An appraisal of Rangnick’s time at Manchester United so far
We’re already six games into Ralf Rangnick’s interim career as Manchester United manager, and the team has only lost one game, with two draws and three victories. To some, it may be good enough. But considering the opposition the team faced and the quality of their performances during this brief spell, something appears to be amiss, and the blame (if any) goes beyond the confines of the coaching staff.
Rangnick has always been lauded by analysts, pundits, and even managers for having a footballing personality with a distinct style of play that he would not compromise for anyone. At least, that was the narrative, and not much in those six games has proven that narrative to be completely accurate. However, it isn’t as absolute or definitive as many people believe. Remember, the German International has only managed six games and was in the midst of a COVID-19 outbreak at the club’s training complex, which has seemingly caused a slight delay in the coaching staff’s work to improve the team.
We saw his style fully translate on the pitch for the first time in his debut game as manager. But in hindsight, it appears that the players were all striving to gain the manager’s favour, so they had the mental energy to play at their best. United put together a strong showing despite the one-nil result, pressing hard and looking relatively compact. That hasn’t happened since. The shape has mostly remained the same on paper, but the team appears lethargic and sloppy, with a constant inability to string more than five passes together. Rangnick is probably one of the world’s most tactically astute managers, so the long-time criticism of the managers having “no tactics” is no longer valid. The players are suddenly the centre of all the attention, and some of them have started showing their true colours.
Rangnick, on the other hand, could make things easier for himself and his team by playing to their strengths. A possible change of formation isn’t a bad idea; starting with Marcus Rashford on the left wing, where he has constantly delivered for Manchester United, could help get him back to his best. Bruno Fernandes’ best position is as a number 10 and for the past two years, he established himself as one of the best attacking midfielders in the world. Jadon Sancho made a name for himself in the Bundesliga as a creative winger further up the pitch, and Mason Greenwood is, well, Mason Greenwood.
Then there are the stories of splintered dressing rooms and ego clashes. If these reports are accurate, it’s not all that different from Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s final weeks at the club, when players allegedly began leaking information to the press, putting Solskjaer even under more pressure. You could also argue that these reports aren’t as bad or even as important as they’re being made out to be. But in the end, all that matters to supporters are the results on the pitch. Or, at the very least, some passion and a willingness to work hard.
It’s far too early to start turning on Rangnick. It’s pretty fair to criticize some of his decisions or express your thoughts on what he should or shouldn’t do. But labeling him a poor manager after only one defeat in six games is absurd. He needs more time. At some point, you realize that no amount of tactics will save your squad if they can’t do the basics. When the intent, passion, or desire to play isn’t there, what else can a manager really do?
“We had a good team on paper. Unfortunately, the game was played on grass.” Brian Clough.