After a whole week of predictions and speculations that introduced Ralf Rangnick’s reign at Manchester United, Rangnick looked set to endure a frustrating first outing as United interim manager as Palace weathered an early onslaught before staging another dogged defensive display at a ground where they were unbeaten in their previous two visits.
But the Eagles’ resistance was broken 13 minutes from time when Fred curled his second Premier League goal of the season into the top corner of the Palace net with his unfavoured right boot.
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For Palace, Fred’s winner was compounded by the fact it came less than two minutes after Jordan Ayew had squandered their best chance of winning at Old Trafford for the second successive season.
The victory extends United’s post-Ole Gunnar Solskjaer unbeaten run in all competitions to four matches and lifts them up to sixth in the Premier League, three points outside the top four, while Palace drops a place to 12th after suffering their third straight defeat.
Man Utd: De Gea (6), Dalot (6), Lindelof (7), Maguire (7), Alex Telles (6), McTominay (6), Fred (8), Sancho (6), Fernandes (6), Rashford (5), Ronaldo (6).
Subs: Greenwood (6), Elanga (5), Van de Beek (n/a).
Crystal Palace: Guaita (6), Mitchell (6), Tomkins (7), Guehi (7), Clyne (6), Gallagher (6), Kouyate (6), Schlupp (6), Ayew (6), Zaha (5), Benteke (5).
Subs: Edouard (5), Olise (n/a), Eze (n/a),
Man of the Match: Fred
Rangnick was keen to downplay the speed with which his appointment could transform United’s fortunes, but despite having had a mere handful of training sessions to impart his philosophy, there were visible signs of improvement from the outset.
Palace was overwhelmed early on by United’s high press and interchangeable attack, which nearly delivered the breakthrough after six minutes when Alex Telles whistled a shot inches wide of the top corner.
Despite this, there was a timely reminder of United’s susceptibility to the counter, as the returning Christian Benteke was played through on goal and forced David de Gea into his first save a minute later.
After Cristiano Ronaldo had flashed a free-kick over the bar, the Portuguese brought Bruno Fernandes’ diagonal ball down on his chest in the area, but Palace center-back Marc Guehi intervened with a last-gasp block to prevent his volley from finding the net.
Ronaldo’s sublime knockdown for Fernandes’ instinctive volley saw United force another save from Guaita, but, having spent the majority of the first half on the back foot, Palace emerged from the defensive examination unscathed and with new-found confidence, albeit without creating a clear opening.
United could have snatched the lead on the stroke of half-time but Diogo Dalot whistled a shot just wide.
The hosts, who had won possession six times in the opening 25 minutes, were stymied by a tactical change from Palace which changed the complexion of the contest in the second half.
Vicente Guaita prevented Ronaldo from converting from Marcus Rashford’s cutback before a stunning goalmouth clearance from James Tomkins turned Fred’s drive away, just as it appeared to be nestling in the top corner.
What did Rangnick change?
“The system, for a start. Manchester United was set up in a 4-2-2-2 formation out of possession, with Rashford partnering Ronaldo upfront, although all their attackers had a license to interchange positions when United had the ball.
“There was also, as expected, an increased emphasis on pressing high up the pitch. United won possession in the final third 12 times in total, according to Opta – that’s near to twice as many as they have managed in any other Premier League game all season.
“The full-backs provided the width, with Alex Telles in particularly given license to bomb forward. It seems he may have an important role to play under the new boss.
“The side’s performance tailed off somewhat in the second half but Fred’s superb strike made the difference and United fans can feel pretty encouraged by what they saw overall.”