Cristiano Ronaldo rescued Manchester United in the Champions League yet again as his injury-time equaliser dragged them to a 2-2 draw at Atalanta.
Two moments of magic from the 36-year-old, whose goals alone have now earned United five of their seven Champions League points, earned them a point they barely deserved to remain top of Group F, and able to qualify for the last 16 with victory over Villarreal in their next match.
United's fond memories of their 3-0 win at Tottenham on Saturday were banished inside 12 minutes when Josip Ilicic fired Atalanta ahead from Duvan Zapata's cross, with help from David de Gea's fumble of the Slovenian's relatively straightforward effort.
- Paul Merson: Cristiano Ronaldo phenomenal but result papers over cracks
- Champions League hits and misses: Same old Manchester United questions
- How the teams lined up | Match stats
- Champions League fixtures | Results | Group tables
A fine one-touch move pulled United level at the end of a familiarly uninspiring first half when Bruno Fernandes' perfect backheel teed up Ronaldo to take a touch and beat Juan Musso from eight yards.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side came out looking sharper after the break but found themselves behind again 11 minutes into the second period.
Jose Palomino's ball in behind caught out the United defence and found Zapata just onside, but, after beating De Gea at his near post, he was made to wait more than two minutes for a VAR review to overturn the linesman's initial raised flag.
United pushed but could not find a way to test Musso until more Ronaldo brilliance in injury-time saw the veteran find the bottom corner with a 20-yard volley to earn another spectacular last-gasp result but raise more questions than answers for Solskjaer and his team.
Atalanta: Musso (6), De Roon (6), Demiral (7), Palomino (7), Zappacosta (7), Freuler (6), Koopmeiners (7), Maehle (6), Ilicic (7), Pasalic (6), Zapata (7).
Subs: Djimsiti (7), Muriel (6).
Man Utd: De Gea (5), Wan-Bissaka (6), Bailly (7), Varane (6), Maguire (4), Shaw (6), McTominay (7), Pogba (4), Fernandes (6), Rashford (5), Ronaldo (8).
Subs: Greenwood (7), Matic (5), Cavani (5), Sancho, Van de Beek (n/a).
Man of the match: Cristiano Ronaldo
Ronaldo drags United towards last 16 with crucial double
There was extra intrigue about how United would fare in Bergamo on the back of their born-again performance at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on Saturday, and the early signs were good as Scott McTominay's deflected strike rebounded off the woodwork after four minutes.
But United's defence, so watertight at the weekend, took only 12 minutes to be breached as McTominay's attempted interception deflected into Zapata's path and, after checking back away from Aaron Wan-Bissaka, he squared for Ilicic, whose shot into De Gea's body was bundled into the corner by the goalkeeper's clumsy save.
Zapata fired a warning shot of the danger his pace would later pose when played in behind by Davide Zappacosta's long ball, which he lashed wide with Ilicic in space at the far post, shortly before United were dealt more defensive concerns as Raphael Varane was forced off by a hamstring injury.
With alarm bells ringing and United reverting to type with the half-time break approaching, a moment of brilliance involving three of United's forwards pulled them level. Fernandes, Ronaldo and Mason Greenwood took a touch each before Fernandes laid the ball off wonderfully for Ronaldo to level things up.
United looked to have been handed a lucky escape when the otherwise impressive Eric Bailly lost Zapata after the striker ran onto Palomino's ball in behind and beat De Gea from 12 yards, with an offside flag cutting short the striker's celebrations.
But a VAR review lasting two minutes and six seconds adjudged he had been played onside by Harry Maguire, and their relief was shortlived.
From there Atalanta looked to see out victory, with Musso barely tested by United in the final half-hour of the game.
But Ronaldo, who had already scored late winners in the visitors' two previous Champions League games, had other ideas. Greenwood lifted a loose ball into his path on the edge of the box, which the 36-year-old caught with typical precision to nestle the ball inside the far post and rescue United at the death.
What the manager said...
Manchester United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer told BT Sport: "It's a tight game, flaws both ways. Their two goals are very tight to being offside. I feel for the first, it's very close to a player interfering with David's view, and for the second it's very close.
"But Cristiano is just incredible. That's what he does. If there's any chance you want to fall to in the last minute, and a difficult chance, then it's him.
"He keeps his eye on the ball and his technique on that volley is incredible. That's football. No one can question the character of these players as they didn't give up, they don't give in and they keep going."
Man of the match - Cristiano Ronaldo
At the end of another match where Ronaldo offered little in open play, he walked away with another two goals to his name.
He could have spent 89 of the 90 minutes without having any impact on the game and still have provided its two most crucial moments with such wonderfully taken finishes at the end of either half.
Should United make it to the last 16, which looks increasingly likely, they owe a great debt of gratitude to their number seven. Without him, their hopes could already be over.
Sky Sports' Paul Merson on Soccer Special:
"It's another Polyfilla one, it's just covering over the cracks, but it's a result. They've got a draw and they're going to qualify.
"If they had lost, and they had gone and got beat by Villarreal, they were virtually out of the competition. Now you would expect them to qualify.
"As long as you've got him (Ronaldo) on the pitch, you've got a chance. They hadn't looked like scoring in a month of Sundays and then he goes and does what he's done."
Opta stats: Ronaldo eclipses Solskjaer's United record
- Atalanta have only won one of their six games against English teams in the UEFA Champions League (D2 L3), with that victory coming away at Liverpool last season.
- Only Norwich (28) and Leicester (25) have conceded more goals in all competitions amongst Premier League sides this season than Man Utd (23).
- Manchester United have conceded first in nine of their 14 UEFA Champions League games under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer (W2 D1 L6 in games when conceded first).
- Cristiano Ronaldo has now scored 127 goals in all competitions for Manchester United (303 apps), one more than his current manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer registered for the Red Devils (126 goals in 366 apps).
- Cristiano Ronaldo (36y 270d) is the oldest player to score 2+ goals in a single game for Manchester United in European competition.
- Cristiano Ronaldo is the first player to score in four consecutive UEFA Champions League appearances for Manchester United since Ruud van Nistelrooy in April 2003 (in a run of nine).
- Since his Man Utd debut in February 2020, Bruno Fernandes has been directly involved in more goals in all competitions than any other Premier League player (77 - 44 goals, 33 assists).
- Josip Ilicic has scored the most UEFA Champions League goals for Atalanta (7), while Duvan Zapata now leads the way for assists for them in the competition (5).
Live Premier League
Manchester United are back on Sky Sports in a huge match-up with Manchester City on Saturday from 12pm; kick-off at 12.30pm.
Atalanta travel to bottom side Cagliari in their next match in Serie A on Saturday; Kick-off at 7.45pm.