to the rescue | 

Teenage kicks save Manchester United as Anthony Elanga keeps Champions League dream alive

The complexion of this tie certainly turned in an instant, thanks to this one change.

Manchester United's Anthony Elanga celebrates after scoring the equaliser against Atletico. (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)

Joao Felix celebrates after his early goal put Atletico Madrid in front against Manchester United

Miguel Delaney©

It was far from a vintage Manchester United performance, but it was a vintage Manchester United European storyline.

The 19-year-old substitute Anthony Elanga added to his own burgeoning reputation and his club’s legacy with a goal borne of the relentless energy that Ralph Rangnick so loves. It saved a 1-1 draw against a wasteful Atletico Madrid, and could potentially reignite United’s season.

The complexion of this tie certainly turned in an instant, thanks to this one change.

It was credit to Rangnick, as he rectified a number of errors – not least in his starting line-up – but was also rewarded for his work with the teenager. It is precisely this pressing energy that the German loves about Elanga. He has been one of the positives of United’s season. It also had an effect on those around him.

Bruno Fernandes corrected more than a few errors of his own, finally offering an accurate through ball that Elanga capitalised on.

It will be left to Diego Simeone to worry about mistakes instead. Principally, there was how his team played out this second half. This really isn’t the cast-iron Atletico of old. They just can’t defend the same way any more, which is why they should have attacked in the manner they were doing.

How must Simeone regret not making more on that strong start? How much did Atletico drop off?

You could perhaps say it is the abolition of the away goal affecting them. There was a sense they got caught between two approaches, and perhaps between eras.

Atletico had been a team who, more than any other, had played “away-goals football”, often banking on the influence of the rule. Prior to this game, Simeone had kept 11 clean sheets in 13 Champions League home knockout legs.

They were always more than willing to just sit deep and frustrate, content to wait until the less risky away leg to attack.

Here, they actually went for it from the off. They just went at Rangnick’s team, initially overwhelming them through sheer aggression.

There was such a force to everything they did, from the tackles, to the deliveries. It didn’t help that United’s laxness gave the brilliant Renan Lodi 40 yards of space to pick a cross every time. And pick them he did.

That beauty of a cross in the seventh minute just begged for someone to go at it, as it suddenly dropped so invitingly, and Joao Felix duly obliged. He threw himself forward for a vintage diving header, the ball cannoning in off the post to only add to the effect.

Atletico then should have had a second through another Leto cross, the ball this time rebounding off the bar after an awkward Sime Vrsaljko effort.

United didn’t seem to know what had hit them. They didn’t seem to know how they should be playing.

Rangnick’s side did have more of the possession but nearly every defensive pass looked risky, while nearly every attacking pass looked harmless. Atletico just overcrowded them everywhere.

As the game went on, though, it was as if Simeone’s side reverted to type. It just isn’t the type of Atletico we know.

A good Simeone side would have done sufficient damage to United here. This one let them stay in it.

Rangnick and his side began to correct those errors. The midfield started to shore up with Nemanja Matic introduced. Marcus Rashford, who endured one of his worst performances in a United shirt, was taken off for Elanga.

Fernandes, who could barely hit a five-yard pass all night, then found his range at exactly the right time.

It did admittedly help that Jose Gimenez lost his footing at the wrong moment.

Fernandes nevertheless found the gap, threading the ball through for Elanga. This is why some call the Portuguese a “moments player”.

Elanga then offered one of the moments of United’s season. It could yet transform the season.

Displaying the conviction and energy that Rangnick so loves, Elanga persevered to take advantage of Gimenez’s slip.

Jan Oblak, the previously imperious goalkeeper who has been as suspect as anyone else this season, tried to narrow the angle. He only offered it up to Elanga.

The 19-year-old finished – but may well have started something else. It wasn’t quite United getting away with it.

It was Elanga making it happen.

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