Sat. Jan 22nd, 2022

“We love you Rangnick, we do,” sang a jubilant Stretford End near the final whistle as Fred was the unlikely hero in this deserved victory for Manchester United interim manager Ralf Rangnick in his first match in charge.

The winner was an even finish in the middle class from the reviled Brazilian – with his less used right foot – and came from a sweet pass from Mason Greenwood, on to Jadon Sancho, who had been United’s best player.

A happy Rangnick said: “I had to ask my assistant coach if it was Fred’s right foot. I thought he could only shoot with the left. I’m happy on his behalf.”

Fred showed a balance in front of goal that had been more and more absent as what began as a promising display meandered after the break. Moments before Fred’s goal, United had a cardiac arrest when James Tompkins’ knockdown from Tyrick Mitchell’s corner was hit by Jordan Ayew from a narrow angle, but with David de Gea’s goal gaping.

United are four games unbeaten, three of them victories, and with this also just another clean sheet of the campaign here was a perfect result for Rangnick to start his tenure.

The German’s initial XI was an if-it-did-not-break-it-fix selection that kept those beating Arsenal 3-2. This was an intriguing move due to the glaring structural problem Rangnick had identified – lack of control in the fighting – which he said was clearly evident in the chaotic victory here on Thursday.

Opposition would run that Rangnick cited a problem with style rather than staff, and that keeping the same side was smart management when players were given a first chance to impress.

Jadon Sancho on the ball
Jadon Sancho impressed with his constant run. Photo: Jon Super / AP

The 63-year-old’s mindset became clearer at kick-off as 4-2-3-1 from the previous regime was rejected to a 4-2-2-2 that had Marcus Rashford and Cristiano Ronaldo placed ahead of Bruno Fernandes and Sancho.

Palace’s 2-0 defeat to Manchester City in October proved Patrick Vieira can plan eye-catching victories and there was an early warning when Wilfried Zaha slipped Christian Benteke, who was marked offside.

However, this was as good as the first half was for Palace. If a shaky defense and absent midfield are the key factors in United’s battle for control, attack is the bright spot, as illustrated by the constant rushing waves from Diogo Dalot, Rashford, Fernandes, Alex Telles, Sancho and Ronaldo.

As the latter floated on to Fernandes’ ball, he unloaded at Vicente Guita’s goal and demanded a corner kick. A curved Victor Lindelöf chip was next to flip Palace, where Rashford collected and fed Ronaldo, whose efforts Guaita saved.

In a host of action, Ronaldo missed a header, Sancho dried up, returned to Fred, and he let fly directly at Tomkins. There were persistent United attacking patterns that pleased Rangnick. Ronaldo then came in contact with a header he set up for Fernandes, whose attempt at completion was whimsical. Rashford pinged the ball to Fernandes, and it ricocheted to Ronaldo, but when No. 7 had cramped for space, Palace escaped.

United looked exactly what they are: a team whose confidence is gathering, and Sancho’s sparkling rays. Rangnick had asked Sancho and Fernandes to be fluent as “two No. 10s,” and the former whistled around to knit play or test Guaita, and his energy was also evident when it came to shutting the guests down.

Was there more of this under the man nicknamed “the godfather of pressing”? Yes, is an answer, determined in the initial stages. But such was United’s advantage, which had been little reason for it when the second half started.

A Fernande’s bang over from 20 yards showed how calm was lacking from United. However, they still dominated. An entry from Benteke, which ended with De Gea grabbing his cross, was a rare moment of Palace pressure. Then, after a melee close to United’s territory, Craig Pawson awarded a free kick and the referee convicted Fred of making a mistake. Conor Gallagher swung in a good chance from the left, but the visitors’ defense were able to clear the ball.

Sancho – inevitably eventually – triggered United when a break caused Rashford to run into Guita’s goal and Gallagher was ready to help push the striker out.

The Fiver: sign up and receive our daily football email.

Telles tried to twist the match United’s way with a free kick at an angle from the right that beat Guaita, but not his crossbar. There had been a waste of quality from Rangnick’s men, a pointless back-to-front pass by Lindelöf, who sailed to safety and summed this up.

But then came the winner, and although Palace were striving for an equalizer at the end, the less-sighted Donny van de Beek and Anthony Elanga were on the pitch: perhaps hints as to where Rangnick wants to take United.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *