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Fred seals victory in Rangnick's first match
United failed to convert dominance into goals
New narrower 4-2-2-2 formation tried
Ayew misses fine Palace chance to take the lead against run of play
Sometimes the arrival of a new manager can lead to the most unexpected outcomes and even the most unlikely of reincarnations. Much has been made of the demands expected from Ralf Rangnick, Manchester United’s interim coach and the ‘Godfather of Gegenpressing’, and there was clear evidence in a hard-fought win over Crystal Palace of exactly what he wants.
There are also obvious conclusions about which players may benefit – the hard-running Marcus Rashford and Jadon Sancho, for example, even if both were substituted – and more interestingly the full-backs Diogo Dalot and Alex Telles who were told to push high and wide and get forward and did just that. But no one predicted the effect Rangnick’s first game would have on Fred.
There have been small signs, since Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was sacked, of a different side to the much-maligned midfielder who has often come to symbolise United’s struggles, their wastefulness (it still seems incredible he cost £52 million) and the limitations and underwhelming negativity that has marked their play. And so when Rangnick’s first team-sheet was delivered there were murmurings as Fred and Scott McTominay (‘McFred’ as the partnership has disparagingly become known) were again paired in the heart of the midfield.
But this was different. Very different. Rangnick has clearly demanded a more positive approach – United were marched 10-20 yards up the pitch - and that was summed up as Fred played far more as he does for Brazil and reaped the reward with the only goal to claim the victory that United desperately needed. They are three points outside the top four and suddenly appear well-placed for a challenge.
Fred’s goal was incredibly timely. United had dominated the first half but had tired badly. Rangnick’s influence was felt throughout, with United forced into being the “pressing monsters” he has demanded, but it was just as they were running out of energy – they are simply not conditioned yet for this kind of intense work – that they scored.
It also came seconds after Palace should have taken the lead when James Tomkins headed a corner back across goal only for the unmarked Jordan Ayew to make a hash of it – as he side-footed a shot back beyond the far post. Little wonder the forward lay on the ground in disbelief because he really had to take that chance.
Instead it was United who did with Dalot breaking forward yet again and fizzing a pass into substitute Mason Greenwood who nimbly turned the ball back to Fred whose first-time, side-footed shot from the edge of the box arced over goalkeeper Vicente Guaita and high into the net.
At the end as he slowly left the pitch, claiming the applause and with the widest of grins, there was laughter and mickey-taking from his team-mates, led by Bruno Fernandes who mimed the dramatic trajectory of Fred’s shot. It highlighted even more its rarity but, maybe, from now on there will be a new Fred in this new United. “He’s the underdog. Everyone can criticise him,” Dalot said but if Fred plays like this, then that will stop.
There was Rangnick’s imprint everywhere in United’s performance, especially in a first-half when they racked up chances, which was impressive given the German has had little more than one training session to get his ideas across. Still there is much work to be done and he will know that. But winning your first game does not half help getting those ideas across.
The philosophy was clear. United played far higher up the pitch, they pressed, they pushed and they peppered the Palace goal. By the end they had won the ball back 12 times in the opposition half – far more than in any other game this season – and it was interesting to see Fernandes more disciplined and stationed on the right, with Rashford partnering Cristiano Ronaldo and Sancho sometimes moving infield, and in a formation that morphed from 4-4-2 to more like a 4-2-2-2.
But with Victor Lindelof even occasionally stepping into midfield it also left them vulnerable to the counter-attack and Palace sensed that as they tried to spring forward through Wilfried Zaha and Christian Benteke. Other teams will have taken note – do United really want to leave Harry Maguire so exposed?
Nevertheless they should have taken a comfortable lead by half-time. Ronaldo’s volley was blocked by Marc Guehi, Ronaldo then leapt high to head over before cleverly heading the ball back into Fernandes’ path with Guaita turning his low half-volley around the post. From a corner Telles shot narrowly wide, a goal-bound drive from Fred was headed away by Tomkins, a deflected effort from Sancho almost caught out Guaita before looping onto the roof the net and Dalot shot over when well-placed.
