Ralf Rangnick defended Cristiano Ronaldo after the Manchester United star’s smug reaction to his substitution overshadowed their 3-1 win at Brentford on Wednesday. Rangnick’s side were indebted to David de Gea for an excellent first-half display that kept Brentford at bay before United finally came to life in west London. Anthony Elanga put United in front early in the second half before Mason Greenwood and Marcus Rashford recorded their first win in three Premier League games. But it was Ronaldo’s grumpy response to Rangnick’s decision to send him off in the 71st minute that could be the lasting image of the night.
Shaking his head and muttering to himself, Ronaldo appeared to say something to Rangnick as he walked past him.
Angrily throwing his coat to the ground, Ronaldo pointed to his chest as his teammates on the bench nervously looked away.
Rangnick initially ignored Ronaldo before sitting down next to him and patting the Portuguese striker on the leg as he tried to placate him.
The 36-year-old’s career will raise new questions about his willingness to fit into Rangnick’s system after his last disappointing display.
However, Rangnick refused to criticize Ronaldo when asked about his behaviour.
“He’s normal, he’s a striker and he wants to score goals. He came back from a little injury and for me it’s important to keep in mind that we have another game in a few days,” Rangnick said.
“We were 2-0 up, same as at Aston Villa. I decided to defend that lead this time and it was the right decision to switch to a five-man defence.”
United at least avoided another embarrassing result after losing at home to Wolves and letting a two-goal lead slip away in a draw at Aston Villa in their previous two league games.
They sit seventh in the table, two points clear of the top four in their quest for next season’s Champions League qualification.
“I wouldn’t say it was a solid conversation, but obviously we had to change some things, in the first half we weren’t good in all aspects of the game,” Rangnick said of her halftime message to his players.
“We gave away almost every two balls. In the second half we were more urgent, we attacked them up the pitch”.
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Ronaldo, back after missing two games with a hip problem, nearly conceded an early goal when debutant goalkeeper Jonas Lossl dropped a cross at the striker’s feet, but the Bees were able to escape.
Thomas Frank’s fiery side came close through Bryan Mbeumo, whose low shot forced a great save from De Gea.
Brentford were well up and Mads Bech Sorensen saw his shot deflected into Bruno Fernandes’ side net.
Ivan Toney broke through the United defense and set up Mathias Jensen for a shot which De Gea saved well.
United could not have been worse off in the opening period, but they played with much more urgency after the break.
Ronaldo was about to give them the lead when he met a Fernandes cross with a looping header to the crossbar.
It was a warning that Brentford ignored and, after Toney headed in De Gea, Swedish teenager Elanga made the hosts pay for his profligacy in the 55th minute.
Fred clipped a pass into the Brentford box and Elanga lobbed the ball into the air before putting Lossl in front from close range.
Elanga’s first goal this season changed the mood completely and United scored again in the 62nd minute.
With Brentford appealing in vain for offside, Fernandes lunged at Ronaldo’s chest and slipped a pass to Greenwood, who scored his first goal in seven games into the empty net.
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After Ronaldo’s tantrum, it must have been a relief for Rangnick that Rashford, as a substitute, scored United’s third goal with a fine pass from Fernandes in the 77th minute.
Toney scored from close range in the 85th minute, but it was too late for Brentford.