Ralf Rangnick's Manchester United aims look as far away as ever

Ralf Rangnick sought to control matches, add balance to the team and reconnect Manchester United with its DNA of success when he took charge… but as the club limp towards the end of another dismal season the German’s aims look as far away as ever

  • Ralf Rangnick criticised his Manchester United team after defeat to Liverpool
  • Rangnick said the club were ‘six years’ from catching up with their rivals
  • The interim boss had previously been positive about the state of the squad
  • Rangnick has consistently warned the changes required would take time
  • But he has failed to meet his main targets in another poor season for United 

Ralf Rangnick offered an encouraging assessment of the Manchester United squad he inherited when he was appointed interim manager.

‘I’m sure that we can take the next possible steps with the current players we have here,’ he said during his first press conference in the job. 

Fast forward less than half a year and Rangnick is now talking of a ‘rebuild’, of United being ‘six years’ away from catching up with arch-rivals Liverpool and of it being ‘obvious in the first three or four weeks’ that widespread changes would be required. 

Rangnick has, however, been consistent in his public statements that it will take time to arrest United’s alarming decline and that there were no quick fixes at the club, which fans and pundits alike have said is ‘rotten from top to bottom’.

The German arrived with clear aims and ambitions and, as he prepares to move into a consultancy role, it is difficult to make a case for him having achieved them.

Man United interim manager Ralf Rangnick gave his first press conference in December

Yet it would be unfair to lay the blame squarely at the feet of the 63-year-old, a widely-revered figure in the game. 

He has been let down by an expensive squad assembled by four different managers who have a penchant for under-performing when they do not like the man in charge or buy into his ideas. 

Here, Sportsmail assesses how he has lived up to the targets he outlined in his first outing in front of the media as United boss back in December. 

Controlling games

The word ‘control’ featured heavily in Rangnick’s first press conference. In fact, he uttered it no fewer than seven times.

Rangnick spoke of wanting to take charge of matches and to exert authority over United’s opponents. ‘It’s about developing the team and learning to better control the game,’ he said. ‘I want to help the outstanding players stay away from their own goal.’

United lacked any control in the 3-2 win over relegation-bound Norwich City on Saturday

Rangnick made an encouraging start as United interim manager against Palace in December

Watching Rangnick’s side, it is hard to argue that he has succeeded. Teams have far too often strolled through United’s dormant and passive midfield, creating chances at will, while his players regularly amble in possession, being reactive rather than proactive with the ball – and that is when they even have it.

Control is tough to define but it started reasonably well for Rangnick. In his first game, the 1-0 home win over Crystal Palace in December, United seemed to have at least a semblance of what he wanted. 

The players appeared to have taken his instructions on board. United had 61 per cent of possession and 45 per cent of their 237 passes were made in Palace’s final third.

Less than six months later and his players, in fact, look completely out of control, with little discernible plan.

One metric where United have failed of late is possession. Their 28 per cent share at Anfield on Wednesday was their lowest since Premier League records began, while they had 68 per cent against Everton at Goodison Park earlier this month – and still contrived to lose the game as they did little with it.

United had 28 per cent of the ball in the Liverpool defeat – their lowest since records began

Few would disagree that United lack control even when they win matches. In the 3-2 victory over Tottenham Hotspur in March, Rangnick’s men had 43 per cent of the ball, for example. 

When a team such as Norwich – who had scored just eight goals away from home all season before visiting Old Trafford – create, in Rangnick’s words, ‘five or six massive opportunities to score’, you know there is a major problem. 

‘We are probably the only team in the league who concedes goals like this,’ he added after the 3-2 win.

Bringing balance to the team

As well as control, Rangnick was insistent that he wanted to ‘bring more balance in the team’ when he took over as interim boss.

Put simply, he aimed to simultaneously ensure a porous defence was more compact and the attackers were more positive going forward.

United’s struggles at the back have been exacerbated by Harry Maguire’s poor form

Rangnick’s side were all over the place in the 4-0 drubbing at the hands of Liverpool

Things looked fairly rosy to start with as United shored up at the back and – albeit for a brief run – looked more dangerous in the final third.

On paper, the squad handed to Rangnick was not a bad one. Yes, it contained longstanding issues – a glaring lack of a top-class holding midfielder to complement the likes of Paul Pogba, for example – but even he accepted he had been dealt a pretty good hand, especially in attacking areas.

The astute German not having similar words to say about the defenders at the club when he faced the press for the first time told its own story.

There has been little balance in the performances of Rangnick’s team of late, shown perhaps most flagrantly by the chasm of space between the defence and attack in the 4-0 drubbing by Liverpool on Tuesday night.

In United’s last 10 matches in the league, only once have they held an opponent to less than 10 shots – a statistic which hardly screams balance. 

You could argue they look as instable as ever, both on and off the field. 

Utilising attacking ‘assets’

Rangnick was full of praise for the forward line at his disposal when he took on the interim job. He spoke of his desire to ‘transform the game from our box to into this area where we have our assets and our weapons in the team’.  

Marcus Rashford has endured perhaps the worst season of his Manchester United career

United have relied on 37-year-old Cristiano Ronaldo for goals during their difficult campaign

Edinson Cavani’s career at Old Trafford has petered out after a promising start

Those weapons have proven to be severely blunt in recent weeks – although not all of that is down to Rangnick.

