Manchester United displayed little for 45 minutes in Bergamo, which made the electric move that led to their first equaliser all the more exciting.
Chances were few and far between for United at Joyce and Atalanta looked the more dangerous side, but out of nowhere the equalizer arrived, making Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side talk a little easier.
While Cristiano Ronaldo’s solo moment for the second goal in second-half stoppage time would steal the headlines, it was the first time that was more pleasing to the eye.
When the ball reached Bruno Fernandes 25 yards from the goal, he scrambled to move. The ball passed from Fernandez to Ronaldo and to Mason Greenwood, who found Fernandes firing cleverly into the area. His touch and back heel to beat Ronaldo were fantastic.
Once the ball landed on the 36-year-old, the goal was certain but it was yet another example of Fernandes’ quality and creative instincts. Running on the back of the wheel is a hard skill to master, but he not only executed it perfectly, but also rocked it to perfection.
It was the third time Fernandes provided an assist for Ronaldo since his international teammates united at Old Trafford and they all had moments of brilliance from the attacking midfielder, from an out-of-the-boot cross at Young Boys, to Saturday’s superb volley. At Tottenham and then back on Tuesday.
There has been a lot of questioning about how Fernandes handled Ronaldo’s arrival to steal his United horror, but he offers the answer to those questions by the week. United may not rely on Fernandes for goals, but they still need his creativity and his seven assists in as many matches is a sign of how he remains as integral as ever, but only in a slightly different way.
After the 2-2 draw in Italy, Ronaldo will be the headlines after two goals, but Fernandes is playing a key role at the moment. For all United’s obvious flaws, the partnership and association between the Portuguese internationals is something to build upon.
The goal threat may have receded – and we’re still waiting to see if he saves his penalty kicks after the foul against Aston Villa – but Fernandes is adapting his style of play. At Tottenham on Saturday, he played a little deeper and on the right, but was still attacking enough to play a big role in his first two goals.
The danger he posed to Atalanta in the first half was so obvious that Gian Piero Gasperini commissioned Martin de Ron to watch him in the second half. The Dutch midfielder followed him all over the field.
Fernandes was still trying to influence the match, falling deeper and deeper to get the ball. In the end, Solskjaer pulled him out, but he is clearly still a key player in this aspect.
He provided assists against Atalanta two weeks ago, but after the defeat against Liverpool there were many calls for Fernandes to be given up. Seven assists in seven matches suggests that this would not be a good move at the moment.
United may not be as reliant on Fernandes as they were last season, but they make sure he remains a key player and while goals are not essential, his ability to create opportunities remains unparalleled.