Would United pay the price? Palace had defended bravely. They put their bodies on the line, they competed in midfield and they also carried a threat with Cheikhou Kouyate unfortunate when his goal-bound header deflected off Telles who was soon involved at the other end with his whipped free-kick from the right clipping the top of the cross-bar.
By now the crowd had quietened, appeared apprehensive and Ronaldo – who was becoming less influential – attempted to whip up a reaction by frantically waving his arms. It worked for a while but what United really needed and obviously what Rangnick was desperate for was a goal and a win. Anything else would have been a severe anti-climax.
Finally the release came with Fred’s strike but it was still far from comfortable after that as United were forced to hold on, with Maguire bandaged after a clash of heads, and five minutes of injury time winding down slowly for them as Palace pushed for the equalising goal they will have felt they deserved.
Palace could not get it with United receiving another boon – their first clean sheet at home since April. It meant Rangnick’s regime is up and flying and there are discernible shoots of a recovery started by caretaker Michael Carrick. The interim has hit the ground running (and there will be plenty of running for this United team). Thanks to Fred.
Rangnick revels in 'perfect' start to Man Utd reign
By James Ducker
Ralf Rangnick admitted he was “positively surprised” by Manchester United’s performance and lauded Cristiano Ronaldo’s work off the ball after hailing a “perfect” start as interim manager.
Rangnick had been given an early introduction to the Manchester weather after having to cut short his only training session on Saturday due to the “disgusting” rain and wind.
But he was impressed by the intensity of United’s football and the way they carried out his instructions after having barely 60 hours to prepare for his first match in charge against Crystal Palace following Thursday’s 3-2 win over Arsenal.
“I must admit I was a bit surprised, because not only did we play Thursday, a late kick-off, we had two days less to recover compared to Crystal Palace and we had not even a full training session yesterday because it was 45 minutes,” Rangnick said.
“It was pouring. It was not just Manchester weather – it was disgusting. It was heavy rain, windy, so it was almost impossible to train in a concentrated and focused manner, but they still did it in those 45 minutes on the pitch.
“We explained how we wanted to play and the rest was video footage, a lot of personal conversations with players, individually, in groups, explaining to them how we want to play. I didn’t expect them to play at that level after such a short time.”
The German added: “I’m more than happy. I was positively surprised by the physical state and intensity. The first half-hour was amazing. I felt it was an extremely high tempo, high intensity, always on the front foot. The only thing missing in the first half-hour was not scoring one, two or three goals.
“For me, it was clear you cannot play the whole game, 90 minutes, at this level of intensity, but even after that we had control of the game. The second half we started again well and, in the end, we deserved to win.
“I’m more than happy with a clean sheet, a beautiful goal with his weak right foot by Fred. It was about gaining control and we had control most of the time. It was a perfect first game for us to play.”
Marcus Rashford played centrally alongside Cristiano Ronaldo in a 4-2-2-2 system and Rangnick made a point of praising the Portugal forward’s work off the ball.
Questions have been asked about how Rangnick plans to accommodate Ronaldo in a pressing system but the five-time World Player of the Year’s performance served as a riposte to those who criticise his work-rate and earned a special mention from his manager. “By the way, what Ronaldo did today ‘against the ball’ – chapeau,” Rangnick said.
Rangnick said he planned to celebrate, but admitted there was no time to dwell on the victory. Asked how he would celebrate, the former RB Leipzig coach said: “Maybe a good dinner and a glass of red wine. Tomorrow 9am [we are back training], so not much time to celebrate.”
Fred’s goal and performance delighted Rangnick, as did Scott McTominay’s contribution. “If you play the way we played today with regard to intensity, with regard to being on the front foot, playing proactively and having four offensive players ahead of Scottie and Fred, it’s highly important you have players who are very disciplined – proactively aggressive against the ball,” he said.
“Scotty and Fred are almost perfect defensively on that.” United face Young Boys in the Champions League at Old Trafford on Wednesday, having already qualified for the knockout stages as the group winner, and Rangnick said he was planning to make changes.
