Saturday, January 29, 2022

Can Manchester United Rescue Their Season Under Ralf Rangnick?

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Bernard Ford
A Leicester City fan. Wants respect from the 'London based' media for clubs outside the bubble.

Manchester United’s ongoing efforts to replace the irreplaceable have taken a new turn last month, with experienced German manager Ralf Rangnick given the Old Trafford reins for an interim period.

It was always going to prove something of an impossible task to fill the hole left by Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement back in 2013, and so it has proven. The list of managerial talent that has been and gone in recent years has ranged from proven world-class talent, in the form of Louis van Gaal and Jose Mourinho, to the somewhat questionable (at the time at least), with David Moyes, to the untested Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

A lot of money has been spent since Sir Alex brought his time in the dugout to a close, and as such, the lack of meaningful success can not be solely down to investment, but there is undoubtedly a sense that those in the boardroom are not helping Man United move back to where they belong, and that’s challenging and winning either the Premier League or Champions League.

So now we come to Rangnick, a masterful tactician who certainly talks a good game. Does he have the ability to manage big names effectively? The 63-year-old’s lengthy managerial journey has never included a tenure at any club you could call ‘big.’ Yet he did take Schalke to the Champions League semi-final and has been a big part of Red Bull Leipzig’s growth. 

So what can Rangnick hope for this season? If you were to believe expert Premier League tips, you’d probably (rightly) rule out any moves to breaking the top three stranglehold that is occupied by Liverpool, Manchester City, and Chelsea sides that are a country mile ahead of the pack. So a top-four finish is entirely possible, and clearly, a good run in a cup is expected.

Calming Influence

First off, Rangnick will look to tighten up a porous defence, and he managed to show promising signs in his first match in charge, a narrow 1-0 win over Crystal Palace, and one wonders if he’ll bite the bullet and leave Harry Maguire out of his imminent plans, such has been the poor form shown by the club captain. 

He appears keen to use Diogo Dalot and Alex Telles as his attacking wide defensive options, leaving Luke Shaw and Aaron Wan-Bissaka out in the cold for the time being. Apart from anything else, Man United’s owners will be hoping for a period of calm, and the aura around Rangnick is certainly a calm and composed one. 

It’s helped that caretaker boss Michael Carrick did a good job in his very short stint in charge, and the coming weeks will be a good indicator of what the season holds. United sit in sixth spot, just three behind high-flying West Ham, and their forthcoming fixtures won’t hold all that much trepidation.

Easy Run of Fixtures 

After facing Young Boys in a Champions League game that is effectively a dead rubber, United take on Norwich City and Brentford on the road before taking on an out-of-favour Brighton side at home and then taking on Newcastle United and Burnley over the Christmas period.

If Rangnick comes through those relatively easy fixtures unscathed, then there could very well be a much better atmosphere around the United training ground by the time 2022 hones into view.

January Transfer Window

Many will hope Rangnick invests in new players in January, but one wonders if Man United will sign off on such moves and, indeed, on who will be planning them. The simple truth is that United have the talent in their squad to finish fourth and go relatively far in Europe, but in order to push on beyond those rather mundane goals, they’ll need to re-think.

In the middle of the park, the combination of Scott McTominay and Fred is one that is certainly not one that you’d associate with a team looking to win big trophies. The Scottish half of that pairing gives you maximum effort but not much in the way of creative spark, while the Brazilian makes a passable impression of a player who can act as a metronome in the middle of the park but far too often makes mistakes and is too easily overrun by teams that possess brighter talents.

It may also be time to usher in Dean Henderson between the sticks. David De Gea has saved United’s blushes on occasions this season but is still too error-prone. 

In the final third, it’s an embarrassment of riches, and Rangnick would do well to not tinker in this area too much. He should stick to an attack led by Cristiano Ronaldo, with Bruno playing in a deeper role behind. The other roles in the United attack are less easily selected, but there are enough players there to do a good job.

Future Is Uncertain

Man United’s problems are bigger than Ralf Rangnick can resolve, and he appears to know his time at the club is deliberately short, and that means that Glazers have a manager in mind to fill the post on a permanent basis. 

If he’s a ‘yes’ man, then Manchester United fans will have to wait a few more years before big titles are once again being captured, and one wonders why Antonio Conte wasn’t pursued more vigorously. 

Manchester United need a leader capable of taking the job on, and the jury is still out on who that man may be, but there is a sense that fans of the venerable club are pretty much at breaking point and will not sit quietly much longer and that’s why the next full-time managerial appointment will be perhaps the most crucial of the Glazer era.

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