Cristiano Ronaldo bagged the 50th club hat-trick of his illustrious career as Manchester United overcame a plucky Norwich City side to win 3-2 at Old Trafford.
The Portugal skipper scored twice in the first half and netted a sublime free-kick after the break. Kieran Dowell and Teemu Pukki scored the Norwich goals but it was not enough to earn them anything from the game. United interim boss Ralf Rangnick opted to hand forgotten forward Jesse Lingard just his second Premier League start since January 2020.
The England star replaced Marcus Rashford in one of four changes from the side beaten 1-0 by Everton last time out. Diogo Dalot, Paul Pogba and Anthony Elanga replaced Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Fred and Nemanja Matic.
And 17-year-old winger Alejandro Garnacho started on the bench. It may have been all change for the hosts but Dean Smith named an unchanged side from the one that beat Burnley 2-0.
The Canaries boosted their survival hopes with victory over Burnley last time out while United went down to Everton.
The Red Devils made a bright start but it was the visitors who should have taken the lead. Pukki found himself one-on-one with David de Gea on three minutes but the Spaniard got the better of the duel.
And just four minutes later Rangnick’s men were ahead through Ronaldo following a Norwich mistake. Elanga stole the ball from Ben Gibson as the East Anglians attempted to play out of defence.
The Swede then found Ronaldo who could not miss from close range. United continued to pile forward with Lingard’s effort sailing just wide of the post on 10 minutes.
🎯 A simply stunning strike. pic.twitter.com/B5jXXYyn2m
— Manchester United (@ManUtd) April 16, 2022
It seemed inevitable that the Old Trafford faithful would soon be cheering another goal and it duly came just after the half-hour mark. And it was Ronaldo once again on the score sheet as he rose to head home powerfully from Alex Telles inswinging corner.
However, Norwich refused to buckle and should have done better when hitting United on the break. If that served as a warning, Rangnick’s side did not take note as the Canaries halved the deficit on the stroke of half-time.
Pukki’s sublime cross was met by Dowell, with the 24-year-old burying his header past De Gea to give the strugglers a lifeline.
Pukki on the mark
Norwich may be bottom of the table but they are refusing to go down without a fight. And it took them just seven minutes to level affairs after the break.
It was roles reversed as Dowell found Pukki inside the box before the Finland international slotted past De Gea.
The away side grew in confidence after the equaliser. Milot Rashica’s 18-yard effort forced De Gea into a full-length dive to tip the ball around the post.
With his side struggling, Rangnick replaced Lingard with Matic. And just a few minutes later, Telles and Pogba made way for Juan Mata and Rashford.
Number 50 for Ronaldo
The substitutions seemed to do the trick as United were soon 3-2 ahead. And it was that man Ronaldo once again, bagging his 50th club career hat-trick with a trademark free-kick.
Tim Krul got both hands to his effort but still could not keep it out.
With the wind in their sails, United drove forward looking for a fourth goal to seal the points. Bruno Fernandes tried his luck from distance but Krul was equal to the effort.
United dominated the final few minutes but were indebted, once again, to Ronaldo for the points.
Despite being bottom of the standings, Norwich more than matched their opponents for long periods of the contest. And, but for the former Real Madrid ace, may have taken something from the game.