Manchester United goalkeeper David de Gea promised to fight to get "the club back to where it deserves to be" after a 4-1 thrashing at Manchester City.

United headed to the Etihad Stadium on Sunday unbeaten in 11 games in normal time across all competitions, while they were also on the longest unbeaten streak in the Premier League (eight games).

But doubles from Kevin De Bruyne and Riyad Mahrez proved decisive as Ralf Rangnick's side came crashing back down to reality, with their only consolation Jadon Sancho's first-half equaliser.

That leaves United a point behind fourth-placed Arsenal, who claimed a 3-2 win at Watford and have played three games fewer than their fellow top-four chasers.

De Gea vowed to battle to return United back to English football's top table after yet another derby-day humbling against Pep Guardiola's Premier League leaders.

"We will, one day, get this club back to where it deserves to be," he posted on Twitter after the game.

"Today was another bad moment in a difficult season but when we still have this shirt to defend we will not give up."

It has been a difficult season for United, who parted ways with club legend Ole Gunnar Solskjaer in late November after a dismal run of form.

Spain goalkeeper De Gea has been a standout performer for a mostly underwhelming United side, but matters could be worse for the Red Devils if it were not for the 31-year-old.

Only a shaky Leeds United (166), Norwich City (156) and Brentford (145) – all relegation battlers – have conceded more shots on target than United in the league this campaign (140).

That has forced De Gea, who has just seven top-flight clean sheets to his name this term, to make a league-leading 104 saves, with Leeds' Illan Meslier his closest company after managing 102 stops.

The excellence of De Gea stands out when compared to other goalkeepers in terms of the differential between expected goals on target conceded and the number of times they have been beaten.

Expected goals (xG) on target conceded – a way of measuring not just the quality of a chance but the quality of the attempt itself – when subtracted from goals against measures a goalkeeper's shot-stopping prowess.

De Gea has prevented 4.21 by that way of comparison, ranking only behind Wolves' Jose Sa (8.44) in the Premier League.

United will be hoping to make amends for their derby-day performance when they host Tottenham next Saturday, before the return leg of their Champions League last-16 clash with Atletico Madrid three days later.

Sure, relying on Mohamed Salah every week is a decent fantasy football strategy, it's certainly good enough for most, but what happens when the Egyptian magician isn't in Premier League action?

With Liverpool in EFL Cup final duty against Chelsea, the Reds' fearsome front-line and creative full-backs are suddenly off limits to fantasy football managers across the land, while Arsenal and Chelsea are also out of league action.

However, courtesy of Opta-powered data, Stats Perform has managed to pick out some of gameweek 27's potential stars, featuring the England captain, an in-form Burnley new boy, and one of the Premier League's most lethal defenders.

HARRY KANE (Leeds United v Tottenham Hotspur)

Despite Antonio Conte's team lurching to a fourth loss in five Premier League games at Turf Moor in midweek, the England captain remains the perfect pick for managers who need a big-hitter in Salah's absence.

Kane has been involved in seven goals in his last 10 Premier League appearances, registering six goals and an assist in that time. Meanwhile, five of those contributions, including four goals, have come on the road.

If that isn't enough to make managers' minds up, Kane will be facing a Leeds team which has already shipped 56 league goals this term, and has scored 10 goals in his eight Premier League appearances in Yorkshire. 

DAVID DE GEA (Manchester United v Watford)

For those looking for an adequate replacement for the likes of Allison or Edouard Mendy between the sticks, Red Devils stopper De Gea looks to be the perfect choice, ahead of a kind home fixture with Watford.

When looking at Opta's Expected Goals on Target data, no Premier League goalkeeper has prevented more goals than the Spaniard this season, with De Gea conceding 32 Premier League goals from 39.09 xG on target faced.

Although De Gea did ship four times when Watford ended Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's Red Devils reign earlier this season, United have never lost a home league game against Watford, recording 11 wins and two draws against the Hornets at Old Trafford. They have not faced any other side in more home games during their league history without losing (also 13 unbeaten vs Hull City).

CRAIG DAWSON (West Ham United v Wolves)

The best fantasy football managers are those that find themselves looking for marginal gains, and what better way to do that than to pick one of the division's most lethal defenders?

Since the 2014-15 season, no Premier League defender can match Dawson's tally of 14 headed goals, and the big centre-back has now netted in successive games, against Leicester City and Newcastle United.

