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Cristiano Ronaldo’s penalty gives Manchester United win over Norwich

Cristiano Ronaldo’s penalty gives Manchester United win over Norwich…  Thank heavens for Cristiano Ronaldo, right Ralf? Not pretty, only just effective but nevertheless a hard-earned three points on the road. Manchester United fans belted out their take on jingle bells come the final whistle, but they were celebrating a victory scarcely deserved.

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Cristiano Ronaldo’s penalty gives Manchester United win over Norwich
Cristiano Ronaldo’s penalty gives Manchester United win over Norwich—-

There was some concern for United over Victor Lindelöf, who had to be replaced with 16 minutes left after he received treatment for what appeared to be problems with his chest. Ralf Rangnick said the player was OK, but added: “Victor can’t even remember himself how it happened. I think he had a collision with another player and had problems to breathe. For more than 10 minutes his heart rate was higher than normal and he was a little shocked by this, so we had to replace him.”

Shortly after he was substituted Ronaldo – who else – won and emphatically dispatched the second-half penalty that did for Norwich, the 120th club side he has netted against. And in that moment, the direction of a sodden evening was altered.

For the other 89 minutes, little in red clicked. When Ronaldo scooped over a late chance to make the final few minutes comfortable, it was more indicative of his side’s performance. A performance that posed more questions than it answered. And they were indebted to David de Gea too, whose second half-acrobatics ensured a clean sheet.

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“It was a completely different game compared to last Sunday,” Rangnick said. “We didn’t play with the same kind of intensity level.” Effusive in his praise of Norwich, the interim manager knows there is much to work on. “It’s a question of how do we deal with this kind of football? I would have wished we had more intensity, more physicality, more willingness to win the one-on-one duels.”

And he was right. For all the fawning over United’s gegenpressing, Norwich under Dean Smith have improved immeasurably on that front. And they were at it again, Lukas Rupp and Billy Gilmour full of zip and energy.

Their makeshift defence was virtually flawless. Unfortunately, the one exception came when Max Aarons placed his arms on Ronaldo with 15 minutes left; no further invitation required. “Soft as soft can be,” said Smith.

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He will rightly take great pride in his depleted side’s performance. But in Norwich’s perilous position, there are no free-hits. This was an opportunity lost. “I can’t question the performance, I can’t question the players, the spirit they are showing at the moment but unfortunately you don’t always get what you deserve. I don’t want to be a glorious loser; I want to win football games.”

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If United’s start against Crystal Palace last week was Oxford Circus at rush hour, their Carrow Road opening was more mid-morning at Cromer. And that suited Norwich, who had lost Brandon Williams (ineligible), Ben Gibson (injured) and Andrew Omobamidele (illness) from last week’s back five. That brought a shift to a four.

Despite the tepid tempo, United almost took an early lead through Alex Telles’s free-kick. The full-back kissed the ball (it supposedly energises the leather), the ball kissed Josh Sargent and then struck the bar. Tim Krul may have got the faintest of touches but not more than the asteroid that supposedly brushed the earth earlier in the afternoon.

The first half’s biggest roar came when Ronaldo attempted an audacious left-foot volley, only to completely miss his kick. That noise was matched when he subsequently fouled Grant Hanley in a failed attempt to save face. But it came at a cost. Hanley, a man mountain of a defender, lay crumpled. His attempts to run it off proved futile and on came Jacob Sørensen, veteran of 10 previous Premier League minutes.

Not that the Dane was fazed; faced with a series of circa-2005 stepovers from Ronaldo, he simply watched, waited and nipped the ball away. United’s other chance of note came on the stroke of the interval; Harry Maguire stooped, the header looped and Krul tipped over.

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McFred, for all the plaudits that have rightly gone their way in recent weeks, were largely bypassed, with Rupp the standout midfielder. Had he not mistimed his jump, Norwich may have gone ahead before the break. But East Anglian belief was rising.

And by osmosis that transferred to those in yellow after the interval. The decibel levels cranked up. Every home tackle, every interception was greeted as if a goal. Those are rare in these parts this season but a rasping left-foot effort from Teemu Pukki almost brought one. At full-stretch, De Gea pulled off a magnificent one-handed stop.

Then came the heartbreak. Scott McTominay’s clipped cross ended with Ronaldo on the ground. The penalty winner turned penalty scorer. Norwich continued to press, De Gea twice denying Ozan Kabak, first immediately after the goal and then again in injury time. That’s 10 blanks they’ve drawn in the top-flight now. Not quite good enough or just not meant to be?

 

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