Count on a horrible blunder scoring and holding on to win a 1-1 draw against Chelsea is not where Manchester United are supposed to be. But at least admitting that’s what they are is a long, first step in the right direction. Having some sort of strategy on the pitch is a step in the right direction, even though it only produced three shots in total and was pretty poor surveillance for the neutral.
But as we know, admit you have a problem in the opening gesture to resolve it, and United did so by firing / euthanizing Ole Gunnar Solskjær last week. United haven’t performed well at any level in years, and this is the easiest to change, but at least they did. And if all the reports are to be believed, they will soon be hiring of Ralf Rangnick as interim manager for the rest of the season, which is probably another nifty or adjacent move.
Sometimes it’s not just one Thomas Tuchel hanging out in the middle of a season to hire, as Chelsea were lucky enough to find PSG’s trash down the alley last year. Getting Mauricio Pochettino out in the middle of this season was going to be almost impossible and definitely messy. United had their thumbs up for too long and missed Antonio Conte. Other candidates weren’t so clear, so it’s safe to wait until the summer, when managers are more easily laid off if they have jobs or others become available.
Rangnick has a sort of Marcelo Bielsa / Radiohead quality to him, where he is seen as the coach / squad squad. Much like Bielsa, Rangnick’s methods and tactics are widely revered, especially in Germany, and copied by many managers who have done more grandiose things with them than Rangnick (the Tuchels and Jürgen Klopp come to mind).
That doesn’t mean Rangnick shows up without any accomplishments on his resume. He pushed Ulm, essentially a club forest gnome, into the Bundesliga. He took Schalke to the Champions League semi-finals. He helped make RB Leipzig one of the most entrenched teams in the second German stratum behind Munich, in both the dugout and the GM chair. Man knows his shit.
It’s also no secret how Rangnick likes his teams to play, this is where questions about what United want from his six months stay and what they want to do in the long run starts to show up. Rangnick is considered the father of “gegenpressing”, the action of a team defending as a whole at the top of the pitch, in the hope of returning the ball closer to that of the opponent. goal and harass opponents until they make turnovers while they are still defensively disorganized. It’s clear to see why Klopp and Tuechel respect him so much, because that’s the main tenet of their teams as well.
But the two have had to adapt their squads a little differently in the Premier League, with its hectic pace, busy schedule and willingness to just throw the ball at the press that other leagues don’t have. Chelsea and Liverpool (and Man City) will exert a lot of pressure at times, but will also choose their place. Rangnick will probably also have to adapt.
But the main question for Rangnick is how does he get this outfit to play that way? Solskjær rarely asked his attackers to do so, which left a midfielder devoid of position awareness, or talent, to be completely bombarded by any team willing to try. Well, the attackers are not going to change.
There was a time when Marcus Rashford could be called upon to be the first defensive line, but it’s been a few years and many injuries later. The energy should always be there if asked, but we don’t know. Mason Greenwood also has some of the most urgent numbers, but it’s also something he hasn’t been asked to do a lot. Even though Jadon Sancho is from Dortmund, he doesn’t do that much either. Didn’t Solskjær get his attackers to press because he knew they sucked? Or were they void because they were not asked? We’re about to find out.
And of course, the big shit that won’t flow, at least in that sense, is Christiano Ronaldo. He is quite simply one of the worst pressers among forwards in the world. He’s not going to do it. But can United live without the goals they are likely to provide by sacrificing to become harder to face overall? United forwards simply waving their hand as the game passed them was one of the main reasons their midfielder felt so exposed.
These midfielders are unlikely to change too much. Transfers in January are notoriously difficult, although United are one of the few to have a truly dynamic player through the doors in winter at Bruno Fernandes. If United can’t do it, it’s always Fred and Scott McTominay trying to support the forwards who may or may not do the job in front of them.
And Rangnick’s purely interim status makes things weird, too. He can threaten players with playing time and the exit gate all he likes, but most of them know they will be playing for United next season and Rangnick will be just one at best. consultant. It might not be what you want to film as a player if Pochettino walks through the door in July, but it also means a time to audition a new manager. While the buzz has been that players are really fed up with Solskjær not really showing them a lot of tactics during practice, how carefully are they going to listen and change by a guy who is only a few months old? And if they miss the Champions League places again, how big will the flow of substitutes be next summer to move them?
It might work, and Rangnick looks perfect for this unique roll. But the team he is temporarily guiding may be too far advanced to do anything in that time frame.