Ralf Rangnick started his spell as Manchester United manager with a 1-0 win over Crystal Palace at Old Trafford on Sunday, and there was already evidence of the German's famed pressing style in action.
Brazilian midfielder Fred scored a rare goal to deliver all three points for Rangnick — rarer still that he scored his 77th minute winner with his weaker left foot, curling a shot from the edge of the area into the far corner.
Rangnick, 63, was hired on Monday as manager until the end of the season but had to wait nearly a week before taking charge of his first game while he secured his work permit.
He has already made an imprint on United’s approach, deploying a 4-2-2-2 formation and it was clear from the get-go that he had his players pressing higher up the pitch and playing with more urgency compared to how the team set up under Rangnick’s predecessor, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
However, a performance that started strongly tailed off in the second half, only for Fred to provide the telling intervention with just his second goal of the season.
“I am very happy with the way the team performed, especially the first half-hour, with the pressing, it was exceptional. The only thing missing was the 1-0 or 2-0,” Rangnick said. “The way we defended, we had control of the whole game, the clean sheet was the most important part.”
Indeed, clean sheets have been hard to come by for United this season, with this being just the third game in which they had not conceded in the Premier League.
“There are the things we must improve,” Rangnick said. “We need to keep clean sheets. With just the one training session, I was really impressed. We did much better than expected.”
United played with far greater purpose and intensity than many of the performances that blighted the end of Solskjaer's reign.
Alex Telles clipped the crossbar with a curling free kick and opposite full-back Diogo Dalot curled over at the end of a marauding run, in another sign of how Rangnick intends to set up his team by using more attacking full-backs.
Cristiano Ronaldo, who scored a brace in the 3-2 win against Arsenal last time out, started and played the full game, but didn’t have a clear-cut chance.
There has been plenty of debate regarding the Portuguese forward and how we might fit into Rangnick's high-pressing system, but his new manager had nothing but praise for the 36-year-old's work ethic.
“We always tried to be on the front foot. We were never not apart from maybe the last five minutes. At all other times we were trying to keep them away from our goal,” he said.
“We wanted to play with two strikers, especially in the central position. By the way, Cristiano Ronaldo's work off the ball, chapeau.”
Palace should have gone ahead just before Fred’s goal when the ball fell to Jordan Ayew following a corner. Just a few metres from goal and at an angle, Ayew drove a shot across the face of the goal.
As United climb to sixth place in the standings, Palace suffered their third defeat in a row, and their manager, Patrick Vieira believes his side was unlucky to leave Old Trafford empty-handed.
When we had that chance with Jordan, we didn't take it,” said the Frenchman. “Against the big teams you get punished. In these games you have to score those.
“He's a team player, he does fantastic work outside possession. But the forwards are judged by their number of chances and those goals they score. I'm really disappointed because he deserved to score today.
“With their new manager we didn't know how they would play, but we prepared with our shape” Vieira added. “When you look at their chances, I think a draw would have been a fair result.
“It's important to win football matches but at the same time you have to look at performances. We are really close. We have to take it on the chin and keep working.”