Cristiano Ronaldo, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, and Manchester United answer to the criticism with yet another stunning comeback against Atalanta.

Manchester United has been chastised for their lack of identity in recent weeks, but if there’s one thing Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s reign is known for, it’s pulling off unexpected victories when the odds are stacked against them.

When it comes to ‘get out of jail free cards, the Norwegian must keep a stash on hand in case things go rough. When you have Cristiano Ronaldo on your team, though, there’s always the chance that a loss may be transformed into a win.

After last weekend’s dreadful 4-2 defeat at Leicester, both he and his manager were under intense scrutiny, but it was the Portugal international who popped up with a trademark header in the 81st minute to complete the kind of dramatic comeback that those who have been coming to Old Trafford for years have grown accustomed to seeing.

As he went off at the end of this enthralling 3-2 triumph against Atalanta, the 36-year-old fist-pumped the air towards the Stretford End, cutting a very different figure than the one that proceeded down the tunnel at half-time.

United have been handed a lifeline in the Champions League after appearing to be doomed for at least 45 minutes.

They spent much of the evening at the bottom of Group F, but by the conclusion, they had risen to the top. Still, it’s a result that hides the flaws, much like the thrilling triumph over Villarreal a few weeks ago.

United played better against Gian Piero Gasperini’s side and generated enough opportunities to win – they had 22 shots to Atalanta’s 13 – but it was another performance that raised further concerns about Solskjaer’s squad.

To begin with, how can a side with a set-piece specialist routinely surrender from dead-ball situations? It’s perplexing.

Luke Shaw, Harry Maguire, and David de Gea were all to blame as Merih Demiral headed home a corner after being much too easily opened up for Mario Pasalic’s close-range opener from a Davide Zappacosta cut-back.

Before the game, Marcus Rashford spoke about the need to get back to fundamentals, but it appears that they don’t even know how to defend set-pieces.

United, on the other hand, earned the three points that finally came their way.

As they walked off the ground at halftime with a scattering of whistles, their heads appeared to have completely fallen as they fell behind 2-0 against perhaps their toughest opponents in Group F.

Whatever was stated in the dressing room, on the other hand, did wonderfully.

Bruno Fernandes embodies United’s current up-and-down form in many ways. His first-half performance was awful, a shadow of what he is capable of, but he engineered United’s thrilling comeback, assisting Rashford and Maguire on goals.

His second assist may have been lucky, as his cross found Maguire at the back post, but his first was brilliant.

Fernandes delivered a wonderfully timed, defence-splitting pass that was clinically completed by Rashford, who had previously been wasteful, scoring seven goals in his past seven Champions League group-stage games.

It propelled United to three unexpected victories, and when Solskjaer talks about United DNA, these are the kinds of performances he’s referring to ones that are full of passion and tenacity. But, after making life so tough for themselves, how frequently can they keep turning things around?

Atalanta played in a style that fitted United’s forward approach, in that they allowed their hosts the space they needed to generate opportunities. Liverpool at Old Trafford on Sunday will undoubtedly be a bigger task than this. It’s difficult to envision Jurgen Klopp’s team giving them that much time and space.

“I appreciate all the hype,” United great Paul Scholes remarked later on BT Sport, “but that first half I simply didn’t like it, and I believe the first half put me off the second.” They’d be out of sight if they were playing a better team. The first half was nerve-wracking. It didn’t appear like a team; it lacked togetherness, which was a concerning indication.

“Is it possible for them to play Liverpool like that? Never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever Is it possible to play Manchester City like that? Is it possible for you to play a top Champions League team like that? I don’t want to be a downer, but I was really concerned about the first half.”

Scholes’ fears are genuine, but the ecstasy that followed the final whistle at Old Trafford was a pleasant relief for both the fans and the players, as well as their under-fire manager.

Solskjaer has requested a response from his players. This wasn’t quite what he was looking for, but it’s a start. They clearly don’t lack tenacity, but whether that will be enough to see them through the tougher games ahead remains to be seen.


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