Ralf Rangnick has earmarked improving the defence at Manchester United as the main priority for success at Old Trafford.

The former RB Leipzig head coach has overseen two games since his arrival in Manchester, winning his first against Crystal Palace – becoming the first of six German managers to win their opening Premier League game – before a 1-1 draw against Young Boys.

While Rangnick fielded a youthful side against the Swiss team, United have now failed to keep a clean sheet in their last five home group-stage matches – their longest run in the Champions League.

United also went 15 consecutive home matches without a clean sheet, their longest run without a shutout since a 21-game spell between 1958 and 1959, before keeping Palace at bay in the 1-0 win last Sunday.

That poor period of defensive form has left them 11 points off the early pace of leaders Manchester City and Rangnick explained that he is prioritising finding a solution to be more resolute at the back.

"So far, I'm more than happy with their attitude again and their eagerness to learn information that will help them get better, not only against the ball but also with the ball," Rangnick told Sky Sports on Friday.

"We had only two clean sheets until the Crystal Palace game and no clean sheets since last April at Old Trafford, it was very clear for me where our focus should be for the first few days and weeks.

"With this group of players we can produce more clean sheets regularly, we are making sure we don't concede goals or even allow them to shoot on our goal.

"The more we do that, the more I am convinced that we can win games because with this group and players we are always going to create chances and opportunities to score ourselves."

United travel to Norwich City on Saturday in Rangnick's first away Premier League fixture, with none of the last four permanent Red Devils managers losing their maiden such game since Alex Ferguson in 1986.

New Norwich head coach Dean Smith is looking to become the first manager since Andy Aitken in 1908-09 to defeat United with two different clubs in a single season, having already tasted victory with former club Aston Villa.

But Smith has revealed the club are waiting anxiously on coronavirus tests for a couple of players ahead of the game at Carrow Road.

"We have got a couple of knocks and have got a couple of Covid-related issues that we are waiting on results for," said Smith.

"I can't really let you in on any names, but there's a couple of players who we are worried about, so we have tested and we will wait for the PCR results.

"They are just feeling a little bit unwell, but it is not likely to be linked to the game last week with Tottenham."

Ralf Rangnick has been in contact with the injured Paul Pogba as he continues to get to know his Manchester United players and instil his methods.

Rangnick defeated Crystal Palace 1-0 in his first game in charge last Sunday, becoming the first of six German managers to win their opening game in the Premier League.

A youthful United side, which featured six teenagers for just the fifth time in Champions League history, were then held to a 1-1 draw by Young Boys at Old Trafford and the Red Devils now prepare to visit Norwich City on Saturday.

They will do so, however, without Pogba – who is currently in Dubai in an attempt to recover from a thigh injury – but Rangnick explained he has spoken to the France international as he continues to outline his plans with the squad.

"We spoke over the phone two days ago or on Tuesday," Rangnick told reporters at Friday's news conference. 

"He was still in Dubai, he's expected to come back today and we will get to know each other in person on Sunday. We had a telephone call for around 10 or 15 minutes and he told me he was getting better. 

"Obviously, he still isn't fully fit and from what I've heard it will take another couple of weeks until he's fit for training again. He has been out for quite some time so it will take another couple of weeks to get him match fit."

Rangnick faces his first away game in the Premier League against Norwich, with none of the last four permanent United managers losing their first league game on the road since Alex Ferguson in November 1986.

However, Norwich head coach Dean Smith has already beaten United this term with Aston Villa.

He is aiming to become the first manager since Andy Aitken in 1908-09 to beat United with two different clubs in the same top-flight season.

Rangnick, though, has been satisfied with his side's work ethic so far as he looks to build on a pleasing showing against Palace.

"In the first instance, it was about getting to know the players," he added. "We did quite a lot of video footage with them in order to tell them how we want to play. 

"As we all saw, they did well in that game. Not everything was perfect, but quite a few things worked out well. We were always on the front foot, we had control of the game. 

