LONDON: Ralf Rangnick made one instant improvement as new manager of Manchester United: the 1-0 victory over Crystal Palace at Old Trafford was United’s first clean sheet in 14 home league matches since last April.
United just about deserved to achieve victory on the basis of their energetic first-half performance. Brazilian workhorse Fred struck the decisive goal on a Mason Greenwood assist 12 minutes from the end. Fred’s second goal of the season earned United their first back-to-back league wins since mid September.
Rangnick said: “I’m very happy with the way the team performed, especially in the first halfhour it was exceptional, with extrenme high intensity and tempo. The only thing missing was the 1-0 or 2-0. With the way the team defended all the game I’m very happy. A clean sheet is the most important part.
“I said from the beginning, from my first press conference, that these are the things we have to improve on – clean sheets and control of the game. With only one training sessions – and it was not even a full sessions – what they showed today was more than I expected.
“We always tried to be on the front foot apart from the last five minutes when we had some corners to defend.”
United started with the same team who began the 3:2 midweek win against Arsenal but with a tactical amendment which saw Marcus Rashford playing in a more central role behind Cristiano Ronaldo.
Rangnick explained: “We wanted to play with two strikers and two No10s to get more control in the centre of midfield and put pressure on their dedfence but also to make sure that Cristiano was not the only striker. What he worked against the ball – chapeau!”
United created plenty of half-chances without threatening a stream of goals to welcome their new boss. Their hard running forced early mistakes from Palace before the effects of their midweek efforts began to tell.
Ronaldo saw a volley blocked at close-range while a shot from Fred was header away by James Tomkins. Then Bruno Fernandes forced a diving save from goalkeeper Vicente Guaita. Later Alex Telles was closest to a goal with a free-kick that skimmed the top of the bar. A bad miss by Jordan Ayew cost Palace the chance of victory at Old Trafford for a third successive season.
Victory meant that Rangnick had matched three of United’s other four new managers since Sir Alex Ferguson retired in 2013 by winning his first match. Louis van Gaal was the only man to fail.
No rest for Rangnick or many training sessions to put over his ideas. United host Young Boys Bern in the Champions League on Wednesday then go away in the Premier League to Norwich on Saturday then Brentford next Tuesday.
** Aston Villa’s transformation under Steven Gerrard continues. Two goals from Ezri Konsa brought a third win in his four games by 2-1 over a Leicester team managed by Gerrard’s old Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers.
Victory was perfect preparation for Gerrard’s return to his old football home of Anfield on Saturday.
A fine goal from Lucas Moura launched Tottenham towards a 3-0 win over bottom club Norwich which provided a third successive league win for new manager Antonio Conte.
Moura struck his first league goal since February after a one-two with Heung-min Son who scored Spurs’ third. But Harry Kane is still without a first league goal under Conte.
** Marcel Brandts has been sacked as director of football at Everton. The club have spent £267m since his arrival in 2018 but host Arsenal on Monday, having lost six of their last seven league games.