10 things we learned from Ralf Rangnick's first 10 games in charge at Manchester United
Ralf Rangnick has now been in charge of Manchester United for 10 games. It has been a bit of a bumpy ride so far, admittedly.
Yet 10 games in, United seem in decent shape. United were in seventh place when Rangnick was appointed, and currently sit fourth.
Rangnick’s record: United have won six games, drawn three, and lost one of his 10 games in charge.
In the Premier League, United have gained 17 points from a possible 24, winning five of eight games. The team also moved into the FA Cup fourth round, while Champions League qualification and top spot was sealed before he joined.
Goals have not been aplenty. United have scored 14 only goals in 10 matches, a very low figure, and netted more than one in a single game only twice.
United have outscored opponents in these 10 matches, with 14 goals to 7.
Here is a look at 10 things we have learned from Rangnick’s opening 10 games as interim manager…
His 4-2-2-2 won’t work, 4-3-3 does
Rangnick came in with an intention to use the 4-2-2-2 formation he implemented at RB Leipzig. After promise in the opening win over Palace, he eventually abandoned the approach.
Wolves boss Bruno Lage found it easy to play against, and by this time, Rangnick was already beginning to toy with other formations.
Whether the formation is flawed or not, Rangnick clearly does not have the right players to successfully implement it at Manchester United, so he has had to find another approach.
After some experimentation, Rangnick has settled on a 4-3-3 formation which brings Bruno Fernandes back into a deeper role, and it has worked well over the last couple of games.
Rangnick wants United to be adaptable and there will be changes throughout the season and during games, but the 4-3-3 formation appears to provide the blueprint for the way forward.
Refreshing no-nonsense honesty
Listening to Rangnick in press conferences and pre and post-game interviews is refreshing. There is no messing about, no attempts to create soundbites or drama like Jose Mourinho, and no secrecy and barefaced dishonesty like Ole Gunnar Solskjaer displayed at times, see his quotes about wanting to bring back Alexis Sanchez.
Rangnick does not pretend everything is rosy when it isn’t, and he is not seen smiling after defeats. Instead, even after wins, he is pretty dissatisfied, insisting the team can do better.
At times his openness sees him disclose a little more than he probably should, explaining how Ronaldo wanted a youngster taken off against Brentford, or his comments about Anthony Martial being unwilling to sit on the bench against Aston Villa.
While it seems there was some confusion about Martial, Rangnick was given an honest view of how he understood the situation, rightly or wrongly. His unfiltered view of life at Old Trafford will ruffle a few more feathers behind the scenes no doubt – but for supporters it is good to see. He clearly won’t accept being messed around.
Tightened the defence
Manchester United’s downfall under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer stemmed partly due to a leaky defence, which he spent millions on. The talent is there, but the coaching wasn’t.
Rangnick has immediately fixed the backline, with United conceding just seven goals in 10 matches. The team conceded four alone in Solskjaer’s final match.
In his 10 matches in charge, Rangnick has overseen four clean sheets. Solskjaer had managed only two in 17.
The change feels like a sustainable one. United have more control of matches, and while David de Gea has still had to perform heroics at times, there has been a sizeable improvement since Rangnick took over.
Not a fan of Wan-Bissaka
Aaron Wan-Bissaka could be the big loser from Rangnick’s stint in charge. Diogo Dalot has taken over as first choice right-back and he is progressing with every game.
Dalot contributes positively to United’s attack, likes to try and go past players and put crosses in. This offensive approach is key to what Rangnick wants.
Rangnick said last week that Dalot still has to improve, and United may still need to upgrade. But it’s apparent so far that the manager regards him as a better option to Wan-Bissaka.
There has been some change at left-back too, with Alex Telles competing equally with Luke Shaw for the position. Shaw has at least had some opportunities when fit, and Rangnick has not disregarded him like he has Wan-Bissaka.
No progress for Van de Beek
There was hope that Rangnick’s change in formation, approach, and technical style could benefit Donny van de Beek. It has not happened yet.