"Now it's about taking the next steps. What we showed against Crystal Palace was good. We didn't allow them to score or give them too many opportunities.

"[Norwich] have improved since the change of managers. They play a little bit more direct, a little bit more vertical than they did with Daniel Farke, so it will be a challenge to play at Carrow Road.

"But we want to improve our performance, we want to build on what we showed against Crystal Palace and hopefully get the next win tomorrow."

Norwich City have appointed Dean Smith as their new head coach on a two-and-a-half-year contract.

He replaces Daniel Farke, who was sacked by the Canaries after the recent 2-1 win at Brentford, their only victory of the season so far.

Smith was dismissed by Aston Villa on the same weekend, but the 50-year-old was not out of work for long as he has now been tasked with getting the Carrow Road club off the bottom of the Premier League table.

Smith's first game in charge will be at home to Southampton on November 20, the same opponents he faced in his last game at Villa, a 1-0 defeat at St Mary's. It will be the eighth time a manager has faced the same opposition back-to-back in the Premier League with two different clubs.

While at Villa Park, Smith achieved promotion from the Championship in his first season, reached the EFL Cup final and kept the club in the Premier League on the last day in 2019-20, before finishing 11th in the top flight last term.

However, the former Walsall and Brentford boss has lost almost half of the 87 games he has managed in the Premier League (43), with 28 wins and 16 draws. 

Excluding play-off matches, Smith's record in the Championship has seen him win 69 of his 166 games as manager (D45 L52).

Real Madrid are trying to offload a pair of veterans to Tottenham. 

Eden Hazard and Gareth Bale could be on the way out at the Santiago Bernabeu. 

Spurs are reportedly only interested in one of them.

 

TOP STORY – SPURS WEIGH BALE REUNION

Gareth Bale could be headed for a permanent return to Tottenham, El Nacional reports. 

Real Madrid have offered Bale and Eden Hazard to Spurs but head coach Antonio Conte is not interested in his former Chelsea player. 

However, Spurs may pounce for Bale at a reduced price before he is out of contract following the season.

 

ROUND-UP

Manchester United are interested in adding France defender Jules Kounde to replace Harry Maguire, says Todofichajes, which reports Sevilla will demand €80million (£68m) in return. 

Donny van de Beek wants out at United, according to the Metro, and Birmingham Live says Wolves will make a strong push to sign the Dutch midfielder, with Everton and Newcastle United also rumoured suitors.

- Fiorentina are willing to sell Dusan Vlahovic in January if an interested club like Manchester City or Tottenham will pay £70m for the Serbia international, says the Sun. Vlahovic has also been linked with Bayern MunichAtletico Madrid, Juventus, Inter and Arsenal.

Milan have joined Chelsea and Atletico in pursuit of 17-year-old Angers striker Mohamed-Ali Cho, according to L'Equipe. 

Barcelona will extend 17-year-old Spain sensation Gavi's contract for five years, reports Fabrizio Romano. 

Dean Smith's appointment at Norwich City is expected to become official Monday, says The Guardian. 

Raheem Sterling's future at Manchester City remains unclear.

The England winger has only made three Premier League starts this season.

Sterling, who starred during England's run to the Euro 2020 final, could now be on the move.

 

TOP STORY – BARCA RESOLUTE ON RAHEEM

Barcelona are determined to sign Raheem Sterling from Manchester City despite the Premier League club's refusal to let him leave, reports Manchester Evening News.

The Catalans want to bring Sterling to Camp Nou in January on a loan deal, with the forward open to a move after losing his regular starting spot at City.

Sterling still has 18 months remaining on his City contract and the English champions have no intention of accepting an offer for him.

 

ROUND-UP

Manchester City are set to launch a new bid for Tottenham forward Harry Kane in January, claims ESPN. City pursued Kane over the off-season but the Spurs skipper ultimately remained in London after Tottenham declined their approaches.

- El Nacional reports Real Madrid head coach Carlo Ancelotti has told the club to sell or release Gareth Bale. The Wales forward has only made three appearances this term and is contracted to Los Blancos only until the end of the season.

Hakim Ziyech is unhappy at Chelsea and could be lured to Borussia Dortmund, claims The Mirror. The Morocco winger could move in January, having been unable to re-discover his best form at Chelsea after moving from Ajax in 2020.

Norwich City are set to offer ex-Aston Villa boss Dean Smith their vacant manager role, according to Sky Sports. Smith was sacked as Villa coach this week.

- The Daily Record claims former Feyenoord coach Giovanni van Bronckhorst will hold talks with Rangers about taking over as manager after Steven Gerrard's departure for Villa.

Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard should be in strong contention to replace Dean Smith at Aston Villa, according to former midfielder Paul Merson.

After suffering a fifth straight defeat by going down 1-0 to Southampton on Friday, Smith became the fifth Premier League manager to lose his job this season.

The former Brentford boss spent three years at Villa Park, guiding his boyhood club back into the Premier League at the first attempt before establishing their top-flight status with a creditable 11th-place finish last term.

However, the 50-year-old ultimately paid the price after the Southampton defeat left Villa just two points and two places above the relegation zone.

Merson, who spent four years at the club between 1998 and 2002, sympathised with Smith and believes his impressive work warranted the opportunity to turn their fortunes around.

But the former Arsenal man has urged his old club to consider replacing Smith with either Lampard and Gerrard.

While Merson acknowledges it would be difficult to persuade Gerrard, who guided Rangers to the Scottish Premiership title last season, he feels the lure of the Premier League would be tough to turn down.

Merson told Sky Sports: "I would like to see a Frank Lampard or Steven Gerrard get the job.

"It's going to be hard to prise Steven away, he's managing a massive club in Rangers.

"He's got them buzzing again; he stopped Celtic winning 10 in a row, they are in the Europa League, and they've got a chance of winning the Scottish Premiership.

"Everyone wants to manage in the Premier League; that is no disrespect to the Scottish Premiership. Rangers and Celtic are bigger clubs than probably half of the teams in the Premier League.

"But it's the Premier League, and when you start out managing, I'm sure in the back of people's minds if you could get a job like Aston Villa – wow."

Merson also highlighted the credentials of former Chelsea boss Lampard who, though restricted by financial sanctions imposed on the club, guided the Blues to the 2020 FA Cup final and Champions League qualification.

The 43-year-old, who previously steered Derby County to the Championship play-off final, also regularly gave youth the opportunity to shine at Stamford Bridge, the likes of Mason Mount, Tammy Abraham and Reece James all stepping up to the plate. 

Merson feels that quality would certainly complement the scenario at Villa.

"I think you have to put Frank's name in the hat as well," he added. 

"He's managed Chelsea, where he did a great job in steadying the ship at the time.

"If you look at all the kids who have come through at Chelsea since, and then look at Aston Villa's academy, it's very good as well.

"On Friday night, Dean Smith had five or six players from the academy in the squad for what was his final game."

Aston Villa have sacked head coach Dean Smith after five consecutive defeats left the club just two points clear of the Premier League's bottom three heading into the November international break.

Smith was appointed at Villa Park in October 2018 and quickly led his boyhood club back to the top flight via the Championship play-offs.

Villa just about survived relegation in their first season back up and also reached the EFL Cup final, before kicking on last term and finishing 11th.

But Villa sold talismanic captain Jack Grealish to Manchester City for a British record £100million fee before the start of the 2021-22 campaign and have struggled in his absence.

Smith's side did win away at Manchester United on September 25, but they have lost every match since then, most recently 1-0 at Southampton on Friday.

Villa have lost seven of their 11 Premier League games this season, conceding 20 goals. It was not until their 18th league game last season that they lost as many games and conceded as many goals.

