Manchester United survived a well-deserved and painful defeat against Atletico Madrid on Wednesday as Anthony Elanga’s late goal saved a 1-1 draw in the first leg of the Champions League round of 16.
Atletico outperformed sluggish United for the majority of the match at Wanda Metropolitano and may have been Joao Felix’s meager goal bonus before reaching the second leg at Old Trafford in three weeks’ time.
But rather than increase their advantage, Atletico let it slip, and Ilanga scrambled on Bruno Fernandes’ pass with a superb pass 10 minutes from the end to give United a draw that looked like a victory.
Atlético’s Sime Vrsaljko had already hit the crossbar at the end of the first half, and Antoine Griezmann was denied a late-match winning goal after Ilanga’s equalizer.
But while United will breathe a sigh of relief from the result, it was another performance that raised serious concerns about his progress and direction under caretaker coach Ralf Rangnick.
In the first half, they failed to score a single touch in the Atletico Madrid box, the first time this has happened to a United team in the Champions League since at least 2005.
Cristiano Ronaldo has faced a familiar opponent at Atletico, scoring 25 goals in 35 games against Diego Simeone’s side and 10 goals in his last 10, including hat-tricks.
But the Portuguese cut a frustrated and isolated personality up front, his biggest contribution as the target of enthusiastic whistles and boos from Atletico supporters.
Both Rangnick and Simeone have a veteran scorer whose needs may come at the team’s expense, but while 37-year-old Rangnick Ronaldo started, Simeone brought down 35-year-old Luis Suarez, with Felix and Angel Correa picking up the lead. While that.
Ronaldo looked sparkling before kick-off, along with ex-Real Madrid defender Raphael Varane, and a spirited atmosphere provided the backdrop for a great start for Atletico.
United were nervous as Harry Maguire unnecessarily kicked a corner for Atletico before a nervous Fernandes touch allowed Jose Gimenez to volley in the net but Victor Lindelof parried a powerful blow.
Manchester United looked uncomfortable playing from the back and it was from a skewed lamination from David de Gea that Atletico won a corner kick. United headed away but Renan Lodi swung in a superb cross from the left and Felix was there to tackle it, and a superb header flew just off the post.
Atletico were faster, hungrier and steadier in their approach. They continued to steal United’s possession but lacked the final pass. United were frustrated, Ronaldo in particular, and for 10 minutes the match turned into his play, boos and whistles intensified.
It could have been worse in the first half when Vrsaljko headed the crossbar and Lodi’s pass sped towards him at the back post but the nets were uneven.
United improved and there was a period of almost an hour when Atletico seemed to be giving up control. There were precious few chances, and when Ronaldo hit a harmless free kick, Atletico looked close to winning.
Instead, United collected their best, and only smooth movement into the match as the ball was passed through midfield before Fernandes cut through Ilanga. Atlético’s Reinildo Mandava committed himself but fell, allowing Ilanga to leap far and send an excellent finishing touch to the far corner.
Griezmann played as a substitute, spiraling against the crossbar four minutes before the end of the match but the deflated Atletico were unable to regain their lead.