West Ham's next Premier League clash sees them take on Wolves at the London Stadium. For all their good form, the visitors are averaging under a goal per game this season, so Dawson could also be in with a chance of a clean sheet.

WOUT WEGHORST (Crystal Palace v Burnley, Burnley v Leicester City)

Finally, Burnley's towering Dutch striker Wout Weghorst stands out as an appealing under-the-radar selection, ahead of the Clarets facing two games in four days.

Since Weghorst made his move from Wolfsburg to Turf Moor, he has weighed in with a goal and two assists, meaning only Salah (three goals and one assist) has registered more goal involvements amongst Premier League players since his arrival.

Although Burnley's weekend opponents Crystal Palace have been buoyed by a 4-1 win over Watford, they then host a Leicester team which has conceded 40.61 expected goals this season, a tally worse than all but three Premier League teams, so another Weghorst contribution could be on the cards.

Manchester United have not faced Atletico Madrid in European competition since the 1991-92 Cup Winners' Cup last 16, a tie the Spanish side won 4-1 on aggregate as Luis Aragones got the better of Alex Ferguson.

That was a meeting of two teams on the up: United were a year away from their first of 13 league titles under Ferguson, while Atleti would go on to win consecutive Copas del Rey, with a LaLiga triumph coming in 1996. Twenty years on, Atleti and United meet again in the last 16 of the Champions League, a competition neither is expected to win but one that represents the only means of salvaging their respectively rotten seasons.

It's a difficult one to call. United have become more resolute and less porous under Ralf Rangnick, losing just once over 90 minutes since Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was sacked in late November, but in their 15 games under their interim manager, they have not been tested by elite opposition. Atleti, champions last season, are 15 points off the pace set by Real Madrid in 2021-22 and, in the time Rangnick has been at Old Trafford, they have won six and lost eight of 15 matches in all competitions.

These are well-matched, dispirited teams, who occasionally thrill in attack but always unnerve in defence. Neither looks favourite to win, and neither can afford to lose.

It has, therefore, become a big-pressure situation for the goalkeepers – and that's where form starts to differ wildly.

This will be David de Gea's first competitive meeting with Atleti since he left for United in 2011. He probably didn't imagine he would win fewer league titles than his old club in the decade to follow, but that's another story.

De Gea can at least step onto the pitch at the Wanda Metropolitano on Wednesday knowing he can claim to be one of the best in the business again based on form – a claim that opposite number Jan Oblak certainly can't make.

We know United have been extremely vulnerable this season. In all competitions, they have faced 465 shots, the fifth-highest tally among teams in Europe's top five leagues; 168 of those attempts have been on target, the third-highest number a team has faced. What is particularly worrying is that 21 of their opponents' shots have come directly from United mistakes, the highest number on the continent behind Sevilla (23).

Looking at expected goals on target – a way of measuring not just the quality of a chance (xG) but the quality of the attempt itself – United's figure against stands at 51.1 in all competitions, the third-worst among Europe's top five leagues. And yet, they have conceded 44 goals – far more than pretenders to trophies should be letting in, but around seven fewer than the numbers suggest they should. Much of that is down to De Gea.

In the Premier League alone, De Gea has made 96 saves from 128 shots on target faced, giving him a save percentage of 73.44. No other keeper has made as many stops and only Leeds United's Illan Meslier has faced more attempts, yet Meslier has conceded 50 goals to De Gea's 34. Using that same xGOT model and subtracting goals conceded (excluding own goals), we can work out a value for how many goals a keeper has prevented through saves. For De Gea, that figure is 7.1, the best in the league.

If you include all competitions, De Gea has faced the most shots on target (157) among top-five-league teams apart from Leicester City's Kasper Schmeichel (158), again showing just how fragile United can be without the ball. Looking at that 'goals prevented' metric again, De Gea is at 7.86 – in other words, he's prevented roughly eight goals through the quality of his shot-stopping. Across the continent, only two keepers to play at least 15 times this season can do better.

Preventing goals and high save percentages have traditionally been where Oblak thrives. Since his Atleti debut in September 2014, he has the most clean sheets (167) in Europe's top five leagues and a save percentage of 76.5, the third-highest. According to the data, Oblak has prevented just over 51 goals in that time, at least four more than any other keeper and nearly 20 more than De Gea. It makes his form this season all the more troubling.