But Smith, who won 39.6 per cent of his 139 games in charge, departs with the best wishes of Villa supporters – including Grealish.

"No1 will ever compare," Grealish wrote on Twitter. "The real goat."

Villa chief executive Christian Purslow said in a club statement on Sunday: "The board would like to sincerely thank Dean for his many excellent achievements, on and off the pitch, during this time.

"Everyone knows how much Aston Villa means to Dean and his family. He has represented the club with distinction and dignity – universally liked and respected by everybody associated with Aston Villa, our staff, players and supporters alike. We wish him the very best."

With basement side Norwich City also dismissing Daniel Farke this weekend, there have now been five managerial departures in the Premier League this season (also Xisco Munoz, Steve Bruce and Nuno Espirito Santo).

There were only four in the entirety of the 2020-21 campaign (Slaven Bilic, Frank Lampard, Chris Wilder and Jose Mourinho).

David de Gea says Manchester United can have no excuses for their surprise defeat to Aston Villa, despite boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer arguing the visitors' winning goal should have been ruled out.

Kortney Hause scored an 88th-minute goal at Old Trafford to inflict a second successive 1-0 home defeat on United, who missed a glorious chance to at least rescue a point when Bruno Fernandes missed a stoppage-time penalty.

The 28 shots United attempted was their most in a league game without scoring for five years, but Solskjaer felt his side were hard done by as an offside Ollie Watkins was standing close to David de Gea when Hause headed in.

Rather than blame the officials and VAR, though, De Gea accepted that United should have done more to pick up the three points that would have seen them end Saturday top of the Premier League.

"It's a very disappointing day for us," De Gea told MUTV. "But I think there are no excuses today. 

"We were playing at home with confidence and if we want to win big trophies like the Premier League, we need to win these types of games."

United have now conceded in each of their last eight league games at Old Trafford, their longest such run in the top flight since February 1972 (also eight games).

While Solskjaer was upset Hause's winner was allowed to stand, De Gea was less incensed.

"We conceded from a set-piece and I saw the replay and probably it's offside. [Watkins] was very close to me. Again that happens," he said.

"It's a hard one to take. Now we have to be ready for the next one."

Villa's victory was their first at Old Trafford since December 2009 and boss Dean Smith insisted his side were good value for the three points.

"We have suffered a lot as Villa fans in this stadium and have been very closely linked over the past few years," he said. 

"People will look at it and say it's a big win, but for me it's more of a big accomplishment. I thought we deserved the win. We stood determined."

Aston Villa hero Kortney Hause claimed it was not "too tough" to defend against Manchester United in Saturday's 1-0 victory at Old Trafford.

The centre-back powered in a header from a corner in the 88th minute to give Dean Smith's side a first away Premier League win over United since December 2009.

It looked as though Hause had handed the Red Devils a share of the spoils after he conceded a penalty in injury time for handball, but Bruno Fernandes missed from the spot for just the second time in 23 attempts in his United career, blazing the ball high into the Stretford End.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's men lost 1-0 to West Ham in the EFL Cup on Wednesday, a game in which they attempted 27 shots but failed to find the net.

It was a similar story against Villa, United firing in 28 attempts but hitting the target with just four of them. It was the highest shots tally they have mustered without scoring in a league match since a goalless draw with Burnley in October 2016.

Hause, though, never felt Villa's defence was especially stretched and only the late spot-kick had him particularly worried.

"We had the better chances," he told BBC Sport. "We haven't really had to defend too tough as a team, but we've come away with the three points and that's all that matters. We're happy.

"When they gave the penalty I was devastated and fuming with myself. Looking back I didn't make myself any bigger. I've tried to bring my arms in so when Bruno blazed it over the bar I was relieved. I think it was justice in the end because I don't think it was a penalty.

"The rules are the rules. All we can do as players is play the game and play it well and whatever decision the referees and VAR want to give we have to get on with it."

