IN the Rang-nick of time, Cristiano Ronaldo saved Manchester United again.
The veteran striker redeemed his own and his team’s poor display by winning and converting the penalty that ultimately decided the match and made it two wins out of two for interim boss Ralf Rangnick.
But it took another two classic David De Gea saves, from Ozan Kabak headers, to make sure Ronaldo’s goal was enough to see off a spirited Norwich side.
And the whole performance made it clear that it’s going to take Rangnick some time to sort out United.
The line-up, the same as the previous two Premier League games, wasn’t the only thing that was unchanged.
The slack passing, the impotent attack, the overall lack of coherence – many of the worst things about the final weeks of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s reign were present and incorrect.
Ronaldo himself, for most of the match, typified his team’s display.
He could barely complete a pass, he misread the intentions of team-mates, he even looked uninterested at times.
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But just as he did to prolong Solskjaer’s agony in the United hotseat, Ronaldo produced when it mattered.
And so did De Gea at the other end.
For almost the whole game, however, Norwich were harder, better, faster, stronger, and, most unforgivably of all, hungrier.
Dean Smith’s side did not play like a team bottom of the league. If they play like this more often – and they can find a cutting edge – then they will still have a chance of survival.
Norwich started the more lively side, whie United were scrappy.
Their opening 10 minutes was summed up by Alex Telles gifting the ball to Teemu Pukki, whose cross was cleared desperately by Scott McTominay, and then Bruno Fernandes putting a routine pass down the line straight into touch.
The visitors had the first decent chance, though, when Alex Telles’ free kick was deflected by the Norwich wall on to Tim Krul’s crossbar, apparently without the goalkeeper getting a touch.
The home fans were incensed by the free-kick decision and soon had further reason to complain.
Ronaldo had fouled Grant Hanley in frustration after completely fluffing an attempted volley, and a few minutes later the Norwich captain found himself unable to continue.
That left Smith having to bring on midfielder Jacob Sorensen to play alongside Ozan Kabak, who was already his fourth-choice centre back.
It was a relief, then, that United were doing little to trouble the makeshift pairing.
Ronaldo looked out of sorts, Jadon Sancho was regressing to his pre-Rangnick form, while Bruno Fernandes and Marcus Rashford seemed more worried about claiming imaginary fouls than playing.
It said a lot that the visitors’ first direct shot on target, when it finally arrived in the 32nd minute, was by right back Diogo Dalot.
The next save Krul had to make was less comfortable but not as difficult as it should have been.
McTominay played Ronaldo clean through, but instead of shooting first time, the United striker cut back inside and the effort he eventually produced was kept out fairly easily by the Dutchman.
Norwich were doing enough to keep their supporters loud and proud, but not enough to score.
Three times Lukas Rupp was in decent positions in the United box and three times he could not produce a moment of quality, on the last occasion heading the ball so tamely that David De Gea could gather it at his leisure.
Krul made his best stop of the half when Harry Maguire looped a Sancho cross goalwards, but the home side deserved to go into the break on level terms.
They might have gone in front early in the second period, but Przemyslaw Placheta shot weakly after beating Maguire with ease.
Pukki, who had been working hard for little reward, finally had a sight of goal in the 57th minute.
But De Gea made an excellent save to keep out the Finn’s rising shot.
Norwich smelled blood and put United under pressure from a series of corners in front of the faithful in the Barclay.
Rashford rippled the wrong side of the net with a low drive, but the visitors remained unconvincing until the pivotal moment arrived.
Max Aarons bundled Ronaldo over in the box and referee Darren England pointed to the spot.
Krul had saved two United penalties in the home defeat two seasons ago but not this time.
The away fans struck up the familiar chorus in praise of their talisman but the words almost stuck in their throats.
Kabak’s header was firm and true but De Gea produced another one of those match-changing saves that have helped United so often for so long.
Substitute Eric Bailly, on for Victor Lindelof after the Swede left the field with what looked like chest pains, also made a great block on a Billy Gilmour shot.
Ronaldo should have made it two from close range before, in the dying minutes, De Gea blocked Kabak’s header at his near post.
New boss, same old United.
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