“I don’t know if we will play a completely new 10 players but it’s definitely possible we could play with some new players,” he said.
Man Utd vs Crystal Palace - as it happened
Full time Man Utd 1 Palace 0
A first victory for Ralf Rangnick in his first game as manager. Deserved though they made hard work of it and Palace could easily have nicked it had Ayew made a proper connection.
Jason Burt;s match report is imminent and will appear above in a matter of moments.
90+4 min Man Utd 1 Palace 0
United push Palace back to halfway but Elanga is penalised and concedes a free-kick just inside the United half.
90+3 min Man Utd 1 Palace 0
Mitchell bends over a cross that flirts with the crossbar so De Gea tips it over. Van de Beek sticks the corner out for another.
90+2 min Man Utd 1 Palace 0
The ref stops the free-kick to talk to Telles and tell him to stop pushing. Ronaldo wins the defensive header from the poor free-kick and pushes Palace back up the field.
90+1 min Man Utd 1 Palace 0
Lindelof is booked for a sliding foul on Zaha down the Palace left. Olise will take the free-kick.
90 min Man Utd 1 Palace 0
Gallagher tackles Ronaldo 30 yards from goal but his pass to try to send Zaha on his way is mopped up by Lindelof and Maguire.
The fourth official puts five minutes on his board.
89 min Man Utd 1 Palace 0
Alex Telles fizzes over an inswinging, deep cross that Palace have to put behind. Corner on the right that Olise clears, pumping it upfield.
87 min Man Utd 1 Palace 0
Van de Beek flies down the right and is knocked over by Tomkins to earn a free-kick parallel with the 18-yard line.
86 min Man Utd 1 Palace 0
Van de Beek replaces Fernandes. Old Trafford sings the Solskjaer song.
84 min Man Utd 1 Palace 0
Maguire resumes with a black headband to stem the blood on his cut brow.
83 min Man Utd 1 Palace 0
Double Palace substitution - Eberechi Eze and Michael Olise replace Kouyate and Ayew.
81 min Man Utd 1 Palace 0
Maguire goes down in his own box after being nutted inadvertently by Edouard as Palace worked a free-kick wide and crossed for Kouyate to flick it on.
79 min Man Utd 1 Palace 0
Sweeps in a right-foot shot from 18 yards with his instep after excellent work from Greenwood to control Dalot's pass, hold it up and play the perfect pass for Fred. Phenomenal finish, too.
Man Utd 1 Palace 0 (Fred)
77 min Man Utd 0 Palace 0
Manchester United remove Rashford and replace him with Elanga.
74 min Man Utd 0 Palace 0
Palace corner after Maguire has to stop Ayew skating up the touchline.
Mitchell takes the corner deep from the right, Tomkins wins the header and nods it back across goal. Ayew arrives at the back post but drags his right foot shot through the six-yard box and misses the target by an embarrassing margin.
72 min Man Utd 0 Palace 0
Manchester United and their crowd have fallen very flat. Ripe for a Palace smash and grab now.
70 min Man Utd 0 Palace 0
Greenwood is set up for a shot to the right of the D after good hold up play from Bruno Fernandes and a delay in making the pass until Greenwood arrived. But the sub screws it out towards the corner flag.
67 min Man Utd 0 Palace 0
Guehi drags down Rashford on the right, about 10 yards from the byline, and is booked.
Alex Telles takes and tries to whip a shot in at the far post with devilish spin but it clears the bar.
66 min Man Utd 0 Palace 0
Palace substitution: Edouard for Benteke.
64 min Man Utd 0 Palace 0
Palace corner on the right defended well on the 18-yard line. Gallagher spoons a shot miles wide from 22 yards.
62 min Man Utd 0 Palace 0
Zaha runs the ball out of play down the left, to the delight of the crowd.
United substitution: Greenwood replaces Sancho.
60 min Man Utd 0 Palace 0
United corner on the left. Short again to Sancho who arcs a right-foot inswinger out of play, beyond the three back-post runners.