Solskjaer was frustrated that Villa's goal was allowed to stand, with Ollie Watkins having stood in front of De Gea while offside before Hause met the ball, as United went eight home league games without keeping a clean sheet for the first time since February 1972.

Smith, however, felt his side created the better chances and believed it would have been unfair had Fernandes snatched a point.

"We had two big [chances] in the first half," he said. "We had one wing-back cross it to the other wing-back and Matt Targett put it over the bar, and then Ollie Watkins had a big chance where David de Gea's miskicked it and then made a really good save.

"They had lots of little chances where we got in really good blocks. I thought we deserved the win: we were aggressive, and brave, and you have to be sometimes coming here.

"I thought it was a very harsh penalty; I'm not sure where he's meant to put his arm. Justice was done when he missed it."

Jack Grealish has suffered a setback in his injury recovery and will be absent for another "few weeks", Aston Villa boss Dean Smith has confirmed.

Attacking midfielder Grealish has missed Villa's last seven matches due to a shin complaint, with Smith's side winning only two of those games.

The Villa captain will now sit out the clash with Liverpool at Anfield this weekend and is likely to remain a doubt for when they next play, against Manchester City on April 21.

"Myself and Jack were quite optimistic to get him back a bit sooner than he probably should and he's had a setback that will probably put him back a couple of weeks," Smith said.

"He was really good in training, but he couldn't tolerate the loading. It's a loading injury and we have to de-load him over the next few weeks and get him back from there.

"We know it's not a long-term injury and he will be back. We all, Jack included, probably pushed him back a little bit too quickly. We wanted him to get back and he had a little setback."

Only three players have more Premier League assists than Grealish's 10 this term, while he ranks second behind Bruno Fernandes for chances created (75) and joint-third for Opta-defined 'big' chances (14).

Grealish's injury meant he missed out on England selection for the recent World Cup qualifiers, but Smith is optimistic the absence will not damage his player's chances of making Gareth Southgate's squad for the rescheduled Euro 2020.

"He's proved himself already, but the one thing for certain is he will be back before the end of the season, and then Gareth [Southgate] has to make a decision whether he thinks he's right for that," Smith said.

Aston Villa manager Dean Smith said he will reprimand any potential internal leak after news of captain Jack Grealish's injury emerged well in advance of Sunday's 2-1 Premier League home loss to Leicester City.

Grealish was left out of the Villa line-up due to a leg knock picked up at training, although that became public knowledge ahead of the fixture, leaving Smith irritated by the advantage it may have offered the Foxes.

The England international is a key figure for Villa, having played every league game this season until Sunday, scoring six goals while he is also equal second for most assists this campaign with 10.

"I was made aware on social media there were rumours he was not going to play," Smith told BBC Sport.

"If that is coming out of our training ground I will find out where it is coming from and reprimand whoever it is coming from.

"It is something I would not be happy with."

Aston Villa have completed the signing of midfielder Morgan Sanson from Marseille for a reported fee of £15.5million.

The 26-year-old has agreed a four-and-a-half-year contract with Villa.

Sanson has played with Marseille since he signed for them from fellow Ligue 1 side Montpellier in January 2017.

He was part of the Marseille team which made the Europa League final in 2018 and the one which finished second under Andre Villas-Boas last season.

Villa boss Dean Smith, whose team have had a strong first half to the Premier League season, was enthusiastic about Sanson's credentials after the deal was confirmed on Tuesday.

"Morgan has performed consistently at the highest level in French football for a number of seasons as well as in this season's Champions League," Smith said.

"He is a player with the quality and experience to play in any midfield position.

"He will add real competition for starting places and gives us more squad depth which is vital to competing successfully in the Premier League."

Sanson has two goals and three assists in 10 Ligue 1 starts and two substitute appearances this season.

In his first interview with Villa, he told the club's website: "I'm really happy to be here, very proud to join the Aston Villa family.

"In the future I hope we can do great things together.

