Cristiano Ronaldo's late stunner rescued a 2-2 draw for Man Utd against Atalanta. "It's got to be one of the best finishes of all-time," said Paul Merson. "It's another Polyfilla one, it's just covering over the cracks, but it's a result."
Wednesday 3 November 2021 08:57, UK
Paul Merson lauded Cristiano Ronaldo's "phenomenal" equaliser against Atalanta as "one of the best finishes of all-time" but insisted the 2-2 draw merely papers over the cracks for Manchester United.
Ronaldo, who had earlier finished off a flowing team move to cancel out Josip Ilicic's opener, rescued a point for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side with a stunning volley in the second minute of stoppage time after Duvan Zapata had put Atalanta back in front.
Ronaldo's latest heroics come just two weeks after he scored the winner in the reverse fixture against Atalanta at Old Trafford and his double takes him to nine goals in 11 appearances this season following his strike against Tottenham on Saturday.
His sensational second goal, crashed home from the edge of the Atalanta box, made the 36-year-old the oldest player in Manchester United's history to score twice in a single European game, and Merson feels there is plenty more to come from him.
"It's got to be one of the best finishes of all-time; it's just out of absolutely nothing," Merson said of his late leveller on Soccer Special.
"He didn't touch the ball in the second half. Not through his fault, he just didn't get the service. But it comes to him and there's no snatching at it, he hits through the ball perfectly.
"It's absolutely phenomenal and his first goal was brilliant as well.
"I was one of the big critics. I was one who wasn't sure about him coming back. But if you give him chances, he will score goals. Thirty-six or 46, it doesn't make any difference, he will finish.
"If you took away his two goals tonight, he's a two out of 10. But his two goals are phenomenal and I'm lost for words."
The draw puts United top of Group F, above second-placed Villarreal ahead of their trip to face the Spanish outfit later this month, but Solskjaer's side were once again poor for long periods of the game.
Saturday's 3-0 win over Tottenham had eased the pressure on the manager's shoulders but their disjointed display in Bergamo raises familiar questions of the man in the dugout - despite Ronaldo' late goal boosting their hopes of reaching the last-16.
"It's another Polyfilla one, it's just covering over the cracks, but it's a result," added Merson. "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 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."
Sky Sports' Nick Wright:
Cristiano Ronaldo had hauled Manchester United through their previous two group games nearly single-handedly, scoring late winners against both Villarreal and at home to Atalanta, and here he was again with his 138th and 139th goals in the competition.
The 36-year-old just loves the Champions League and he looked in the mood right from the start of this game, testing Atalanta's Juan Musso with a long-range effort inside the first minute.
From then on, however, he only appeared sporadically. Ronaldo had 50 touches over the course of the 90 minutes, but many of them were in areas in which he was unable to hurt Atalanta as United showed a familiar lack of cohesion.
Sky Sports pundit Gary Neville has talked about Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side playing in "moments" in recent weeks and that's certainly what happened on Tuesday night.
Their attack had not clicked as they approached half-time a goal down but suddenly Bruno Fernandes, Mason Greenwood and Ronaldo combined to devastating effect, with the latter firing home from around 12 yards out.
Ronaldo used the ball efficiently when it came to him in open play, finding a team-mate with 32 of his 36 passes, but with Fernandes effectively man-marked by Marten de Roon in the second half, his service soon dried up while United's defensive struggles continued at the other end.
Those defensive struggles leave Solskjaer under scrutiny again ahead of the Manchester derby, live on Sky Sports on Saturday, but Ronaldo's late leveller was just the latest reminder that when it comes to the crunch moments, he only needs one chance.
The broader questions about the team's direction under Solskjaer must be answered sooner or later but they seem secondary as long as Ronaldo continues to conjure up match-defining moments of brilliance such as this.