Manchester United were saved at home to Norwich in the Premier League thanks to a Cristiano Ronaldo hat-trick in a 3-2 win – in a game that was ultimately characterised by poor defending from both teams.
Ronaldo had put United 2-0 up in the first half, only for Norwich goals from Kieran Dowell and Teemu Pukki to cancel out that lead, before the veteran forward popped up with a late winner.
Fans outside protested against the Glazer family in their hundreds, perhaps thousands, ahead of the game. There were some visible gaps at kick-off, but most were gradually filled until a bigger influx after the 17th minute – symbolising 17 years of Glazer ownership. For the most part, it was still full.
The pressure was on Ralf Rangnick’s team after a woeful run of recent performances and Norwich threatened to ramp it up even higher – they should even have taken the lead when Pukki went through on goal. His rather tame effort was beaten away by David de Gea.
That pressure was initially relieved by the Canaries’ own doing. United’s breakthrough was a gift, with Ben Gibson losing possession to Anthony Elanga in his own penalty area – the young Swede quickly laid if off to Ronaldo for a simple tap-in and a welcome lead.
Having gone behind, Norwich were poor and gave the ball away cheaply even without a clear press from the hosts. United, meanwhile, looked confident and visiting skipper Grant Hanley later needed to have his wits about him to block a close-range Jadon Sancho effort at the half-hour mark, while a first-timer from Jesse Lingard hit Tim Krul’s midriff and deflected clear for a corner.
From the resultant set-piece, Ronaldo scored his second. The Portuguese rose to meet Alex Telles’ in-swinging delivery and Norwich didn’t do anything like enough to try and stop him.
But where Norwich had handed United two easy goals, the favour was soon reciprocated either side of half-time. The home side’s lack of defensive-minded midfielders was telling as a wave of yellow shirts went up against the back four and Dowell nodded in at the far post.
The Norwich equaliser from the same player showcased more questionable defending, with Telles out of position and Victor Lindelof clearly aware of the danger by pointing but doing nothing about it. Pukki ghosted between them and finished past De Gea at the near post.
Norwich even immediately threatened to then take the lead themselves, with only De Gea’s right hand turning a powerful low effort from Milot Rashica past the post – the same player was soon also denied by a last-ditch Diogo Dalot block. A lack of United defensive midfield presence and a drop in their own tempo suddenly made the Canaries look extremely threatening.
But the lifeline came when Ronaldo stood over a free-kick just outside the penalty area. His strike wasn’t the best, but it evaded a poor effort to put together a defensive wall and was weakly palmed onto the inside of the post and in by a hapless Krul.
Man Utd vs Norwich player ratings
1. Man Utd (4-3-3)
GK: David de Gea - 7/10 - A big early save at 0-0 kept United level. Stood little chance with either goal and then made another crucial stop to prevent Norwich taking the lead.
RB: Diogo Dalot - 6/10 - Responsible for a vital block at 2-2.
CB: Harry Maguire (c) - 4/10 - Looked pretty clueless at times against the league's most goal-shy attack.
CB: Victor Lindelof - 3/10 - Struggled with the movement of Pukki and Dowell in the channel between him and Telles more than once.
LB: Alex Telles - 5/10 - All at sea when Norwich equalised and didn't seem to be busting a gut to get closer and stop it. Got an assist.
CM: Paul Pogba - 4/10 - Looked decent on the ball, but guilty of awful ball watching as Norwich broke to pull a goal back.
AM: Jesse Lingard - 6/10 - Drafted in for a rare start and seemed to link up well with Pogba and Fernandes in the first half. Faded and replaced.
AM: Bruno Fernandes - 5/10 - Too inconsistent to make a meaningful impact. Impressive at times but also sloppy at others.
RW: Anthony Elanga - 7/10 - Sharp to nick the ball off Gibson and impressed in several promising attacks in the first half.
ST: Cristiano Ronaldo - 9/10 - Couldn't have asked for an easier pair of early goals. At 37, he was ineffective in open play when the service dried up, but went on to complete his hat-trick with a free-kick.
LW: Jadon Sancho - 6/10 - Played with a confidence early on as he toyed with Byram on Norwich's right side.
SUB: Nemanja Matic (63' for Lingard) - 7/10 - An important presence at the base of midfield when Norwich were threatening.
SUB: Marcus Rashford (74' for Pogba) - 5/10 - Not the occasion he would have wanted for his 300th appearance for the club.
SUB: Juan Mata (74' for Telles) - 7/10 - Intelligent movement helped United regain a degree of control and look dangerous again.
2. Norwich (4-3-3)
GK: Tim Krul - 4/10 - Will know he should have kept out Ronaldo's free-kick. That mistake ultimately decided the game.
RB: Sam Byram - 5/10 - Second best in his one on one battle with Sancho.
CB: Grant Hanley (c) - 6/10 - Made a big block against Sancho that stopped the deficit going to 3-0.
CB: Ben Gibson - 3/10 - Relieved early pressure on United when he gifted an early goal by giving the ball away in his own penalty area.
LB: Dimitris Giannoulis - 5/10 - Got forward a number of times throughout the game but tellingly lacked quality on the ball.
CM: Mathias Normann - 5/10 - Struggled to gain a foothold in the game.
CM: Kenny McLean - 6/10 - Was missing final ball quality in the first half on the few occasions his team had a chance to break.
AM: Pierre Lees-Melou - 7/10 - Afforded plenty of time and space in the second half and was making Norwich look dangerous.
RW: Kieran Dowell - 8/10 - Worked super hard on Norwich's right flank and his reward was a goal and assist.
ST: Teemu Pukki - 8/10 - Should have put Norwich ahead early on. His effort lacked the ruthlessness but he took his goal really well and his movement clearly gave United's centre-backs problems.
LW: Milot Rashica - 7/10 - Had two big chances to put Norwich 3-2 up, one big save from De Gea and one crucial block from Dalot.
SUB: Billy Gilmour (73' for McLean) - 6/10
SUB: Przemysław Placheta (74' for Dowell) - 6/10
SUB: Jonathan Rowe (82' for Lees-Melou) - N/A