"It's a magical club, a big club in England. When Aston Villa called me, I didn't have to think about it for a long time – it was the best opportunity for me and my career.

"I love the team; I love the spirit – I'm a warrior and I like it when all the players run for the team and run for the club. I appreciate watching Villa because it's good football.

"I hope the best for the club. I think we have a very good team."

Villa are eighth in the table, just five points behind fourth-placed Liverpool with two games in hand on the reigning Premier League champions.

Having beaten Newcastle United last time out, they return to action away to Burnley in the top flight on Wednesday.

Aston Villa manager Dean Smith revealed he was sent off during his team's 2-0 Premier League defeat at Manchester City for suggesting the officials were clowns.

Villa put bodies on the line to frustrate City at the Etihad Stadium on Wednesday until Bernardo Silva opened the scoring with a contentious goal 11 minutes from time.

Rodri came back from an offside position behind Tyrone Mings to dispossess the Villa defender and set up Silva, who finished clinically with his left foot from the edge of the penalty area.

Smith was then shown a red card by referee Jon Moss for telling fourth official David Coote he thought the officials must have been given juggling balls for Christmas.

Ilkay Gundogan rubbed salt into the wounds by scoring from the spot after Matty Cash was penalised for handball, and Villa boss Smith made his feelings clear after his team were beaten in what was their first top-flight game for 19 days due to a coronavirus outbreak.

"I still don't understand the rule if I’m honest," said Smith.

"I don't think anyone can tell me why a goal has been given. He [Rodri] has taken advantage of an offside position. He comes back and tackles Tyrone Mings from behind.

"What was Tyrone supposed to do, just let it go through? He was 10 metres offside. Do you just stand there all the time now?

"I thought they'd at least go over to the screen as it looked clear offside. I looked at the screen myself and it looked like a clear offside.

"When I realised they weren't even going to take a look I told the fourth official I thought they had got juggling balls for Christmas.

"If that's the law then definitely [it should be changed]. He's standing offside and taking an unfair advantage from that. Nobody in this stadium thinks that goal should have stood, so you can't tell me it should have stood and that tells you there is a fault with the law."

He added: "I don't think anyone can tell me why it's been given. What is Tyrone meant to do? Can you stand 10 yards offside now?

"Nobody in the stadium feels that should have counted so you can't tell me that should have counted."

Manchester United star Bruno Fernandes has won the Premier League Player of the Month award for the fourth time in his first year with the club.

Fernandes was confirmed as the winner of December's award on Friday, following up his success in November.

His fourth overall Player of the Month award means he is already level with United greats Cristiano Ronaldo and Paul Scholes, while just one behind Wayne Rooney's career tally.

Fernandes has closed to within three of the overall record held by Manchester City striker Sergio Aguero, who won seven.

The Portugal international is the first player to win the award four times in a calendar year.

He scored twice and added an assist in the 6-2 win against Leeds United while he also netted and set up a goal in the 2-2 draw at Leicester City on Boxing Day.

Fernandes additionally assisted key goals for Paul Pogba (against West Ham) and Marcus Rashford (against Wolves) over the course of the month.

The 26-year-old said: "Three goals and four assists was a complete month.

"Scoring and assisting your team-mates is perfect. I want to achieve other trophies and awards but I'm really happy to make history.

"It is a long way before we can start talking about being [Premier League] champions. We have to keep working. 

"We play against one of the best teams in England [Liverpool on Sunday] and we know what it means to the fans. But the main point is the same: three points."

Fernandes' team-mate Rashford was also on the shortlist along with Anwar El Ghazi, Emiliano Martinez, Ben Mee, Mohamed Salah, Tomas Soucek and John Stones.

Aston Villa boss Dean Smith was named Manager of the Month.

His side are just 10 points behind leaders United with two games in hand having secured wins over Wolves, West Brom and Crystal Palace in December, conceding just once in five games.

Carlo Ancelotti, Sean Dyche and United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer were the other nominees.

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