Manchester United defeated Crystal Palace 1-0 at Old Trafford as Fred scored a late winner in interim manager Ralf Rangnick’s first game in charge.
The Brazilian produced a wonderful first-time finish from the angle in the 77th minute to earn United back-to-back wins in the Premier League following their 3-2 victory over Arsenal on Thursday.
United were bright in the first half but were frustrated by a disciplined Crystal Palace side and were unable to create any clear chances to reward their positive play.
Palace were the better side for spells in the second half and had a glorious chance to take the lead when Jordan Ayew shot wide from close range, before Fred struck from a United corner to ensure Rangnick made a winning start.
Here are five things we learned:
United’s fast start under Rangnick...
Perhaps keen to impress the new manager in the dugout, Manchester United made a bright start at Old Trafford, pressing Crystal Palace back into their own half in a positive opening spell.
Pressing, of course, has been the buzzword ever since Rangnick’s appointment but the evidence of his impact was on full display in the opening exchanges as United forced Palace into a couple of errors early on.
United certainly passed the eye test and it is hard to remember a time when they had pressed with as much precision under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. It allowed United to sustain their attacks and Palace were completely penned in for much of the first half.
Cristiano Ronaldo, Bruno Fernandes, Marcus Rashford and Jadon Sancho played much closer together and there was plenty of zip in United’s sharp passing at times. Overall, for a team who are notoriously often slow starters, United’s intensity will have pleased Rangnick.
... but second half illustrates work ahead
Despite United’s impressive start, it was never going to be that easy, was it? Palace managed to weather the storm and United lost their intensity and rhythm shortly before half-time and struggled to regain it after the break.
There was a sense of frustration, perhaps, that United had not found the breakthrough and it seemed to be emitted from both the players and the fans at Old Trafford. It also seemed that when the positive mood dropped inside the stadium it affected United too easily.
Another explanation for the drop-off could be that United were unable to maintain the energy and intensity of their work off the ball. Although Rangnick can implement a plan, it will take time for his players to adjust to the physical demands of his style of play - and that was made apparent here.
Ayew had a golden chance to punish United before Fred’s goal lifted Old Trafford to ensure Rangnick’s side took three points - as well as a first clean sheet of the season.
Even before scoring a stunning winner at Old Trafford, Fred had already emerged as perhaps the biggest winner of Rangnick’s appointment - producing his third improved performance of the week following encouraging displays against Chelsea and Arsenal.
A much-maligned figure during the Solskjaer era, Fred has showed glimmers that he could thrive in Rangnick’s system, with his quality in pressing off the ball an underused asset in his United career so far.
His goal was sensationally taken, lifting the ball over Vicente Guaita from the angle and it was ironic that it was from a similar position to the chance he wasted late in the game at Stamford Bridge last weekend.
It was a great moment and one that Fred deserved given his recent displays. It was rather fitting that he was the one to score the first goal of the Rangnick era, and it could prove to be a pivotal moment in his United career.
Rangnick formation shift
Perhaps the biggest revelation of the day was United’s shape at Old Trafford, with Rangnick fielding his side in what seemed to be a 4-2-2-2 formation, a hallmark of his successful RB Leipzig sides of a couple of seasons ago.
There were several elements that contributed to United’s dominance of the first half. For a start, United’s four attacking players tended to bunch together in central areas, aiding their counter-press and allowing those forwards to combine.
It was interesting to note that it was a fairly fluid system, with Sancho often drifting inside from the right and Ronaldo filling the space at the back post.
Starting central midfielders Fred and Scott McTominay enjoyed roaming roles and there wasn’t the same sense of impending threat that United were going to be vulnerable to the counter-attack if they lost possession.
And with United’s four attackers playing fairly centrally, full-backs Diogo Dalot and Alex Telles took on important roles in staying high and wide. Dalot produced another encouraging performance, following his display in the win over Arsenal on Thursday, and he is certainly a member of United’s squad who is set to benefit from tactical tweaks.
Palace impress on the road again
We’re 15 games into the Premier League season but Crystal Palace have already negotiated away trips to Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City, Arsenal and now Manchester United.
And while results haven’t always gone their way, Patrick Vieira’s side have emerged with credit on each of those visits to some of hardest grounds to visit in the Premier League.
Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp said the win over Palace at Anfield in September was the “hardest 3-0” he’s had in his career, while Vieira’s team defeated Pep Guardiola’s City at the Etihad.
Although they didn’t cause United too many problems in an attacking sense - Ayew’s miss being the notable exception - this was another disciplined and controlled defence performance from the Eagles.
Apart from a 20-minute spell in the first half, it wasn’t a ‘backs to the wall’ display. When Palace had to weather the storm, they did so calmly, with Marc Guehi impressive in the heart of defence.
They were sharp on the ball when they had the opportunity to play and if it wasn’t for Fred’s screamer late in the second half, Palace would have been more than deserving of a point.