Cristiano Ronaldo’s second half penalty spared Manchester United’s blushes in a stuttering 1-0 win away to Norwich City on Saturday evening.
Dean Smith’s hosts started much the better, repeatedly finding space down the flanks of Ralf Rangnick’s narrow 4-2-2-2, though their status as Europe’s worst attack – with just eight goals going into the contest – was evident from the off.
Frustrating their sluggish visitors with five yellow shirts strung across the width of midfield off the ball, Norwich held Manchester United at arm’s length for the opening half-hour. A poor touch from Teemu Pukki on halfway sparked the clearest chance before the interval as Manchester United’s midfield pairing finally delivered the direct, vertical passes Rangnick craves.
Fred combined with Scott McTominay to provide Ronaldo with the ball in Norwich’s box for the first time on 37 minutes. The Portuguese number seven sent Ozan Kabak sliding off the pitch but offered one too many feints, eventually firing tamely into Tim Krul’s gloves.
Throughout the match, Manchester United’s play was littered with poorly judged and placed passes – despite the distinct lack of adventure in these attempts. Victor Lindelof’s half-cleared header doesn’t exactly fall into this category but it gave Norwich the ball on the edge of the opposition area, allowing Teemu Pukki to rattle off a fierce attempt that David de Gea tipped over 12 minutes after the interval.
Manchester United’s keeper was swiftly called back into action as the Canaries won the first and second ball from a corner on the cusp of the hour mark, but Jacob Sorensen’s bundled effort had no power.
While Norwich’s feeble finishing and Manchester United’s toothless display left the game trundling towards a goalless stalemate, the visitors were offered a lifeline after 75 minutes. Ronaldo tumbled dramatically with Max Aarons’ hand naively round his shoulder in the Norwich penalty area, earning the spot kick that he duly dispatched to finally break the deadlock.
Ronaldo may have added to his tally as Norwich were left searching for the victory but De Gea emerged from the contest as United’s saviour, denying Ozan Kabak from a pair of set pieces in the final 15 minutes.
Tim Krul (GK) – 7/10 – Dealt with the surprisingly little he had to do without much fuss.
Max Aarons (RB) – 4/10 – Undid all his good work going forward with the hint of an invitation for Ronaldo to go down.
Grant Hanley (CB) – N/A – Falling awkwardly on the arm that bears his captain’s armband after a tangle with Ronaldo, Norwich’s skipper was forced off after 20 minutes.
Ozan Kabak (CB) – 6/10 – Unaffected by the early withdrawal of his captain.
Dimitris Giannoulis (LB) – 7/10 – Caused a headaches going forward and wasn’t duly troubled at the other end.
Lukas Rupp (CM) – 6/10 – Breaking forward into United’s box, Rupp unbalanced the opponent’s backline by his added presence, but didn’t capitalise on the space that afforded him.
Billy Gilmour (CM) – 7/10 – Dropping deeper to repeatedly become the spare man in midfield.
Kenny McLean (CM) – 6/10 – Quick to get in close proximity to the red shirt on the ball.
Przemyslaw Placheta (RW) – 6/10 – On his first Premier League start, Placheta was dropping so deep as to almost become an auxiliary right back at times.
Teemu Pukki (ST) – 6/10 – The man Norwich would desperately have wanted their sights (rather than shots) on goal lost his composure in those crucial moments.
Josh Sargent (LW) – 5/10 – Worked diligently out of possession but scarcely involved when Norwich did have the ball.
Jacob Sorensen (CB) – 6/10 – Slotted into defence looking much more natural than his favoured midfield role may have suggested.
Todd Cantwell (LW) – N/A
Pierre Lees-Melou (CM) – N/A
David de Gea (GK) – 8/10 – Produced a flurry of fingertip stops before twice denying Kabak at set pieces with increasingly impressive stops.
Diogo Dalot (RB) – 5/10 – Pushing forward from fullback, Dalot was regularly alerted to the space that adventure left behind him.
Victor Lindelof (CB) – 6/10 – Not overly troubled before departing midway through the second half with a worryingly unspecified injury.
Harry Maguire (CB) – 7/10 – One of the few United players that were overtly proactive off the ball, Maguire was always keen to engage early.
Alex Telles (LB) – 5/10 – Like so many players scattered throughout the team, all too sloppy in possession.
Scott McTominay (DM) – 6/10 – Dropping deep as he struggled to lubricate Manchester United’s decidedly stodgy build up play.
Fred (DM) – 5/10 – Pedestrian on the ball and lacking the intensity of his snap off it.
Jadon Sancho (AM) – 4/10 – Struggled to exert any kind of influence on proceedings.
Bruno Fernandes (AM) – 6/10 – Eager as ever to play the early forward pass but all too often operating on a different wavelength to his teammates.
Cristiano Ronaldo (ST) – 7/10 – Revelled in the role of Carrow Road’s pantomime but rarely threatened to add to his tally either side of the spot kick.
Marcus Rashford (ST) – 4/10 – Arguably Manchester United’s most wasteful culprit on a disappointing night individually.
Mason Greenwood (AM) – 5/10
Eric Bailly (CB) – N/A
Donny van de Beek (AM) – N/A