Oblak has faced 50 fewer shots on target this season than De Gea – implying Atleti's defence is still stronger than United's, even accounting for their dip in standards – yet he has conceded five goals more than the Spain international. Oblak has saved 61, or 57 per cent, of the shots he has faced this season, which is an alarming drop from his career average of 76.52 per cent in Atleti colours.

Using that same 'goals prevented' calculation, Oblak is at -7.05, meaning he has conceded at least seven goals more than should reasonably be expected. Among Europe's top leagues, only seven keepers come off worse this season, and only four by a significant degree.

There is of course more to a keeper's value than the number of times the ball goes in his net, but these numbers give us a good indication of which ones are performing well when it comes to rudimentary shot-stopping. A 15-goal swing between De Gea and Oblak this season tells you everything you need to know about their recent standards, and why Atleti will have more cause for concern than United in this hugely important knockout tie.

David de Gea hinted he could spend the rest of his career at Manchester United.

De Gea joined United in 2011 from Atletico Madrid, who the Red Devils face in the last 16 of the Champions League, the first leg of which is at the Wanda Metropolitano on Wednesday.

During his time in England, De Gea progressed from a young prospect to one of the best goalkeepers in the world.

While his form over the previous few years appeared to dip, he has seemingly been back to his best in 2021-22.

According to Opta data, only Kepa Arrizabalaga has prevented more goals (10.5) than De Gea (7.9) across all competitions among goalkeepers at Premier League clubs.

Wednesday's clash will be De Gea's first match against Atletico since leaving them over a decade over, and the occasion offered him the chance to reflect on his affinity with both clubs.

"I like the fact I was born in Madrid, but at the end of the day, it's just a city," he told UEFA.

"Now I feel as if I'm from Manchester. I just feel like anyone else from Manchester. Where you are loved and welcomed is your home.

"I've been here for many years and, obviously, anything can happen in life, in the world of football, but honestly I don't see myself away from Manchester United.

"Of course, I'm going back home [for this tie], I'm going back to the club that gave me the opportunity to be who I am today. But this is just another match.

"Everyone wants to play well, we want to win, it is a Champions League match. Obviously, I wish Atletico all the best, but I don't know whether the fact we're playing them is a good or bad omen.

"Everyone is going there to win, especially me."

De Gea's United contract expires in June next year, though United have the option to extend it for a further 12 months.

His comments would seem to suggest he sees himself signing another contract that expires beyond that date, however.

De Gea will be one of Ralf Rangnick's first picks as United go to Madrid for the first leg, before hosting Atletico at Old Trafford on March 15.

Cristiano Ronaldo sent a pointed "We stand United!" message after helping Ralf Rangnick's Red Devils score a dramatic 4-2 win over old foes Leeds.

The Elland Road victory for Manchester United came at the end of a week when the unity within Rangnick's dressing room has been called into question.

Suggestions of leaks from players to the press have seen criticism aimed at United stars, while it was even claimed Ronaldo and Harry Maguire are in a power struggle over the captaincy.

Interim head coach Rangnick shot down reports he was considering a mid-season change of skipper, saying defender Maguire would keep the job for the rest of the season. The German is in no position to make a longer-term pledge, given he is due to make way for a permanent boss once the campaign ends.

Maguire has also scoffed at the suggestion of such bickering in the squad. It was defender Maguire who headed United ahead in Sunday's Premier League clash in Leeds, while he also won all five of his duels.

Ronaldo was substituted with five minutes remaining, and there was no discontent from the Portuguese at that decision, when in the past he has at times taken issue with being replaced.

The victory strengthens United's hold on fourth place, and Ronaldo later declared: "Very important Premier League win before we change our focus to the Champions League and head to Madrid. Back on track! We stand United!"

The 37-year-old forward sent that message to his social media followers, who number 404 million on Instagram and 97.5 million on Twitter.

Ronaldo was not the only United player to celebrate with fans, as goalkeeper David de Gea told the United faithful in an Instagram post: "I guess you enjoyed as much as I did."

Winger Jadon Sancho also reacted, declaring: "A game we had to win. We delivered together as a team. Have a nice evening Reds."

Midfield general Paul Pogba savoured the occasion, and United's attitude to being pegged back from 2-0 to 2-2, writing: "It's not over until it's over. Great team spirit today, massive three points."

Manchester United interim manager Ralf Rangnick praised his side's marked second-half improvement during the win over Brighton and Hove Albion.