58 min Man Utd 0 Palace 0
Sancho tries to dribble and shimmy past Kouyate and Tomkins which he achieves then lays it square to Rashford who takes a touch to set up a shot. But his first touch is too heavy and allows Palace's defenders to swarm him and nick the ball away.
56 min Man Utd 0 Palace 0
Gallagher whips the free-kick from the right beyond the far post and Kouyate meets it, heading it into his marker and out for a corner that United defend well as Schlupp loses the ball.
54 min Man Utd 0 Palace 0
Ayew gets his body across Fred 22 yards out and is barelled over. Palace free-kick. Gallagher will take.
52 min Man Utd 0 Palace 0
Bruno Fernandes chips a straight pass right up the middle of the pitch into the box as Rashford tried to elude Guehi but it's too far behind him.
Benteke and Ayew are hurt by United fouls, the second by Alex Telles.
50 min Man Utd 0 Palace 0
Good, dipping cross from the right by Bruno Fernandes but it didn't dip quickly enough and Guaita was able to come out in Superman pose to punch it six inches before it connected with Ronaldo's head propelled by those neck muscles like steel cables.
49 min Man Utd 0 Palace 0
All United in terms of possession so far and Maguire starts a move that ends as they rattle through the passes with Fernandes shooting selfishly from 22 yards with the box loaded.
48 min Man Utd 0 Palace 0
Mitchell stops Bruno Fernandes getting down the left side of Palace's defence and a few moments later McTominay sprays a pass intended for Dalot into touch.
46 min Man Utd 0 Palace 0
No changes at half-time. I've been impressed by Dalot. I think Mitchell is a serious talent at left-back and, so far, Dalot has managed to push him backwards. United are attacking the Stretford End and are lining up in a 4-2-2-2 as they were at the end of the first half with Rashford and Sancho taking it in turns to go up top with Ronaldo.
Half-time Man Utd 0 Palace 0
Lively start for Rangnick's United ho have looked more fluent, certainly more engaged in the press higher up the pitch and keen to be on the front foot. But the decision making around the box and/or the run of the ball in it have not yet come off. Palace have had to be resilient and must have their hearts in their mouths at times but there is fertile ground for them behind the full-backs if they can eke out enough possession.
45 min Man Utd 0 Palace 0
Dalot ends the half by cutting in from the right to thunder a left-foot shot over the bar.
44 min Man Utd 0 Palace 0
Maguire tries a long diagonal to Dalot but Mitchell wins the header and Fred has to work hard to retrieve possession. Trying a few long balls now, United.
42 min Man Utd 0 Palace 0
Benteke wins the header at the free-kick in the box but is too well-marked to do anything but head it up and Bruno Fernandes hacks it away.
41 min Man Utd 0 Palace 0
Bruno is penalised for coming through Zaha as the Palace winger scampered down the right. Palace have been much brighter this past five minutes. Gallagher takes the free-kick 35 yards out.
39 min Man Utd 0 Palace 0
Ayew has come into the middle with Zaha on the right and receives a pass from the latter 30 yards out. He wraps his instep around a shot that drifts harmlessly past the right post with De Gea untroubled.
37 min Man Utd 0 Palace 0
The Bruno Fernandes-Ronaldo link-up is not as smooth as it should be. Twice Ronaldo has wanted the ball to feet in space just inside the box but his compatriot has chosen to shoot instead.
35 min Man Utd 0 Palace 0
Palace defend the corner well and seem to be weathering the storm.
33 min Man Utd 0 Palace 0
United chip it down the left from the free-kick on halfway. Sancho traps it with his outstretched right leg, knocks it into the box and bends a shot that Clyne blocks with his raised right foot and diverts it over Guaita and on to the roof of the net.
31 min Man Utd 0 Palace 0
Clyne plants his studs into Fred's ankle as he lunged after a ball when he lost control of it in the dribble. Yellow card. Fred's OK.
