Manchester United came from behind to snare a late 1-1 draw in the Champions League, thanks to teenage academy product Anthony Elanga, after a sluggish start in their round of 16 clash against Spanish giants Atlético Madrid.
After replacing Marcus Rashford five minutes earlier, the 19-year-old scored with his first touch in the 80th minute, latching onto a slicing transition ball by Bruno Fernandes and shooting low and hard beneath Atlético goalkeeper Jan Oblak.
Based on the balance of play, especially in the first half, when the Spanish team dominated, it was more than United deserved.
From the first whistle, United was floundering, with sloppy passes and touches inviting Atlético pressure.
Early on, Harry Maguire conceded a corner, and poor reactions from Fernandes and David de Gea almost gave the home side the lead, were it not for defender Victor Lindelöf’s heroic block of a José Mara Giménez attempt.
The pressure paid in in the seventh minute, when record signing Joo Félix scored with a diving header, sending the Wanda Metropolitano crowd into raptures.
For the most of the first stanza, United was completely overrun. They had a lot of possession — 64 percent, to be exact — but they didn’t do much with it, thanks in part to their opponents’ orchestrated pressing game and excellent off-ball movement.
The Red Devils were fortunate not to be down by more than a goal at halftime.
Cristiano Ronaldo had a particularly bad night, with venomous boos and sarcastic “siuuuu”s from the bleachers, a form of psychological warfare reminding the Portuguese striker of his fall from glory since leaving Real Madrid, with whom he became Atlético’s greatest nightmare.
Midfielder Nemanja Matic replaced the unproductive Paul Pogba, and both full-backs were removed, but it was the insertion of Elanga that proved to be Rangnick’s stroke of genius.
After defender Reinildo Mandava mistimed his outstretched interception, Fernandes pivoted and threw a sea-parting pass through to the escaping Elanga, who found himself one-on-one with Oblak as the game entered the 80th minute.
This was Elanga’s latest statement, a smooth, mature finish into the far corner with his first touch of the game, after scoring against Brentford and Leeds in the Premier League.
United held on to earn a point and take a sliver of confidence into the second-leg tie at Old Trafford on March 9. Atlético substitute Antoine Griezmann still had time to rattle the crossbar, and 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 on March 9.
A tense duel between Benfica and Ajax ended in a 2-2 draw. Sébastian Haller’s own goal and Roman Yaremchuk’s 72nd-minute equalise helped the Portuguese side come from behind twice at home, cancelling out a Dusan Tadic opener and a Haller deliberate goal just before the half-hour mark.
The ties on Thursday morning follow the results of yesterday’s other first-leg matches, in which Chelsea defeated Lille 2-0 and Villarreal came back from a goal down to draw 1-1 with Juventus.