As has happened so many times in their history, a Manchester United academy graduate rescued the team on a big stage.
Elanga had been on the pitch less than six minutes when he raced onto Bruno Fernandes’ perfectly-weighted pass to roll the ball past home goalkeeper Jan Oblak with his first touch.
“I told you how calm and cool I am and whenever I am given a opportunity. I want to repay the manager and give 150% every time I step onto the pitch,” Elanga told BT Sport.
“I just do what I can do, I want to be the best player on the pitch and I appreciate the boss.
“He [Ralf Rangnick] said to me to make the defenders scared and run in behind when I get the opportunity.
“I have dreamt of moments like this, scoring in the Champions League against top European teams like Atletico Madrid, [it is] a dream come true.”
The Elanga goal covers over what was one of United’s worst performances in Europe that I can remember. Diego Simeone’s must have have been up all night, trying to understand why his side was not heading to Old Trafford with a two or three goal lead.
Joao Felix’s early header from Renan Lodi’s inviting cross gave the hosts a dream start with United looking ragged on their right, where interim boss Rangnick’s deployment of Victor Lindelof at full-back failed badly.
Atletico should have been two goals ahead with Sime Vrsaljko heading the ball off Lindelof and onto the United bar in the closing moments of the first half after some more dismal defending.
Then in the 90th minute approaching, Antoine Griezmann went within inches of a winner as his curling effort beat David De Gea but came bouncing back off the crossbar.
But United fans didn’t care. They were signing the name of Elanga, who followed up his goal at Leeds on Sunday with another important intervention to change the complexion of the tie before the second leg in Manchester in three weeks time.
“He is playing as though it is a dream come true,” Rangnick added. “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.”
Rangnick was upset with his team’s performance and vented his feelings at half-time. He suggested afterwards that United’s should follow Elanga’s example and play with more freedom of spirit.
‘I still cannot believe what we did in the first half,’ said the United boss. ‘We played without conviction and all the necessary aggression against the ball.
‘Obviously being 1-0 down after seven minutes, the plan was in the dustbin almost. Of course, I knew that this was not his best possible position.
‘He (Elanga) is playing as if for him a dream has come true. It is just joy and fun to watch him play, and I wish a few other players would take him as an example – almost a role model, I would say.
‘Not because he is doing everything right but he is just enjoying himself on the pitch.