Cristiano Ronaldo scored his second hat-trick in three Premier League games to boost Manchester United’s hopes of qualifying for next season’s Champions League at the expense of relegation-threatened Norwich at Old Trafford.
Ronaldo knew a win would move them within three points of the top four and seemed to have let United control as he scored twice in the first 32 minutes.
However, appalling defense from the hosts on either side of the break allowed Norwich to equalize through Kieran Dowell and Teemu Pukki and for a while it looked like Dean Smith’s side would be the more likely winners.
But after Ralf Rangnick gave up his bold tactic of playing without a recognized ball winner in midfield and replaced Paul Pogba with Juan Mata, Ronaldo fired a free-kick from the inside of the goal with 14 minutes to go and secured victory.
The 37-year-old has now scored 15 Premier League goals this season and lies behind only Mo Salah and Son Hueng-min in the standings. He has also scored 99 career goals in the Premier League.
United can level on points with fourth-placed Spurs if they win at Liverpool on Tuesday.
For Norwich, the result was a major blow to their faint hopes of avoiding the fall. The Canaries are now seven points behind fourth-bottom Everton after playing two more games and with just six games left to do something about it.
Ronaldo the hero again
It’s an unanswered question that keeps getting asked: is Ronaldo the cause of United’s problems or the solution?
This time he was certainly the latter.
Not that he had to do much for his first goal. Ben Gibson was disowned in his own penalty area as Norwich tried to move the ball forward from a goal kick allowing Anthony Elanga to find Ronaldo who scored the first finish.
Ronaldo’s second header was one of the stellar headers he has produced so many times over the years. He climbed the highest to reach the corner of Alex Telles and shoot past Tim Krul.
The winner was typical of the man. Under pressure and all eyes on him, Ronaldo puffed out his chest after Elanga was fouled on the edge of the area, ran up and belted his shot into the net from inside a post.
It was quite a sensational performance, rousing a crowd seething with dissatisfaction.
Norwich reveals poor defense
The celebration at the final whistle must have felt like a stab in the heart for Norwich manager Smith.
They also masked some pretty shocking defenses from the hosts, the sort of thing that’s been seen all too often over the years and has left many of the club’s fans in such a state of anger – some even missing out on the start of the game being part a pre-game protest.
Norwich’s opener was a case in point.
Pukki was alone when he gained possession on the right side of the box, then selected Dowell, who was also completely unmarked as he slid the ball past David de Gea from six yards out.
Pukki was similarly alone seven minutes after the restart as he leveled the visitors.
Milton Rashica turned a full-length De Gea shot around the post and Sam Byram headed wide of the far post. At this point, Smith must have thought a famous win was on the horizon.
Ronaldo had other ideas. Norwich’s fight for survival continues. But the odds against their success are growing.
- 1de Gea
- 27SuchReplaced byRaschfordat the 74′protocol
- 18Bruno Fernandes
- 6pogbaReplaced bymataat the 74′protocol
- 14LingardReplaced bymaticat the 63′protocol
- 36The sun
- 7Cristiano Ronaldo
- 75Garnacho Ferreyra
- 23McLeanReplaced bygilmourat the 73′protocol
- 10dowelReplaced byplaqueat the 74′protocol
- 20Lees-MelouReplaced byRoweat the 82′protocol
- Andy Madeley
Game ends, Manchester United 3, Norwich City 2.
Second half ends, Manchester United 3, Norwich City 2.
attempt blocked. Sam Byram (Norwich City) left footed shot from the right side of the box is blocked. Assisted by Billy Gilmour.
Foul by Nemanja Matic (Manchester United).
Przemyslaw Placheta (Norwich City) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
attempt blocked. Juan Mata (Manchester United) left footed shot from the center of the box is blocked. Assisted by Bruno Fernandes.
Bruno Fernandes (Manchester United) wins a free kick in the attacking half.
Foul by Billy Gilmour (Norwich City).
attempt failed. Milot Rashica (Norwich City) right footed shot from outside the box is close, but misses to the left.
Foul by Diogo Dalot (Manchester United).
Jonathan Rowe (Norwich City) wins a free kick on the right wing.
Offside, Manchester United. Jadon Sancho tries a through ball, but Juan Mata is caught offside.
Foul by Marcus Rashford (Manchester United).
Dimitris Giannoulis (Norwich City) wins a free kick in the attacking half.
attempt blocked. Cristiano Ronaldo (Manchester United) right footed shot from the left side of the box is blocked.
Corner, Manchester United. Collected from Tim Krul.
attempt saved. Bruno Fernandes (Manchester United) right footed shot from outside the box is saved in the bottom left corner. Assisted by Jadon Sancho.
Substitution, Norwich City. Jonathan Rowe replaces Pierre Lees-Melou due to injury.
Corner, Manchester United. Cashed in by Ben Gibson.
attempt failed. Pierre Lees-Melou (Norwich City) right footed shot from outside the box is too high following a corner.
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