David De Gea’s delight at Manchester United’s “massive” victory in the Champions League qualifying race came with a warning that they are still not performing well enough to finish in the top four.
Last weekend’s embarrassing 1-0 loss to ailing Everton left the seventh-placed Red Devils six points off pace and Ralf Rangnick admitted it would be “very difficult” to reach the top table in European football.
But the stars aligned on Saturday when Cristiano Ronaldo’s hat-trick staved off United’s blushes and secured a 3-2 win against spirited Norwich as all four main rivals Tottenham and Arsenal suffered shock defeats.
Those results breathed new life into the Red Devils’ hopes, but De Gea isn’t getting ahead of himself after a poor showing against the worst team in the league and Tuesday’s trip to title-chasing Liverpool looms.
“Until the last second it was very stressful,” said the United goalkeeper. “We were 2-0 up against Norwich so we can’t lose control of the game.
“We start giving away chances, they score late in the first half so that’s always difficult, but I think we need to control games more, especially at home against Norwich. But I think they played a great game.
“In the end we fought until the end, good team spirit and three great goals from Cristiano.
“That’s three massive points. We are still fighting for the top four, but for sure we have to keep improving because I think it’s not enough if we keep playing like this.”
United had looked into cruise control after Ronaldo scored two first-half goals against a backdrop of protests against the Glazer family, only for Kieran Dowell to withdraw one just before halftime.
Teemu Pukki stunned Old Trafford by leveling shortly after the restart and De Gea made a fine save to deny Milot Rashica before Ronaldo struck a free kick to seal a 3-2 win.
“This is the Premier League, it’s not easy,” De Gea said. “All games are tough.
“You see today against Norwich, bottom of the league, but they fight, they almost got points here.
“It’s good for us if (our main four rivals) lose points but, like I said, we have to keep improving, just focus on ourselves and keep winning games until the last one.”
Tuesday could certainly provide a rude awakening if they repeat their performance at Anfield.
Liverpool go into the game buoyed by their 3-2 FA Cup semi-final win against Premier League leaders Manchester City, and also won 5-0 at Old Trafford in the reverse encounter in October.
“It’s going to be a tough match for sure,” De Gea told MUTV. “It is always special to play against Liverpool, even away. It’s great to be there and play.
“Let’s see. We’ll go there and hopefully today will give us confidence to go on Tuesday and play well, try to win the game and hopefully win the points for Manchester.”
While United look to further bolster their top-four chances, Norwich’s hopes of overcoming relegation are fading fast.
Dean Smith’s side are seven points from safety, but Dowell thinks they can be confident in their performance at Old Trafford.
“I think we showed a lot of spirit going 2-0 down to come back into the game at 2-2 and then Ronaldo has put one in the top corner from a free kick,” he told the club’s website.
“It’s quite impressive to come to Old Trafford and score two goals and it’s harder to score three and four to win the game, so it’s just one of them.
“I thought the tactics were good again. We felt that if we could get past his midfield line then we could get to his back four and it happened quite a few times.
“We probably didn’t capitalize on that enough, but sometimes it worked out well. That performance should give us confidence going into Newcastle.”