Fourth-place anyone?! Ronaldo hauls Manchester United to victory and keeps them in contention

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Memo to Erik ten Hag: the green and gold scarves at Old Trafford were a protest against Manchester United’s owners. No, the home fans were not supporting Norwich City.

Assuming United’s prospective new manager finds time to watch this soap opera of a match, Ten Hag could be forgiven for thinking the latter. After all, this feels very much like a club at war with itself right now.

Demonstrations outside Old Trafford on Saturday, anti-Glazer chants inside and fans turning on Paul Pogba. At one point, skipper Harry Maguire accidentally kicked Pogba in the head, leaving his team-mate bleeding and bloody furious.

Manchester United fans protested against the Glazers prior to the home game against Norwich

Manchester United fans protested against the Glazers prior to the home game against Norwich

Welcome to Manchester, Erik.

United threw away a two-goal lead against the Premier League’s bottom team with some shocking defending and yet somehow found themselves making up ground in the race for a top-four finish.

Even Cristiano Ronaldo — United’s saviour again with his second home hat-trick in the space of five weeks — was the subject of a puzzling debate about whether he deserves to be at the club next season. Interim boss Ralf Rangnick said it was a question for the new boss. Over to you, Erik.

Surely it should be the other way around; the question should be whether Ronaldo wants to see out the second year of his contract.

He has 21 goals for the season now and 15 in the Premier League, ranking him third in the top flight ahead of Harry Kane. A total of 50 career hat-tricks and 20-plus goals for the 16th year in a row. Why the debate?

He is almost single-handedly keeping United in the race for Champions League qualification.

Cristiano Ronaldo's astonishing 60 career hat-tricks broken down into the raw numbers

Cristiano Ronaldo’s astonishing 60 career hat-tricks broken down into the raw numbers

Ralf Rangnick has found it difficult convincing the Man Utd stars to play his way

Ralf Rangnick has found it difficult convincing the Man Utd stars to play his way

The 37-year-old may not be a natural fit for Ten Hag’s high-press philosophy, but United are in no position to discard the greatest goalscorer in history when they are about to lose Edinson Cavani and Mason Greenwood’s future remains so uncertain.

A week after slapping a mobile phone out of the hand of an autistic teenager at Goodison Park (yes, really, Erik), Ronaldo was back in the spotlight for all the right reasons. Two goals in the opening 32 minutes put United in control. A belting free-kick 14 minutes from time clinched victory.

It is what happened in between that worried Rangnick, though. Once again, he bemoaned his team’s lack of physicality and aggression as an excellent Norwich side drew level and could easily have given boss Dean Smith his second win at Old Trafford this season (the first came with Aston Villa).

If United defend as badly away to Liverpool tomorrow, they face a beating every bit as ugly as the 5-0 humiliation at Old Trafford in October that hastened Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s departure.

Cristiano Ronaldo's astonishing 60th hat-trick of his career kept Man Utd in the hunt

Cristiano Ronaldo’s astonishing 60th hat-trick of his career kept Man Utd in the hunt

‘It’s obvious the reason why the club contacted me in November — they just conceded too many goals too easily,’ said Rangnick, who expects to be without centre back Raphael Varane and defensive midfielders Fred and Scott McTominay again at Anfield.

‘We’ve reduced the number of goals conceded but the way we defend is still not the standard we need to be a top-four club. We are the only team in the league to concede goals like this. We all know what team we’re playing on Tuesday.

‘If we play like we played today, it will be very difficult to get even a point.’

Manchester United are currently fifth, three points behind Spurs in fourth

Manchester United are currently fifth, three points behind Spurs in fourth

The dodgy defending wasn’t the only reason why what should have been a good a day for United — when they won and top-four rivals Arsenal and Tottenham lost — felt like a bad one. A year after United fans staged a furious backlash against the Glazers over the failed European Super League, the green and gold was back in fashion.

A 900-strong march to Old Trafford before kick-off swelled to nearer 2,000 protesters outside the ground in scenes reminiscent of last year’s ugly clashes when a hundred fans got on to the pitch and forced a game against Liverpool to be called off.

The directors’ entrance, corporate areas and club megastore were locked down to prevent another breach of security, and hundreds of fans answered the call to boycott the first 17 minutes of the match.

Paul Pogba was left frustrated with his captain after being kicked in the head by the defender

Paul Pogba was left frustrated with his captain after being kicked in the head by the defender

Inside, thousands more vented their anger and not just at the American owners. The players were told they’re not ‘fit to wear the shirt’ and Pogba was singled out for far worse after he was substituted. As he headed down the tunnel, he poured fuel on the fire by cupping a hand to his ear.

Pogba’s second spell at United can’t end soon enough. He will leave as a free agent this summer, which at least means Ten Hag will have one less problem to worry about.

Best of luck, Erik.

Player ratings 

Manchester United (4-3-3): De Gea 7; Dalot 5, Lindelof 5.5, Maguire 6.5, Telles 6 (Mata 74min, 6); Fernandes 5, Lingard 6 (Matic 63, 5), Pogba 6 (Rashford 74, 6); Elanga 6.5, Ronaldo 9, Sancho 5. Scorer: Ronaldo 7, 32, 76. Booked: None. Manager: Ralf Rangnick 6.

Norwich City (4-2-3-1): Krul 6; Byram 7, Hanley 6, Gibson 5, Giannoulis 7; Normann 6, McLean 6 (Gilmour 73, 6); Dowell 8 (Placheta 74, 6), Lees-Melou 6.5 (Rowe 82), Rashica 7; Pukki 7. Scorers: Dowell 45+1, Pukki 52. Booked: None. Manager: Dean Smith 6.5.

Referee: Andy Madley 7. Attendance: 73,381.

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