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Manchester United scrape late draw against Atlético Madrid in Champions League

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After a tepid start to their round of 16 tie against Spanish giants Atlético Madrid, Manchester United came from behind the snatch a late 1-1 draw in the Champions League, thanks to young academy product Anthony Elanga.

The 19-year-old scored with his first touch in the 80th minute after coming onto the pitch to replace Marcus Rashford five minutes earlier, latching onto a slicing transition pass by Bruno Fernandes and slotting low and hard beneath Atlético goalkeeper Jan Oblak.

It was more than what United deserved, based on the balance of play, especially in the first half, during which the Spanish side dominated.

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United were scrambling from the opening whistle with loose passes and touches inviting Atlético pressure.

Harry Maguire conceded an early corner while poor reactions from Fernandes and David de Gea almost handed the home side the lead, were it not for a brave block by defender Victor Lindelöf, who jumped in front of a José María Giménez shot. 

The pressure soon paid off when record signing João Félix scored with a diving header in the seventh minute, sending the heaving Wanda Metropolitano crowd into raptures.

United were, for most of the first stanza, overwhelmed. For all their possession — 64 per cent, in fact — they achieved little with it, partly due to their opponents’ choreographed pressing game and intelligent movement off the ball.

The Red Devils went into the half-time lucky they were not a few more goals behind.

It was a particularly forgettable night for Cristiano Ronaldo, whose every touch was met with venomous boos and sarcastic “siuuuu”s from the stands, a kind of psychological warfare reminding the Portuguese striker of his fall from grace since leaving Real Madrid, with whom he became Atlético’s worst nightmare.

But anything is possible when you’re 1-0 down, and interim United head coach Ralf Rangnick used the second half to make the tweaks that were ultimately the difference.

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Midfielder Nemanja Matic replaced the ineffective Paul Pogba while both full-backs were swapped out, but it was the introduction of Elanga that proved the stroke of genius for which Rangnick has become known.

As the game ticked into the 80th minute, Fernandes turned and sent a sea-parting pass through to the escaping Elanga, who found himself one-on-one with Oblak after defender Reinildo Mandava mistimed his outstretched interception.

Having scored against both Brentford and Leeds in the Premier League, this was Elanga’s latest statement, a calm, mature finish into the far corner with his first touch of the game.

Atlético substitute Antoine Griezmann still had time to rattle the crossbar, while Oblak made a crucial save to deny a potential Jesse Lingard winner with the final kick, but United held on to secure the point and take a sliver of confidence into the second-leg tie at Old Trafford on March 9.

Elsewhere, a sizzling match between Benfica and Ajax finished 2-2. The Portuguese side came from behind, twice, at home thanks to a Sébastian Haller own goal and a 72nd-minute equaliser from Roman Yaremchuk, both of which cancelled out a Dusan Tadic opener and a intentional goal from Haller just before the half-hour.

Thursday morning’s ties follow on from yesterday’s other first-leg matches, where Club World Cup champions Chelsea defeated Lille 2-0, and Villarreal came from a goal down to draw 1-1 with Juventus.

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