Without a win in three matches across all competitions, the Red Devils were booed off by the Old Trafford faithful following a goalless first half.

The hosts registered just three shots on goal to their opponents’ eight during the opening 45 minutes, while enjoying only 41 per cent of possession.

However, the pendulum swung in their favour early in the second half, Cristiano Ronaldo breaking the deadlock with his first goal of 2022 before Lewis Dunk was dismissed for bringing down Anthony Elanga.

Bruno Fernandes sealed the points deep into stoppage time with his fourth goal in as many Premier League appearances against Brighton.

"First half was Mr Hyde; second half Dr Jekyll – and for a change, [the result] was different," Rangnick said.

"In the end, it was important to get the three points against an in-form team. Brighton are very possession-based, full of confidence, and we had to take more risks in the second half; it paid off. 

"In the first 10 minutes of the second half, we had more success moments, and it raised the crowd; they were not moaning and were getting behind the team

"We scored the goal and got the red card. It should have been 3-0, 4-0 after 75 minutes, but there is a bit of lack of assuredness in front of goal."

United also registered their second clean sheet in three home Premier League games – as many as they managed in the previous 18 – but did so without Raphael Varane, who pulled out of the starting line-up due to illness.

Addressing the defender's situation, Rangnick revealed: "On the way from the hotel after dinner and team meeting, he had stomach problems. 

"We were hoping to get rid of it with medication, but he did not feel well and that is why we played with Victor Lindelof instead."

Victory lifted United above West Ham and back into the top four of the Premier League table.

David de Gea, who made several smart saves to keep Brighton at bay, revealed his team-mates' delight at getting back to winning ways, but feels they should be in a stronger position than they are.

"It is great always when you have the three points, especially after we drew the last few games," the goalkeeper said. "We are all very happy.

"We knew that Brighton is one of the teams that play very well with the ball, press very good and, for me, it is a very good team. 

"We pressed high in the second half. We controlled the game after the red card and there was a five-minute spell when they came back.

"We should be fighting for more things than the top four, but that is the reality. There are many teams fighting for the same position and with the quality we have, we should win a lot of points."

Manchester United goalkeeper David de Gea has been named the Premier League's Player of the Month for January after a string of fine performances.

Spain international De Gea has been United's most consistent player this season by a considerable distance, returning to the heights he hit earlier in his Old Trafford career.

De Gea's form over the previous few years had been patchy at best, with Dean Henderson dislodging him as first-choice for a period last season.

He also lost his starting berth at international level with Spain. Since the start of 2019, he has started just seven games for La Roja and been on the bench 28 times.

But everything points to the De Gea of old being back, and January was as good an example as any month this season, as he became the first goalkeeper to win the prize since February 2016.

Although he only kept one clean sheet in four Premier League matches, no goalkeeper tallied more.

Had it not been for De Gea's heroics, United may not have come through January with just one defeat, as the 31-year-old made 22 saves – over the month, Alvaro Fernandez (17) was the only other goalkeeper to register more than 11.

According to Opta, De Gea's stops contributed to a league-leading 'goals prevented' (excluding own goals) record of 2.6 in January, highlighting not only the crucial nature of his work but also the high standard of his saves.

Similarly, he boasted an 84 per cent save percentage – the only goalkeepers to play at last 180 minutes with better records were Jose Sa (84.6) and Martin Dubravka (88.9).

De Gea beat Jarrod Bowen, Kevin De Bruyne, Jack Harrison, Joao Moutinho and James Ward-Prowse to claim the gong and is the second United player to win it this season after Cristiano Ronaldo in September.

Ralf Rangnick was not overly concerned about Cristiano Ronaldo's reaction to being substituted in Manchester United's 3-1 win at Brentford.

United claimed their first Premier League victory of 2022 on Wednesday, with Anthony Elanga, Mason Greenwood and Marcus Rashford getting the goals before a late Ivan Toney consolation.

The visitors were fortunate to not trail at the break but produced a hugely improved display in the second half, with Ronaldo playing a part in Greenwood's goal as he chested the ball into Bruno Fernandes' path before he squared to the 20-year-old.

Greenwood and Ronaldo were withdrawn nine minutes later, with Rashford and Harry Maguire entering the pitch as Rangnick changed to a back five.

Ronaldo appeared annoyed as he headed off and that displeasure continued to emanate after sitting in the dugout, the striker seen seemingly asking Darren Fletcher why they had chosen to withdraw him.

