Ralf Rangnick questioned Manchester United’s lack of physicality in their narrow 1-0 win over Norwich City and accepted his side have further room for improvement.
United made it back-to-back Premier League victories since Rangnick succeeded Ole Gunnar Solskjaer on a caretaker basis thanks to Cristiano Ronaldo’s 75th-minute penalty.
Ronaldo scored United’s 50th spot-kick away from home in the competition – only Liverpool (60) have netted more – after Max Aarons was adjudged to have pulled him down.
The Red Devils laboured for long periods at Carrow Road and required a couple of fine saves from David de Gea to deny Teemu Pukki and Ozan Kabak late on.
United only marginally edged possession (53 per cent) and the pass count (492 attempted to Norwich’s 426), and Rangnick was not entirely pleased with his side’s performance.
“It was an away game, a very physical, intense game,” he told Sky Sports. “I’ve already told Dean [Smith] they played extremely well, they didn’t at all play like a bottom team.
“They played like we did against Crystal Palace. In the first 15 minutes, we were struggling tactically, but then it was better. We didn’t allow them many chances in the first half.
“In the second half, we had a better body language up front but still allowed them too many chances and corners. In the end, it was De Gea that made sure it was a clean sheet.
“It’s about intensity of the game, physicality, body language. On this kind of level, you need to be physically present, and this was not always the case.
“In some situations it was the case, but not always. If you want to keep control of a game like this, you have to be physically present, and this was not the case in all positions.”
United finished the match with an expected goals (xG) return of 2.04, scoring from one of their 13 shots, five of which were on target – the same number Norwich managed.
Rangnick added: “Some of our players are technical players, and today there was not so much space for technical solutions.
“Then you need to be physically brave and compete on that kind of level with regard to physicality, and that was something we didn’t do in all positions.”
Asked if his side played with less physicality than was on show in last week’s 1-0 win against Crystal Palace, Rangnick said: “That was not deliberate.
“It was an away game today and the other team played much more aggressive than Palace did against us, therefore we need to raise our level of intensity in games like that.
“It’s not only a question of individual players, it’s how we play together as a team. But it’s also a question of who wins balls, what about the second balls?
“Do we get the second balls? As I said, in each position, it was not the same.
“You learn with every game, but at least we got the three points, another clean sheet. We need to improve, we need to get better, that’s for sure.”
4 & 7 – No player has scored more winning goals in the Premier League this season than Cristiano Ronaldo (4, level with Bernardo Silva), while only Jamie Vardy’s goals (8 points) have been worth more points for his side than Ronaldo’s (7 points). Reliant. pic.twitter.com/bvLkbs8Zrq
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) December 11, 2021
Rangnick is just the second United manager to register a clean sheet in his first two league games in charge of the club after Ernest Mangnall in 1903.
Harry Maguire, who played a full part in both games and led the way against Norwich with a game-high six clearances, was happy to come away from Norfolk with three points.
“It was a tough game,” he told Sky Sports. “We didn’t play as well as we’d like to play. It was tough conditions to play in. But it’s an important three points and a clean sheet for us.
“When you’re playing week in week out, some performances aren’t going to be at the highest.
“We had to dig deep and stick together. We had to show spirit and we got three points. But we have to play better than that if we’re going to achieve what we want to achieve.
“We’ve been very disappointed with our defensive record this year. David pulled off two or three big saves to keep a clean sheet.
“They were top saves from a top keeper and that’s what we expect. Two on the bounce we need to build on and go again on Tuesday.”