The German has been left in the lurch by an ailing attack which includes a hopelessly out-of-sorts Marcus Rashford and a player who seemingly decides when he wants to play in Edinson Cavani, while the situation with Mason Greenwood was also out of his control.

The over-reliance on 37-year-old Cristiano Ronaldo is there for all to see. Ronaldo has 21 goals in all competitions this season, while Rashford, Cavani, Anthony Martial – who left Old Trafford to join Sevilla on loan in January – Bruno Fernandes and Jadon Sancho have just 22 between them.

But United have not resembled anything close to a free-flowing team even with the Portuguese star in the side. In Rangnick’s 19 Premier League games – exactly half a season – United have scored only 28 goals. 

In his first four matches – against Palace, Norwich, Newcastle and Swiss outfit Young Boys – United found the net just four times. 

It is a trend Rangnick has found difficult to halt.

Keep the ball away from the box 

Top of Rangnick’s in-tray when he succeeded Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was plugging up a leaky defence which had just shipped four goals to relegation-threatened Watford.

He had openly said his target was to tell United’s floundering defenders ‘where they can do better and get the ball away from their own box’.

Rangnick was brought in after United’s humiliating 4-0 defeat to Watford in November

The early signs were promising. There was little doubt he had solidified the back four; while they weren’t scoring many, they weren’t conceding either.

But, as their trophy dreams collapsed at the hands of Championship side Middlesbrough and then Atletico Madrid, the gaps began to appear.

Teams were finding the freedom of Old Trafford when travelling to a ground which was once a fortress. Too much space, too much time for their opponents.

With Harry Maguire desperately struggling for form and with an ever-changing central-defensive partnership, opponents were not exactly met with stern resistance when they found their way into the penalty area.

David de Gea has been called upon far too often for Rangnick’s liking this season

It is little wonder why De Gea has made the second most saves of any Premier League goalkeeper this season, suggesting Rangnick has failed with his ambition. 

After Tuesday’s Anfield humiliation, United have now conceded 48 league goals – three more than second-from-bottom Burnley – although not all have come under Rangnick.

United’s fortunes may also have been brighter had star defender Raphael Varane, signed to much fanfare from Real Madrid last summer, been able to stay fit.

Adapting to suit his players

Rangnick arrived at Old Trafford with a reputation for high-energy, pressing football in a 4-2-2-2 formation.

But – with the aforementioned squad balance issues – the German was quickly forced to live up to his comment that ‘you always have to adapt your style to suit the players you have, not vice-versa’. 

He ditched his Plan A after realising his newly-inherited players were simply not up to it – either because they were unwilling or incapable. 

Bruno Fernandes is among the players to have failed to perform for United under Rangnick

He has tried all sorts of different systems – 4-4-2, 4-2-3-1, a back three – and has regularly switched formations during matches.

Rangnick eventually settled on the 4-2-3-1 that had become a staple of Solskjaer’s counter-attacking team, which seemed to suit his players better – particularly Bruno Fernandes, who appeared lost in the 4-2-2-2 setup.  

While his methods have not been universally loved by his players, he has at least tried to turn the tide – which is not something those out on the pitch can say. 

RANGNICK’S UNITED RECORD 

Played: 24

Won: 10

Drawn: 8

Lost: 6

For: 39

Against: 36

Re-connecting to the club’s DNA

United are perhaps the team whose ‘DNA’ – or lack of following the retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson – is mentioned most often. It has become somewhat of a tortured phrase at Old Trafford.

Most have been unable to define exactly what it is but, broadly speaking, at United it has involved bringing through young players, an attacking style and a never-say-die attitude – a far cry from the ’embarrassing’ performance Rangnick’s charges put in against Liverpool.

Rangnick has given opportunities to academy graduates, with Anthony Elanga establishing himself as a key member of the first team under the German’s stewardship. 

But he has equally struggled to implement a clear identity on the pitch – again not entirely his own fault – and the lack of fight has been evident in recent weeks, leading some to suggest the players have thrown in the towel.

He has also failed on the main strand of ‘United DNA’: being successful. The Red Devils will have gone five years without silverware by the end of this season after being knocked out of the FA Cup and Champions League under Rangnick.

The FA Cup exit at the hands of Middlesbrough was a low point in United’s troubled season

United wasted the chance to progress in the Champions League after they were beaten by Atletico Madrid

United are no closer to challenging for major honours after years in the doldrums

Defeat at home Middlesbrough in the fourth round of the FA Cup, after United had limped past a superior Aston Villa side, was a low point of the season and is as far from success as can possibly be. For fans, such poor results are unforgivable.

Rangnick also cited progressing in the Champions League as a primary ambition. Having got into a position to get past Atletico Madrid following a decent result in the first leg – despite another torrid display – United crumbled in the return at Old Trafford as they were out-witted and out-fought by Diego Simeone’s men. 

The loss to Everton also saw him take an unwanted record as it meant he had the lowest win-rate of any Manchester United boss to have ever managed in the Premier League. 

Some of United’s most ardent of critics might suggest the club’s DNA is the Liverpool display; a group of misfits lacking structure who will sooner throw their manager under the bus with wretched performances than put in the hard yards required to get back to the top.

‘In two-and-a-half years, I think the DNA of the club will be clear,’ Rangnick said. To say that is a lofty ambition would be an understatement.




Share this article


Source: Read Full Article