30 min Man Utd 0 Palace 0
It's all United. Palace are seriously under the cosh here and decide, after they are awarded a goalkick to relieve the siege, to try knocking it long after being kettled in their final third for the best part of 10 minutes.
28 min Man Utd 0 Palace 0
More good work from Bruno Fernandes on the left of the box, beating Clyne and Schlupp to centre to Ronaldo who can't get the bouncing ball under control and resorts to flicking a leg as it spun away from him, poking it with his toe into Guehi.
26 min Man Utd 0 Palace 0
Good one-handed save from Guaita at full-stretch to his right after Ronaldo nods back a chipped pass out of the area and Bruno Fernandes jumps to hit it on the half-volley.
24 min Man Utd 0 Palace 0
Very good cross on the right from Dalot catches Ronaldo by surprise and he mistimes his jump, the ball parting his hair. It runs through to Sancho who cuts it back for the arriving Fred and he spanks a left-foot shot into human traffic and out for a corner.
21 min Man Utd 0 Palace 0
Decent start by United and the fans are in good voice. Sancho is now on the left alongside Rashford. MLindelof chips a long pass up the inside left. Rashford bombs on to it having started level with Clyne and squares it for Ronaldo who stabs an angled shot too close to Guaita.
19 min Man Utd 0 Palace 0
Cristiano Ronaldo cuts in from the left and hammers a shot that Guaita turns behind. When the corner sails over the box Dalot whips a cross back in and Ronaldo meets it by the penalty spot at the apex of his leap but can only reach it with the crown f his skull and consequently cannot get his header on target.
17 min Man Utd 0 Palace 0
Lindelof slides in to tackle Benteke head on after McTominay loses the ball carelessly in midfield.
16 min Man Utd 0 Palace 0
Palace corner won by Gallagher and Zaha but Tomkins bundles his marker over when Zaha's deep cross comes into the box and United have a free-kick.
14 min Man Utd 0 Palace 0
Fernandes stands up a cross from the right of the D floatily, looking for Ronaldo. But Guaita is out quickly to pluck it out of the Stretford air.
13 min Man Utd 0 Palace 0
Rashford, who has been lively, is sandwiched between Ayew and Schlupp to earn a free-kick 25 yards out, left of centre. Ronaldo takes and smashes a right-foot shot over the bar.
United's front three are rotating fluently so far.
11 min Man Utd 0 Palace 0
Zaha uses Lindelof's retreat as an invitation o shoot but pumps his effort straight down De Gea's gullet.
10 min Man Utd 0 Palace 0
Ronaldo receives a pass on the right just outside the box when Fernandes slips a pass don the inside-right to Rashford who lays it off to his right. Ronaldo cuts in and spanks a shot-cross hybrid past the left post and Fernandes' dive to try to meet it with a header.
8 min Man Utd 0 Palace 0
Benteke scrapes a left-foot shot from an offside position straight at De Gea who could have thrown a cap on it. Zaha had Mitchell better-placed on the overlap but chose to seek his centre-forward rather than the galloping left-back who, crucially, was actually onside.
6 min Man Utd 0 Palace 0
United are quicker to hussle so far and McTominay links with Sancho and Dalot on the right after Bruno Fernandes led the press. They force Palace to rush their clearance and the ball comes straight back at them.
5 min Man Utd 0 Palace 0
Telles is penalised for knocking Ayew off his feet when the winger backed into him or vice versa on halfway.
4 min Man Utd 0 Palace 0
United work the corner short to Rashford and back to Fernandes who passes to the edge of the D for Alex Telles who connects crisply with a left foot shot that whistles only inches over the bar.
3 min Man Utd 0 Palace 0
Maguire brings it out from the back, passes to Telles who chips it forward to Rashford who beats Tomkins down the outside but the centre-half recovers with a slide tackle that whips the ball out for a corner.
1 min Man Utd 0 Palace 0
Fist bumps are exchanged, the players and managers, Wilf Zaha apart, take the knee and Manchester United kick off, attacking from left to right.
Sancho is floating at the beginning and McTominay wins a crunch tackle. Fred catches Kouyate on the top of the foot late but isn't penalised.
