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Cristiano Ronaldo saves Ole Gunnar Solskjaer again

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Cristiano Ronaldo’s record 178th Champions League game had been one of his quietest for 94 minutes until the ball broke kindly for him to break Villarreal hearts at Old Trafford on Wednesday.

Manchester United’s returning hero rode to the rescue just in time to salvage a 2-1 win from another performance which cast more doubt over where the Red Devils are headed under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

The Norwegian badly needed three points after a run of three defeats in four games and got it with seconds to spare.

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However, Solskjaer conceded United had “got lucky” and were “saved” by goalkeeper David de Gea as Villarreal enjoyed the overwhelming majority of the chances.

The difference between the sides was in who was on the end of those opportunities.

De Gea denied Arnaut Danjuma, Paco Alcacer, Moi Gomez and Boulaye Dia either side of Alcacer’s deserved opener for the visitors on 53 minutes.

89th minute ROCKET sinks Real Madrid | 00:28

Alex Telles’ spectacular strike from distance quickly restored parity, but it was not for another half an hour that the all-time top goalscorer in the Champions League took centre stage.

“Cristiano Ronaldo only got one chance and, well, he’s Cristiano Ronaldo,” said Villarreal defender Juan Foyth, who had kept United’s most expensive summer signing Jadon Sancho quiet all night.

Sancho and Raphael Varane’s arrival in the transfer window had already raised expectations at United this season before Ronaldo’s stunning second coming in Manchester.

In Ronaldo’s five games since returning to the club, he’s scored five times. But he has also already been on the losing side twice and twice more United have needed late winners to dig themselves out of trouble.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is under pressure.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is under pressure.Source: Getty Images

A 2-1 defeat to Swiss champions Young Boys on matchday one left the English giants facing another embarrassing early Champions League exit had they failed to win.

“I made history in this club, and I want to do it again,” said Ronaldo, who won his first of five Champions League titles during a six-year spell at United between 2003 and 2009.

“If we hadn’t got three points today it would have been tough to get through to the next stage. But now anything is possible for us, everything is open and we believe we can go through.” United move level on three points with Young Boys, one behind Group F leaders Atalanta.

– ‘Best goalkeeper in the world’ –

However, that there is even any doubt over United’s progress to the last 16 speaks volumes for Solskjaer’s inability so far this season to get the best out of a stellar cast.

Ronaldo, Sancho, Mason Greenwood, Bruno Fernandes and Paul Pogba all started in an offensive-minded team selection.

‘Condescending questions’ are no concern | 01:13

But Villarreal cut through the United midfield with ease on the counter-attack to expose a defence missing the presence of three of the first-choice back four due to injuries to Harry Maguire and Luke Shaw, and Aaron Wan-Bissaka’s suspension.

“Thankfully we had the best goalkeeper in the world tonight,” said Solskjaer. “David was fantastic.”

The United boss continued to unload his artillery from the bench as Edinson Cavani and Jesse Lingard were sent on in search of a winner.

And finally the home side’s depth of talent paid off as Lingard calmly rolled the ball into Ronaldo’s path to smash home his 136th Champions League goal as Old Trafford erupted.

“What a game @ManUtd. Epic winner by @Cristiano,” tweeted Usain Bolt, who had been watching from the stands.

But it was a get-out-of-jail-free card for Solskjaer.

And it buys him some time rather than a vindication of his credentials to lead United back to the status they enjoyed during Ronaldo’s first spell at the club under Alex Ferguson.

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Manchester United vs Crystal Palace, Cristiano Ronaldo pressing, Ralf Rangnick, reaction, Tottenham

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Ralf Rangnick’s reign at Manchester United got off to a winning start thanks to a stunning strike from the much-maligned Fred to beat Crystal Palace 1-0 at Old Trafford on Monday.

A bright start from the Red Devils fizzled out without reward and the German looked like he might have to settle for a disappointing draw in his first match since taking charge until the end of the season.

But Fred, who had been a target for much of the criticism towards the end of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s time as manager, produced a moment of magic with a curling effort on his weaker right foot 13 minutes from time to snatch a crucial victory.

