Manchester United’s actions this season both on and off the pitch has left supporters worried about the direction of the club’s future. Ralf Rangnick’s team look far from the high-tempo pressing team we expected to see when he took over in late November.
The players were so out of touch with the German’s methods that he found it necessary to switch back from his preferred 4-2-2 to Ole Gunner Solskjaer’s trusted 4-2-3-1, even though this is the system that ultimately cost the Norwegian his job. The players’ ability to work as part of a team has to come into question.
After the summer transfer window had shut many people believed that Manchester United had ‘won the window’. With the signing of young winger Jadon Sancho from Borussia Dortmund for £73 million, the addition of the elite centre-back Raphael Varane for a bargain buy of £34 million and of course, the return of Cristiano Ronaldo which was presented as the last piece of the jigsaw puzzle for the club to win major trophies, all of this while completely neglecting the obvious hole in midfield.
These signings represent the club’s transfer strategy of signing big names for social media clicks and interaction. The signing of Cristiano Ronaldo proves the hierarchy of the club would rather sign another striker in their mid 30s than continue to persist with midfield options that included an unreliable Paul Pogba, an error prone Fred, Scott McTominay playing out of position as a holding midfield and a 33-year-old Nemanja Matic.
While watching Manchester United under their former boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer earlier this season, the team looked too top heavy, there wasn’t enough tracking back from players such as Marcus Rashford and the lack of movement off the ball from Cristiano Ronaldo was evident. The team looked under coached, particularly in the midfield where a pivot of Scott McTominay and Fred appeared to get over ran by other teams of considerable less quality such as a 1-0 loss to Aston Villa in September.
Solskjaer’s team were then completely out-classed by Liverpool and Manchester City in the space of two weeks in October/November. On both occasions it seemed that the players heads dropped and their lack of team unity was completely exposed. The team never managed to recover their form or rescue any pride and further humblings at the hands of Leicester City and Watford led to the dismissal of the former Cardiff City manager.
When Ralf Rangnick came in as interim boss in November, the promise of a high-tempo pressing game excited many United fans and felt that the former RB Leipzig manager could give the team a new identity, however this promise certainty didn’t excite players in the Manchester United dressing room as performances against the likes of Norwich City and Newcastle United were limp and lacklustre and a loss at home against Wolverhampton Wanderers looked deprived of any tempo or imagination. Combine this with the leaks that started to come out of the dressing room that some players were frustrated with the new coaching methods and didn’t like training at later hours of the day.
During recent performances, what strikes most observers is that Manchester United are untidy in possession as passes are misplaced as they struggle to play out from defence. Compare this to Liverpool or Manchester City, where every pass is to the exact millimetre, the players have no issue with playing out from defence at an extremely high tempo and are very calm in possession whatever the circumstance. The difference is absolutely staggering and the gap appears to be widening.
In recent games Manchester United have played relatively well in the first half, with the team taking 1-0 leads to Middlesbrough, Burnley and Southampton into halftime only to draw the game 1-1 at the end of 90 minutes. The goals in these games also came relativity early in the second half which gave United plenty of time to find a winner. However, their performances seem to decline and again their inability to dig in for each other and play as part of a team has been extremely worrying.
In January, it was believed that Ralf Rangnick was very keen on signing a midfielder in the transfer window. He suggested the likes of Dennis Zakaria, Amadou Haidara and Boubacar Kamara to the Manchester United hierarchy, of course none of these transfer targets came to fruition. It’s also worth remembering that the 63-year-old has not been the only Manchester United manager who hasn’t been backed by the board, David Moyes, Louis van Gaal, Jose Mourinho and Ole Gunner Solskjaer have all been deprived of their choice of signings or have had signings imposed on them.
Most shockingly though, the clubs hierarchy refused to let Jesse Lingard depart the club on transfer deadline day even though Ralf Rangnick allowed the 29-year-old to leave the club. This incident provokes the question, how much power does the Manchester United manager have? Will this lack of power be something that would put elite managers off the idea of managing the Manchester club? When Jurgen Klopp spoke about refusing the Manchester United job in 2017 he said, “Manchester United are the adult version of Disneyland”.