'A joy to watch him play' - Fearless Elanga an unlikely Man Utd role model for Ronaldo and Rashford

Anthony Elanga Manchester United Atletico Madrid Champions League 2021-22Getty/GOAL

Manchester United substitute Anthony Elanga was given one job by Ralf Rangnick before he stepped onto the pitch at the Wanda Metropolitano on Wednesday night: scare Atletico Madrid's defenders. 

It took the teenager just five minutes, and one touch, to realise his goal, with the Swede earning the visitors a 1-1 draw in the first leg of their Champions League last-16 clash with the Spanish titleholders by latching onto the first good pass played by Bruno Fernandes all evening before coolly finishing past Jan Oblak.

Perhaps if the forwards selected to start the game had played with the same level of ruthlessness and fearlessness, United wouldn't have found themselves needing to be rescued by a teenage replacement. 

Article continues below

Elanga certainly didn’t perform like someone who has seen more game time in the UEFA Youth League this season than the Champions League.

His goal oozed composure and confidence, and he was not intimidated by the hostile atmosphere created by the home fans. 

“I have dreamt of moments like this, scoring in the Champions League against top European teams like Atletico Madrid," he told BT Sport. "It's a dream come true.

“I told you how calm and cool I am, and whenever I am given an opportunity, I want to repay the manager and give 150 per cent every time I step onto the pitch.

"I just do what I can do. I want to be the best player on the pitch and I appreciate the boss.”

The appreciation between Elanga and Rangnick is mutual.

If the 19-year-old had got his way, he would have left the club on loan in the January transfer window but Rangnick had already seen enough to know he wanted him to stay.

Before he took charge of his first training session, he had watched clips of Elanga on YouTube and the 19-year-old was the standout performer in Rangnick's first training session. 

“He really is playing as though it is a dream come true," Rangnick told reporters after the game in Madrid. "It is a joy and fun to watch him play.

"I wish a few other players would take him as an example and as a role model.

“I think right now he has just shown what is possible in football with the right mentality, the right approach, because this is exactly what he did and what he always does in every training session.”

The German boss stopped short of naming the members of his squad that are disappointing him but, after the first-half display at the Metropolitano, you could have put the majority of the team in that bracket. 

United knew what they were coming into. The raucous atmosphere at Leeds on Sunday was just a warm-up for Wednesday night.

Thousands of Atleti fans lined the streets around the stadium hours before kick-off to give the team coach a hostile welcome and United's players were booed and jeered every time they touched the ball. 

It was an occasion where the biggest stars in the squad needed to step up but, instead, especially in the first half, they appeared overwhelmed by the occasion, looking nervous and lacking in intensity and drive. 

United only managed to turn the game around because of Rangnick’s changes.

Elanga, brought on with just a quarter of an hour to play, managed in five minutes what Jadon Sancho, Marcus Rashford and Cristiano Ronaldo had failed to achieve between them: a shot on target. 

Given his recent form, Sancho could be forgiven for having a quiet evening, but the way in which Ronaldo and Rashford struggled was concerning.

Ronaldo has had plenty of joy against Atletico in his career but he will not be adding this 1-1 draw to any of the classic encounters he has in his memory bank. 

As for Rashford, he is totally out of sorts at the moment.

He wasn't the only player guilty of poor passing and questionable decision-making, of course, but when you also factor in his lack of goal threat, it's hard to argue in favour of him starting against Watford this weekend.

Rashford's talent is undeniable but he is going through a tough time at the moment and his confidence has been affected.

"He looks too anxious for me; he looks like he’s almost trying too hard," Paul Scholes told BT Sport.

"Every time the ball comes to him it almost feels like he’s trying to do something magical. It’s probably the worst thing you can do."

The contrast between Rashford and Elanga right now couldn't be starker.

The Swede looks cool, calm, confident and, most importantly, he is giving Rangnick exactly what he is asking of his players.

Some of United's superstars have an unlikely new role model.