In the aftermath of Rashford's goal, Rangnick could be seen having a word in Ronaldo's ear, the situation appearing to be defused.

"It's normal, as a striker he wants to score goals," Rangnick told BT Sport before going on to explain his decision.

"He came back from a little injury, so for me, it was also important to bear in mind we also have another game in three days' time.

"On the other hand, we were 2-0 up, the same score as at Villa Park, and I decided to make sure we defended that lead this time and I think it was the right decision to switch to a back five.

"We scored the third goal, we would have wanted to keep the clean sheet but unfortunately we didn't manage that, but at least we made sure nothing more happened."

United were indebted to David de Gea's performance as he made seven saves over the course of the match, increasing his season total to 81 – 11 more than any other Premier League goalkeeper.

The Spaniard's form has been exceptional this season, with his 6.2 'goals prevented' being the best figure among keepers in the top flight.

Rangnick acknowledged United fell well short of expectations in the first half, before paying tribute to De Gea's brilliant form.

Asked if he had to get tough at half-time, Rangnick said: "I wouldn't say a strong conversation [was had] but obviously we had to change a few things.

"In the first half we were not good in almost all aspects of the game: sloppy passing, not strong enough in the 50:50 situations, we gave away almost every second ball.

"Then in the second half we were more urgent, attacking them higher up the pitch and making the right decisions when on the counter, and we scored – this was the big difference."

On De Gea's display, he added: "He's been doing that for the last couple of weeks. Brilliant saves in the first half, [he's] one of the best goalkeepers in the world right now I'd say."

Victory for United moved them on to 35 points, level with Arsenal in sixth, though the Gunners have played one match less.

Manchester United goalkeeper David de Gea says "every moment" working under Ralf Rangnick has been intense since the German's arrival at Old Trafford.

Rangnick was appointed as interim manager last month following the departure of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer in the wake of United's 4-1 Premier League defeat to Watford.

The impact of coronavirus on the Red Devils' schedule means they have played just three games under the former Schalke and RB Leipzig boss: consecutive 1-0 league wins over Crystal Palace and Norwich City, and a 1-1 Champions League draw with Young Boys.

United have recovered the majority of the first-team group following a spike in COVID-19 cases that forced the club to close the training ground last week, with all but the injured Paul Pogba now likely to be available for Monday's trip to Newcastle United.

De Gea is delighted to have United largely at full strength once more and hopes the demanding nature of their training sessions will start to have a greater impact in matches.

"It's great. It's good to have the whole team back to train properly altogether and then, of course, see they are all safe," he told United media.

"They are back, they are all training, they are fine, so it's great to be together again.

"We've been training hard, of course. It's very intense, every training session, every moment with him [Rangnick] is intense.

"You have to give 100 per cent every time in training and in the games. Let's see. It's just the beginning, it's been a couple of weeks, so let's see in the future.

"The team is training with energy, with pace, and now we have to show that in big games."

United are on a four-match winning run against Newcastle in the top flight, their best such streak since a run of five between 2004 and 2006, but they have lost on two of their four most recent visits to St James' Park.

The struggling Magpies were beaten 4-1 in the reverse fixture in September, when Cristiano Ronaldo marked his return to the club with two goals at Old Trafford.

Should Rangnick's men score on Monday, it will mean Newcastle will set a new record for goals conceded by a team in a calendar year in the Premier League: they have let in 79 goals in 2021, the same figure as Ipswich Town back in 1994. 

Manchester United's Champions League campaign has been one of the finest of margins, to say the least.

A shock defeat at Wednesday's opponents Young Boys on matchday one was a dreadful start, and at numerous occasions in their following two matches they appeared to be in trouble again.

They needed late winners from Cristiano Ronaldo at home to both Villarreal and Atalanta, coming back from 2-0 down at half-time against the Italians.

Ronaldo then got a last-gasp equaliser away to Atalanta to salvage a 2-2 draw. Had he not delivered the goods on that occasion, United would have gone to Villarreal on matchday five knowing they could be eliminated there and then.

As it was, they ultimately left Spain with a 2-0 win thanks to a couple of goals in the final 12 minutes, with Michael Carrick – who had taken up a caretaker manager position after Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's dismissal – ensuring United finished top of the group.

Ralf Rangnick will be United's third manager of the group stage when Young Boys visit, and he has the luxury of being able to rest certain players and give others a chance to impress.