The teams are in the tunnel
United in their home kit, Palace in yellow with their vertical rather than diagonal sash.
Wayne Rooney is in the crowd. Cue Stone Roses, problematic lead singer notwithstanding.
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Rangnick on why he has opted for the same XI
Rangnick's debut programme notes
Right now, I am here because development is what needs to happen again. Nobody at the club is happy to be where we are in the Premier League table. It has been an average season so far, there is no avoiding that, but the club has players who are much better than the position we currently occupy and it is my job to improve those players and that position.
There are some vastly experienced players in the squad, as well as so many talented young players. I look at guys like Jadon Sancho, who I know from the Bundesliga, Mason Greenwood and Marcus Rashford, and I am very much looking forward to working with the entire squad and helping them all to make the most of their obvious talent.
The first step in doing that is a shift in how the collective approaches games. If you want to win a football match, you have to control it, so the aim right now is to help the team control games more. That means being more proactive with and without the ball.
It is important, first and foremost, to start winning games regularly in the short-term then step by step, build the team in the right direction beyond that. We want to train the players' brains and encourage them to do the right things until they become second nature.
Your teams in black and white
Man Utd De Gea; Dalot, Lindelof, Maguire, Alex Telles; McTominay, Fred; Sancho, Bruno Fernandes, Rashford; Ronaldo.
Substitutes Henderson, Bailly, Jones, Mata, Greenwood, Wan-Bissaka, Matic, Van de Beek, Elanga.
Crystal Palace Guaita; Clyne, Tomkins, Guehi, Mitchell; Schlupp, Kouyate, Gallagher; Ayew, Benteke, Zaha.
Substitutes Butland, Milivojevic, Olise, Eze, Hughes, Mateta, Edouard, Kelly, Riedewald.
Referee Craig Pawson (South Yorkshire)
Manchester United are unchanged
Two changes for Palace
At right-back and centre-forward:
Rangnick arrives at Old Trafford
— Manchester United (@ManUtd) December 5, 2021
Welcome to coverage of Manchester United against Crystal Palace, the first match of Ralf Rangnick's spell as manager of the home side. Matt Busby, as he then was, Dave Sexton, David Moyes, Jose Mourinho and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer all won their first matches in charge of United, Ron Atkinson, Alex Ferguson and Louis van Gaal all lost while Frank O'Farrell and Tommy Docherty earned a point. Wilf McGuinness played today's opponents, emerging with a 2-2 draw in August 1969.
Today is as much about pointers to what lies ahead for United rather than coherent evidence of Rangnick's impact over a handful of days. He spent much of his introductory press conference talking about a non-dogmatic approach, melding his principles of attacking and defensive play to the "abundance of talent" he has inherited.
"You always have to adapt your style or your idea of football to the players you have available, not vice-versa," Rangnick said. "Having seen Cristiano yesterday in the second half [against Arsenal] at the age of 36, an amazing top professional. At his age, I've never seen a player who is still that physically fit.
"He's still a player who can easily make the difference. So yes, it's about how we can develop the whole team not only Cristiano. We play in the most competitive league in the world so we need all the players on board. What I saw from Cristiano yesterday, he is more than willing to do that, to put his input into the team. His team-mates will have to do the same."
He cannot call on the injured Raphael Varane and Paul Pogba, and Edinson Cavani and Luke Shaw are unlikely to be ready to return. Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Nemanja Matic are closer to comebacks while Ronaldo, who was struck down by cramp on Thursday, should be available.
As for Palace, Patrick Vieira is expected to be on the touchline. The 45-year-old was unable to take training on Friday after he had to leave the club's Beckenham base to deal with an "urgent family matter". Assistant Osian Roberts faced the media for Palace's pre-match press conference before the trip to United.But Vieira was able to return to lead training on Saturday and has also travelled to Manchester.
Joel Ward and Nathan Ferguson have stayed behind in London but Joachim Andersen and James McArthur, who both missed Tuesday's defeat at Elland Road, have gone north.