By STEVE DOUGLAS – Japan Today
A 90-minute performance of off-the-ball intensity by Cristiano Ronaldo. A rare clean sheet. And something even more unlikely — a goal by Fred, off his weaker right foot.
Ralf Rangnick is already working his magic at Manchester United.
The 63-year-old German led England’s biggest club into a game for the first time on Sunday, and his imprint was all over United’s unfussy 1-0 win over Crystal Palace that ended with a chant of “We love you Rangnick, we do” by home fans toward their new manager who is sometimes referred to as the “Godfather of Gegenpressing.”
Indeed, United’s players pressed high and hard in a tweaked 4-2-2-2 formation, with even the 36-year-old Ronaldo showing a work ethic that belied his age.
“Cristiano Ronaldo’s work off the ball, chapeau,” Rangnick said with a smile.
But it wasn’t world soccer’s most prolific scorer who clinched the hard-fought win to kick off the latest new era at United since Alex Ferguson’s retirement eight years ago.
That honor fell to Fred, the oft-maligned Brazil midfielder whose work rate and endeavor is likely to make him a key member of Rangnick’s lineup this season.
Goals aren’t Fred’s strong point — his only one this season came on the opening day — but he looked something of a natural the way he calmly curled in a finish from the edge of the area with his right foot.
“I had to ask my assistant coach if that was Fred’s right foot,” Rangnick said.
Bruno Fernandes, Fred’s teammate, might have been even more surprised.
“Fred has these moments, one shot per year,” Fernandes said.
With Harry Maguire donning a bandage around his forehead for the final minutes after a nasty-looking clash, United’s defense eked out only its third clean sheet of the season in the league to complete a satisfying first game for Rangnick
“Overall I am more than happy. I was positively surprised by the physical state and intensity,” said Rangnick, who was mostly seen patrolling the technical area during the match.
“I didn’t expect them to play on that kind of level after such a short time.”
United jumped up to sixth place and has a nice-looking run of upcoming league fixtures — starting with a trip to Norwich next weekend — to ease Rangnick into his new role.
CONTE’S LATEST WIN
Another manager who has had a successful start at a Premier League team is Antonio Conte. There’s still one thing that is proving beyond the Italian at Tottenham, though — getting Harry Kane scoring goals again.
A 3-0 victory over Norwich was routine but didn’t contain any goal involvement from Kane, who led the league in goals (23) and assists (14) last season. This season, after 14 matches, he has one goal and one assist — and they came in the same game at Newcastle.
Lucas Moura, Davinson Sanchez and Son Heung-min were the scorers against Norwich as Spurs made it three wins and a draw in four league games under Conte.
Tottenham climbed to fifth place and is two points off fourth-place West Ham with a game in hand.
KONSA INSPIRES GERRARD’S VILLA
The new-manager bounce is in full force at Aston Villa, too, under Steven Gerrard after a 2-1 win over Leicester.
It’s now three victories in four games for Villa since the arrival of the former Liverpool midfielder who will make an emotional return to his boyhood club next weekend.
Gerrard will do so with his team having climbed into the top 10 after rallying for a win at Villa Park thanks to two goals by center back Ezri Konsa, in the 17th and 54th minutes.
Harvey Barnes put Leicester ahead in the 14th.
Gerrard got one over his former manager at Liverpool, Brendan Rodgers, who now leads Leicester. It was a renewal of their coaching rivalry that was seen in Scotland when Gerrard was at Rangers and Rodgers was at fellow Glasgow team Celtic.
In the other game, England striker Patrick Bamford marked his first appearance after more than two months through injury with an equalizer in the fifth minute of added time to earn Leeds a 2-2 draw at home to Brentford.