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With Ronaldo Ineffective, Teenager Saves Man United Against Atlético Madrid

Manchester United fans closely following this current campaign are well aware of young Anthony Elanga. The rest of Europe is now taking notice after the teenager salvaged a 1-1 draw against Atlético Madrid in the first leg of the Champions League Round of 16 on Wednesday. 

United struggled for long portions of the match at the Wanda Metropolitano; Cristiano Ronaldo often had to drop deep into his own half just to get a touch of the ball. After an early goal from João Félix, it looked like a classic Diego Simeone victory over a British side.

Enter Anthony Elanga.

The 19-year-old Swede has two Premier League goals to his name this season, including against Leeds on Sunday. Against Atleti, Elanga replaced Marcus Rashford in the 75th minute. Moments later, he made the play of the game, from a United perspective, with his first touch of the night. 

Anthony Elanga Goal vs Atlético Madrid

Aided by a poor attempt on the ball from Reinildo Mandava, Elanga was able to slot his first-time shot past Jan Oblak, one of the world’s best keepers who didn’t react well to the effort. It was United’s only shot on goal all match. 

United held on from there to take an important result into the second leg at Old Trafford on March 15. It could have been much, much worse for the Red Devils, who managed 0.42 expected goals compared to 1.59 for the home side.

Atlético Madrid started the match with Simeone’s trademark stifling play. Early pressure resulted in an early goal, with 5-11 João Félix waltzing by 6-4 Harry Maguire to head in the opening goal inside seven minutes. The cross from Renan Lodi was excellent, but you expect more out of the Three Lions’ best defender. 

Atleti nearly made it 2-0 just before halftime when Victor Lindelöf almost scored an own goal only to be saved by the cross bar. The Spanish side hit the post again in the second half after increased pressure following United’s equalizer.

As for Ronaldo, he was pretty quiet all night. Coming off a magnificent group stage — six goals in five matches — Ronaldo was shaking his head as he left the pitch following the draw. His best chance came on a free kick from a dangerous area a few minutes before Elanga’s goal, a shot that sailed well over the goal, sparking a reaction from Atleti fullback Sime Vrsaljko that looked like he was celebrating a goal.

In the end, the 1-1 draw sets up a fascinating return leg in a couple of weeks. With no away goals rule in play this season, it’s anyone’s guess who comes through this tie. It should be noted, United’s upcoming schedule is: Watford, at Manchester City, Tottenham, Atleti, at Liverpool, Leicester City. We’re about to find out just how good the Red Devils are this year. 

Of note to fans in North America, Houston Dynamo general manager Pat Onstad was on hand at the Wanda to keep an eye on handsome Héctor Herrera. The MLS club is reportedly targeting the Mexico midfielder. 

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