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City move top after dispatching Watford | 01:30

“Overall I’m more than happy,” said Rangnick.

“I was positively surprised by the physical state and the intensity of the first half hour. The only thing that was missing was scoring one, two or even three goals.

“It was clear you cannot play the whole game in this kind of intensity level. In the end we deserved to win, I’m more than happy with the clean sheet and a beautiful goal.”

United move back to within three points of the top four and up to sixth in the Premier League table.

There were no immediate changes from Rangnick in the line-up as he named an unchanged side from Friday’s 3-2 win over Arsenal.

But there was an instant change in approach as United pressed Palace into coughing up possession deep inside their own half twice in the first five minutes.

Questions have been asked over how Cristiano Ronaldo will fit into Rangnick’s desire for an intense pressing game.

But the 36-year-old was paired with Marcus Rashford up front to bring extra dynamism to United’s forward line.

Masuaku cross downs Chelsea | 01:31

“It seemed illogical to change too many positions after the win against Arsenal,” added Rangnick.

“For me the question is how do we get pressure on the ball and how do we get control. I played 4-2-2 with two strikers, not just Cristiano (Ronaldo) on his own up front.”

Ronaldo benefited from the extra support and won praise from his new manager for his work off the ball.

“By the way, Cristiano Ronaldo’s work off the ball, chapeau,” Rangnick said.

However, there was a lack of precision to match United’s intensity.

The home side’s best chance of the first 45 minutes fell to Fred, but his goalbound effort was diverted behind by James Tomkins.

Fernandes finally tested Vicente Guaita from Ronaldo’s knockdown before Diogo Dalot fired wastefully over on his weaker left foot with the last kick of the first half.

United’s early enthusiasm to impress their new boss drained away as the second half performance more closely resembled the final days of Solskjaer’s reign.

Palace should have gone in front 15 minutes from time when Jordan Ayew somehow turned Tomkins’ header back across goal and beyond the far post.

Rangnick comes with a reputation of putting his faith in young players and showed that as he sacrificed Jadon Sancho and Marcus Rashford for Mason Greenwood and Anthony Elanga in search of a winner.

Luck or skill? Masuaku stuns Chelsea! | 00:37

SPURS STORM TO CRUISING WIN

Spurs are one point ahead of United with a game in hand after cruising to a win against bottom side Norwich — their third straight victory in the Premier League.

Lucas Moura opened the scoring in the 10th minute.

After a nice piece of skill to round a Norwich defender, he played a one-two with Son Heung-min, turned his marker and thundered an unstoppable drive into the top corner from 20 yards.

Tottenham doubled their lead midway through the second half when Davinson Sanchez smashed home a loose ball from a corner and Son made it 3-0 in the 77th minute.

Conte took over from the sacked Nuno Espirito Santo early last month with Spurs languishing in mid-table after a poor run of results and is starting to make an impact.

City move top after dispatching Watford | 01:30

“I know for Tottenham it will be a season of work, hard work,” said the former Chelsea boss.

“Only through the work can we improve and to have ambition to improve our position.

“I have just started. We have to build a solid base and a good foundation if we want to try to be competitive in the future and fight for something important.”

New Aston Villa boss Steven Gerrard got the better of his former manager at Liverpool, Brendan Rodgers, in a 2-1 win at home, his third victory in his first four matches.

Harvey Barnes gave Leicester an early lead but Ezri Konsa struck twice, once in each half, to secure the three points for Villa, who moved into 10th in the table, ahead of Leicester on goal difference.

Brentford were denied a win at Elland Road as Patrick Bamford scored deep into stoppage time to rescue a point for his side in a 2-2 draw.

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Paul Scholes brutally mocked in celebration by Chesterfield ace after scoring at Salford

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PAUL SCHOLES was mocked by Chesterfield goalscorer Liam Mandeville as Salford slumped to an early FA Cup exit

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Chelsea star Hakim Ziyech makes transfer confession ahead of January – 'I would love to'

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CHELSEA star Hakim Ziyech has revealed he would ‘love’ possible January transfer window outcome.

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