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Man United escape with draw after Elanga moves back to Atletico

Manchester United were spared a damaging and deserved defeat by Atletico Madrid on Wednesday, when Anthony Elanga’s late goal gave them a 1-1 draw in the last 16 Champions League first leg.

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Atletico beat sluggish United for most of the game at the Wanda Metropolitano and might have regarded Joao Felix’s early goal as a meager reward for the second leg at Old Trafford in three weeks.

But instead of extending their advantage, Atletico squandered it, Elanga raced a Bruno Fernandes through the ball and secured a cool finish with 10 minutes left to give United a draw that felt like a win.

United boss Ralf Rangnick was asked during his press conference what he told United players at halftime.

“I’ve told them this isn’t enough,” he said.

“We need to have more energy. It’s not about game plans or tactics. It’s about conviction. It’s about faith. This is not enough. This is the Champions League.”

Atletico’s Sime Vrsaljko had already hit the crossbar at the end of the first half and Antoine Griezmann was also denied a late winner by the woodwork after Elanga equalized.

But while United will breathe a sigh of relief at the result, this was another performance that raised serious concerns about their progress and direction under interim coach Ralf Rangnick.

In the first half, they failed to register a single touch in Atlético Madrid’s penalty area, the first time a United side has come across in the Champions League since at least 2005.

Cristiano Ronaldo took on a known foe in Atletico, scoring 25 goals in 35 games against Diego Simeone’s team and 10 in his last 10, including three hat-tricks.

But the Portuguese punched a frustrated and isolated figure up front, his biggest contribution as a target for the enthusiastic whistles and cheers of Atletico supporters.

Both Rangnick and Simeone have experienced goalscorers whose needs may come at the expense of the team, but while Rangnick started 37-year-old Ronaldo, Simeone dropped 35-year-old Luis Suarez, with Felix and Angel Correa up front instead.

– Sparkling start –

Ronaldo was whistled for kick-off, along with former Real Madrid defender Raphael Varane, and a fiery atmosphere set the stage for a sparkling Atletico start.

United were nervous as Harry Maguire needlessly headed from behind for an Atletico corner before a fearful touch from Fernandes Jose Gimenez allowed a shot on target, but Victor Lindelof made an excellent block.

United looked awkward to play out from the back and it was from a crooked David de Gea clearance that Atletico won a corner. United headed away, but Renan Lodi swung in a brilliant cross from the left and Felix was there to catch it, his fine header hitting the post.

Atletico were faster, hungrier and firmer in their approach. They continued to rob United of possession, but missed the final pass. United became frustrated, Ronaldo in particular, and for 10 minutes the game was rerouted to its histrionics, the booing and whistles getting louder.

It could have been worse at halftime, as Vrsaljko headed into the crossbar and Lodi’s cross came quickly at him over the back post, but the net was open.

United improved and there was a period around the hour when Atletico seemed to relinquish control. However, there were precious few opportunities and when Ronaldo harmlessly curled a free kick over, Atletico looked close to winning.

Instead, United put in their best and only fluid move of the game as the ball was fired through midfield before Fernandes got Elanga through. Atletico’s Reinildo Mandava tried to cling on, but fell, enabling Elanga to make a clear pass and send a superb finish into the far corner.

Griezmann, as a substitute, curled up against the crossbar with four minutes to go, but a deflated Atletico were unable to restore his lead.

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