Cristiano Ronaldo finished off his 50th career hat trick with a stylish free kick to help Manchester United survive desperate Norwich City’s comeback bid in a 3-2 affair at Old Trafford on Saturday.
Ronaldo scored a tap-in and a trademark header to give United a 2-0 lead, but Kieran Dowell and Teemu Pukki set each other up for goals to set up a grandstand finish.
And regardless of how you feel about him, there’s no denying the potential for a special sight when Ronaldo’s standing over a free kick in a big spot.
United moves into fifth and will consider themselves the big winners of the top-four weekend, as Arsenal struggled at Southampton and Spurs were well-beaten by Brighton. The Red Devils’ 54 points are three back of Spurs.
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Manchester United vs Norwich final score, stats
Manchester United 3, Norwich City 2
Scorers: Ronaldo (7′, 32′, 76′), Dowell (45’+1), Pukki (52′)
Shot attempts: Manchester United 20, Norwich City 15
Shots on goal: Manchester United 9, Norwich City 4
Possession: Manchester United 61, Norwich City 39
Three things we learned from Manchester United vs Norwich
1. Dean Smith’s boys not quitting: Teemu Pukki was sensational last week against Burnley and he had the same energy heading into this one, even after Norwich went down 2-0. You get the feeling that Pukki doesn’t feel like leaving Norwich City but will if the Canaries get relegated, so he’s doing everything in his power to keep them up. Credit to Smith, because this team is soooooooo lacking in backs but it keeps trying to defend anyway.
2. Rangnick flips the script, and it works (in attack, with an inspired Ronaldo): Before we make any analysis of tactics or personnel, which are decidedly in Ralf Rangnick’s favor, let’s first acknowledge that Ronaldo set forth on Norwich ready to make a FIFPRO case reel. He ran his shorts off, pressing and tracking back, and bringing teammates in for joy. Almost as if he had just been cited for slapping a phone out of a fan’s hand in United’s last match. But anyway, Jesse Lingard was a surprise starter and he looked like a man who’s been physically and verbally begging for a start under Rangnick. The work rate and vibrancy of Lingard and Ronaldo — and Anthony Elanga, who looked better this week — opened things up for Jadon Sancho, who had his best game in a while. All that said, Norwich is bereft of defenders and we probably shouldn’t be saluting a team of United’s standards and talent for showing up against a team that feels like it allows handfuls of goals per week.
3. Defensive overhaul needed more than anything else: Look, you’re not going to compete for the Premier League with this Manchester United roster, but you can finish top four with a lot of these ingredients. The backs are not some of these ingredients. Harry Maguire, like Jordan Pickford at Everton, is bafflingly different when appearing for club and country and his trade mark “arms raised, who’s fault is this?” was on display a few times. David De Gea has kept at least 15 of United’s point haul with the Red Devils this season and we haven’t quite done the math but any amateur sleuths want to see what the defensive record is without Raphael Varane? Cause we bet it’s not good!
Man of the Match: Cristiano Ronaldo — There was a huge case to be made for Teemu Pukki If anyone else broke the tie, and maybe even if someone broke the tie in a manner that wasn’t Ronaldo smashing home an extraterrestrial free kick. Super airborne headers, free kicks, and tracking every rebound like its oxygen in space: These are how we’ll remember the majority of Ronaldo’s many, many, many goals.
RONALDO WITH THE BRILLIANT FREE KICK FOR HIS 50TH CLUB HAT TRICK!
— NBC Sports Soccer (@NBCSportsSoccer) April 16, 2022