to clinch the 1999 Treble, his side took from their boss to stage a formidable fightback that has kept him in a job.
Goals from Marcus Rashford and skipper Harry Maguire salvaged what looked like a lost cause, before Cristiano Ronaldo plundered the winner with an unstoppable header nine minutes from time.
At the end, Solskjaer clapped the Stretford End and punched the air with both fists, the thrilling comeback putting on hold any sense of mutiny among the United faithful – for now at least.
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After an abject first-half, United finally found their rhythm and played with the enterprise and verve that has been sorely lacking in recent weeks and which has heaped so much pressure on Solskjaer.
This victory was the boost United needed ahead of Sunday’s visit of arch rivals Liverpool, who are in rampant form but who will now face rejuvenated opponents who have their spirit back.
Yet Solskjaer will know his predecessors staged similar comebacks that were ultimately not enough to save them, Jose Mourinho coming from 2-0 down to beat Newcastle 3-2, only to be sacked weeks later.
But this victory has at least eased the immediate pressure on Solskjaer, who must use it as a springboard to a sustained run of form, or he will find himself with his back against the wall again.
Solskjaer responded to Saturday’s 4-2 defeat at Leicester by dropping Paul Pogba, who claimed “something has to change” in the wake of the Leicester loss, the change being him benched.
The visitors took the lead in the 15th minute, United carved open too easily, Luis Muriel’s quick free-kick finding Davide Zappacosta, whose cross was converted by Mario Pasalic.
There were so many guilty parties in red shirts, it was hard to know where to point the finger of blame, but Luke Shaw, Victor Lindelof and Maguire were all culpable.
United immediately set about getting back on level terms, Fred forcing a fine reflex save from Atalanta keeper Juan Musso, who tipped his effort over in the 20th minute.
The situation went from bad to worse for United in the 29th minute, when Merih Demiral rose unchallenged to power a header beyond David De Gea, to make it 2-0.
Maguire, patently unfit in the defeat to Leicester, was nowhere near Demiral, Solskjaer’s side again undone by a set-play, which has been a recurring theme this season.
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When United did get sight of the Atalanta goal, they were found wanting, Fred curling the ball wide of the target a minute before the break, Rashford clipping the bar moments later.
Ronaldo burst through two minutes after the restart, but was denied by Musso, but Rashford pulled one back for United with a clinical angled finish five minutes later.
Maguire turned the ball in and it was left to Ronaldo to provide the fitting finale, rising high to head Luke Shaw’s cross into the net, to send the Theatre of Dreams into collective delirium.