So, who will be hoping for a rare opportunity?

Dean Henderson

It wasn't perfect, but Henderson's first season in the Man United first team last term was promising. David de Gea suffered a knee injury that allowed the academy product his first serious run in the side after previously impressing on loan at Sheffield United.

He featured 26 times for the Red Devils across all competitions, keeping as many clean sheets (12) as De Gea despite playing 10 matches fewer.

De Gea prevented fractionally more goals over the season (1.9 to 1.6), according to Opta's expected goals on target (xGOT) data, although Henderson boasted a better save percentage (75.8 to 66.4).

This season, due to injury and illness – and De Gea's improved form – Henderson has only managed a single appearance.

With rumours linking him with a loan move to Ajax in January, it's certainly a good time to start getting minutes again, whether that's to improve his standing at United or put himself in the shop window.

Donny Van de Beek

As with Henderson, Rangnick confirmed Van de Beek will start on Wednesday, which will make it five appearances since Solskjaer was sacked; up until that point, the former Ajax midfielder had played in just six games all season.

It's been well publicised how Van de Beek's career seemingly stalled after joining United, making only four Premier League starts in 2020-21, despite costing just over £40million, and falling out of favour at international level.

Solskjaer appeared unsure how best to utilise Van de Beek's talents, but at the very least he looks set for a few more opportunities under Rangnick.

He's one of several who have been linked with a move away from Old Trafford, but an eye-catching display against Young Boys might just provide Rangnick with proof Van de Beek can be a valuable option in midfield.

Jesse Lingard

Everything was looking promising for Lingard at the start of the season. He'd returned from a remarkable loan spell at West Ham and Solskjaer was talking a good game about how much football the attacking midfielder was going to get.

Fast forward to the present day... Lingard has racked up just 87 minutes in the Premier League, with those coming across eight brief substitute appearances.

This has hardly been ideal given United apparently rejected bids of around £25m for Lingard in pre-season because Solskjaer wanted him for the first team; additionally, the England man's contract expires at the end of the season, so if they cannot convince him that he'll be playing, the club looks certain to lose a valuable asset for free.

Last season reminded everyone Lingard is not lacking talent. Between his Hammers debut in February and the end of 2020-21, the 28-year-old scored nine times in the Premier League, a haul bettered by just five players.

Only one of those was a penalty, leaving him with a non-penalty expected goals (xG) outperformance of 4.7, the second-best record in that time. Of course, such form isn't necessarily sustainable, but it speaks to how effective Lingard can be when he has the belief of his manager.

Rangnick would do well to recognise that.

Amad Diallo

It's been a difficult season for Ivory Coast winger Amad. He was about to go on loan at the start of the season before an injury robbed him of that opportunity.

He returned to the pitch for United's Under-23s at the end of October and has played two games for them, netting a couple of goals against Leeds United.

United are well-stocked in the wide positions, which provides another obstacle, but Amad has been on the bench twice in the past few weeks under Carrick – against Villarreal and Arsenal.

One would expect United to arrange another loan move for Amad in January, but before then he may just represent something of a wildcard option for the new manager.

Teden Mengi

Centre-back Mengi has been highly rated at United for a while and even spent the second half of last season on loan at Derby County.

It seemed likely he'd return to Pride Park for 2021-22, but a deal was apparently scuppered by Derby's financial woes, with Mengi instead staying with United's Under-23s.

Mengi spent the pre-season with the first team and featured for Solskjaer's side, although that did not translate to any minutes in competitive action.

But with Raphael Varane not ready to return from injury and Phil Jones not registered in the Champions League, United's senior options at centre-back are limited to just Harry Maguire, Victor Lindelof and Eric Bailly.

If Rangnick does want wholesale changes, which has been suggested, Mengi may be a surprise starter – and what an opportunity it would represent for the 19-year-old.

Emile Smith Rowe gave Arsenal the lead against Manchester United in bizarre circumstances in Thursday's Premier League contest, firing home with goalkeeper David de Gea down injured.

United shot-stopper De Gea was caught by team-mate Fred during an Arsenal corner and went down clutching his foot.

Harry Maguire headed the set-piece as far as Mohamed Elneny, who helped the ball into the path of Smith Rowe to half-volley past a still grounded De Gea from 20 yards.

After some initial confusion over whether the goal would be allowed to stand, referee Martin Atkinson pointed to the centre-circle to signal the start of Arsenal's celebrations.