If anything, Van de Beek’s position at Manchester United seems even more hopeless, because now two managers have decided he is not good enough to feature regularly.
Van de Beek has still not started a league game under Rangnick, and does not look close to doing so. He will stick around and try to change his situation, but it all seems pretty bleak right now for the Dutchman.
He will gamble and attack
Rangnick’s record of 14 goals in 10 games does not sound exciting, and at times it hasn’t been. But when he has to, he will take the handbrake off and go ‘all out attack’.
He did this away at Newcastle when United went 1-0 down, bringing on attacking substitutes and shifting into an unconventional 4-1-3-2 formation. It could have backfired, but United came back to claim a 1-1 draw and nearly won the game.
A more recent example came this weekend against West Ham. Rangnick recognised it was a game United had to try and win. Too often last season Solskjaer was content with 0-0 draws in big games and never really ‘went for it’.
Rangnick is willing to go for it, and his attacking desire is true to United’s traditional style. Former bosses Jose Mourinho and Louis van Gaal never really understood this.
He loaded up on attackers late against West Ham and it paid off. Even with so many brought on, there was no chaotic ‘lump it forward and hope’ style. United still retained control and finesse as Cristiano Ronaldo, Anthony Martial, Edinson Cavani and Marcus Rashford combined to score the winner.
Fred has improved
Rangnick has got more out of Fred than any other manager has been able to during his time at Manchester United.
The Brazilian scored the opening goal of Rangnick’s spell and he has not looked back. It was no coincidence that United’s one defeat, to Wolves, came in a game Fred did not feature.
Fred has three assists in his last four games, with Rangnick helping the midfielder to get forward and be of more use in the final third.
Rangnick deserves credit for helping Fred to improve and become an important contributor to the team. Even though Paul Pogba is due back from injury, expect Fred to continue to play a prominent role.
Chances for young players
The biggest change to United’s squad under Ralf Rangnick has been the introduction of Anthony Elanga, who he took an immediate liking to.
Elanga has shown he is good enough, starring in the last three Premier League games, and has started four out of the 10 games under Rangnick so far, featuring in three more as a substitute.
The teenager would probably have been heading out on loan if Solskjaer had remained in charge, as he had just one substitute appearance beforehand this season.
Rangnick’s faith in Elanga gives hope to other young players, and he has already expressed an intention to give Hannibal Mejbri an opportunity when he returns from the AFCON.
Hasn’t quite figured out Ronaldo yet
There were questions before Rangnick took over about whether he would want Cristiano Ronaldo to play a prominent role in his pressing style of play.
Rangnick has given Ronaldo his backing, selecting him to start seven of the eight games he has been eligible for, resting him against Young Boys for the other.
The German coach is prepared to haul Ronaldo off when needed too, as he showed against Brentford, knowing the player would be upset regardless, doing so for the good of the team.
Rangnick knows what a big player Ronaldo is, and clearly he wants to use him. He just needs to find a way to get a little more out of him, because he has scored only two goals in seven matches, with just one coming from open play.
He needs to find out a way to create more chances for Ronaldo, as the scoring opportunities are not plentiful. At the same time, he could do with Ronaldo being a little more ruthless with the chances he does get.
He’s clearly a stop-gap
This time, United’s appointment of an interim manager seems likely to stick with the plan. There has been nothing to suggest Rangnick has a chance of getting the job full time, and that is how it should be, United need a long term vision.
United’s actions in this transfer window have underlined Rangnick is viewed as just a temporary solution, with the manager given no funds to spend.
The club are reluctant to buy players because a new manager will take over in the summer, and instead Rangnick is being asked to work with what he has.
So far he is doing everything he can, improving individual players, making multiple tactical adjustments through matches, and issuing constant demand for improvement from the club’s stars.
Rangnick may not be manager long term, but he will stay at the club for two years as a consultant, and he is invested in leaving a better, more well developed squad for the next manager.
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