United players were furious and caretaker boss Michael Carrick looked bemused on the touchline as opposite number Mikel Arteta punched the air.

With that strike after 13 minutes, Smith Rowe (21 years and 127 days) became the second-youngest scorer for Arsenal in a Premier League game at Old Trafford after Nicolas Anelka in February 1999 (19 years and 340 days).

United had shipped nine successive Premier League goals at Old Trafford without scoring, their longest such run, before Bruno Fernandes slotted in an equaliser shortly before half-time.

Manchester United caretaker manager Michael Carrick insisted his team's set-up in Sunday's 1-1 draw at Chelsea was not influenced by Ralf Rangnick, the man expected to be appointed until the end of the season.

Carrick was put in charge after Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's sacking last weekend and has overseen a win and a draw in his two matches at the helm.

The tussle with Chelsea at Stamford Bridge came amid reports suggesting United have agreed a deal to appoint Rangnick as interim manager until the end of the season, at which point he will move into a consultancy role.

Rangnick has a fine reputation both as a coach and director, with the likes of Jurgen Klopp and Thomas Tuchel considering him an inspiration, while he helped transform German clubs Hoffenheim and RB Leipzig.

While no announcement has been made yet by United, it was widely speculated that Rangnick's famed style of play – based on aggressive pressing and attacking – was being looked to by Carrick at Stamford Bridge.

Cristiano Ronaldo, criticised in some quarters for his off-the-ball work ethic, was dropped to the bench and United appeared to press with much greater purpose than they generally did under Solskjaer, though Carrick seemed to suggest it was a mere coincidence rather than a plan hatched by Rangnick.

Asked by BBC Sport if Rangnick had influenced their set-up, Carrick said: "No, that's not the case."

Instead, the approach was based on an acceptance that United would have to graft for any form of positive result.

"To come away disappointed and to feel like you have left something out there is a positive," Carrick said. "That intent and that hunger summed us up today. We knew it wasn't going to be free-flowing football at times, but we were prepared to dig in."

United took the lead early in the second half with one of just three shots they had over the match – Jadon Sancho seized on a Jorginho error before beating Edouard Mendy, though the Italy midfielder later made amends from the penalty spot.

"I don't think it was a penalty at all," Carrick said. "They have had a lot of shots, David [De Gea] had [some] saves, which we knew before the game he would have to make one or two.

"Other than that, I have felt quite comfortable in the game. Of course, we want to be better. I'm not getting carried away, but I thought we defended well. I cannot fault the boys one bit."

While Carrick might have felt Chelsea did not offer much, expected goals (xG) data suggests the Blues would have been worthy winners, creating chances worth 2.54 xG to United's 0.82.

This was not lost on De Gea, who made four of his five saves in the first half, though the in-form Spanish goalkeeper considered the bigger picture.

"On the pitch, in the goal, I was feeling danger for nearly the whole game," De Gea told Sky Sports. "We defended well, they missed big chances as well, and then once they gave us a chance and we score.

"It is not enough to draw but, at the moment, with the way we are, it is a big point. The last games before, we were conceding three or four goals.

"Now we concede one from a penalty, and a clean sheet against Villarreal. We are improving, but this is just two games. We need to show it in the games that are coming.

"We were playing very poor. At least now we are defending well. We are fighting for every ball. I think that's good. Like I say, I'm proud of the team, we are fighting for every ball, but that's the minimum for Manchester United players."

David de Gea once again apologised to supporters following Manchester United's "nightmare" display against Watford and accepts his side's current form is not acceptable.

United fell to a fifth defeat in seven Premier League matches with a 4-1 reverse at the hands of lowly Watford on Saturday, piling further pressure on boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

The defeat at Vicarage Road was United's heaviest against a newly-promoted side since a 5-1 loss to Manchester City in September 1989.

Solskjaer's side have now conceded 29 goals in all competitions this season – only Norwich City and Leicester City (both 30) have shipped more among Premier League clubs.

De Gea, who saved two penalties and was United's best player on the day despite conceding four goals, admits after the latest defeat that a big turnaround is needed.

"There's not much to say – it was embarrassing to see Man United play like we did today," he told Sky Sports. "It's not acceptable – the way we were playing and doing things. 

"The first half was embarrassing – we could've conceded four goals in 45 minutes. It was hard to watch the team playing today – it was nightmare after nightmare. 

"It's not acceptable. We are trying to give our best and fight for the team but for sure something is very wrong. 

"You can see in the games – it's very low level, very poor. Sorry to the fans, once again."

United struggled to cope with high-pressing Watford and were two goals down at half-time through strikes from Joshua King and Ismaila Sarr, who earlier had two penalties saved by De Gea.

Kiko Femenia converted the rebound from the first of those but the spot-kick had to be retaken due to encroachment, with De Gea again equal to the second attempt.

Substitute Donny van de Beek pulled one back five minutes after being brought on, but United then lost Harry Maguire to a second bookable offence with 69 minutes played.

That was Maguire's first sending-off for United on what was his 121st appearance for the club in all competitions, capping what has been a tough month for the centre-back at club level.

The Red Devils enjoyed a spell on top without making it count, before Joao Pedro and Emmanuel Dennis sealed an emphatic win for Watford, who started the day in 17th place.

Solskjaer held his hands up towards United's travelling supporters at full-time and appeared to wave, but De Gea insists the players should take the blame.

"It's easy to blame the manager or the staff but sometimes it's the players. We need to show much more than we are doing," he said.

"I've been in difficult moments and always believe in myself but there are difficult moments we have to be strong in mind and body. 

"We are paid to play for United and to do better than that. This is not Manchester United or the way we ought to play – it's difficult to say more than that.

"It's been very bad for a long time – a club like Man United we have to be fighting for trophies and fighting for big things and to be honest we are far from that. 

"Let's see – we have to keep working hard and stick together. We always say the same things but it's the truth – we have to look at ourselves and see where we can improve."

Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer hailed David de Gea as the "best goalkeeper in the world" following his heroics in the stunning Champions League win over Villarreal.

Cristiano Ronaldo struck in the 95th minute to lift United past Villarreal 2-1 in a last-gasp comeback at Old Trafford on Wednesday.

United were fortunate to be on level terms at half-time – De Gea producing a number of saves to thwart Villarreal in a rematch of last season's Europa League final.

Paco Alcacer did find a way past De Gea in the second half, but Alex Telles' sublime volley and Ronaldo's stoppage-time winner ensured United opened their Group F account following the club's matchday one defeat.

Following a difficult 2020-21 campaign, criticism in the wake of the Europa League final loss to Villarreal and doubts over his future after Dean Henderson's return to the Theatre of Dreams, Solskjaer lauded De Gea.

"A very difficult game against a very good team. First half, we had lots of possession, but they counter-attack really well, transition, attack quickly and created some big, big moments in the game," Solskjaer said during his post-match news conference.

"Thankfully, we had the best goalkeeper in the world tonight. David was fantastic and very happy with his performance. Second half. They had more of the ball. It was still open and they deserved to lead.

"But, you know, Old Trafford is magic, Champions League, Old Trafford, sometimes that history can help us. And tonight, Cristiano [Ronaldo], of course, came up with a good goal. And Alex [Telles] scored a fantastic goal."

On De Gea, who made six saves, Solskjaer added: "You are probably right that he had a difficult summer after that [final with Villarreal]. Of course, he went to the Euros, didn't play there, but he's really come back with a determination and work rate that I've enjoyed. And today he got this again.

"He got a deserved outcome because he's saved us. Tonight, we have to be realistic and say that without David, of course, we've got two very good keepers with Tom [Heaton] and Dean [Henderson], but today David deserves the man of the match."

United have lost only once in their last 13 home games in all European competition (W10 D2), with Ronaldo the first Red Devils player to score a 90th-minute winner in the Champions League since Marouane Fellaini against Young Boys in November 2018.

Ronaldo (36 years and 236 days) became the second oldest United player to score a goal in European competition at Old Trafford after Bryan Robson (36y 282d) against Galatasaray in 1993.

No player has scored more 90th-minute winning goals in Champions League history than Ronaldo (three) – level with Sergio Aguero.

It comes after United superstar Ronaldo, who made his 178th Champions League appearance, broke the record for most games played by a single player.

Diogo Dalot said: "When you add Cristiano to the team, it's always a plus. Like I said, many times, he's a fantastic player on and outside the pitch. He gives us energy. But we are a proper team.

"We give to Cristiano as well to help have these moments. Like we saw many times he can be very decisive until the end. But today was a team effort until the end. And we're so glad that Cristiano could score that goal at the end."

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."

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