Ralf Rangnick will manage his first Champions League game for Manchester United with the pressure off. The Red Devils qualified for the knockout stages with a game to spare.
When it comes to the press coverage of United, there is rarely realism. The team are either heading towards impending crisis, or dreaming of a glorious future. At the moment, thankfully it is the latter.
In just his second pre-match press conference as United interim boss, Rangnick was asked if he can lead the club to Champions League glory this season.
It was pointed out that his compatriot Thomas Tuchel managed to succeed in doing so for Chelsea last season after arriving at the club last December. While this shows it certainly is possible, Rangnick was keen to downplay United’s prospects.
Rangnick was quoted by the club website: “I think it’s too early now, having been here for only a week with the team, having played one game, I think it’s too early. But obviously, with a club like Manchester United, we’re ambitious to be as successful as we can be in all competitions, no matter in which one.
“For me, it’s important we develop the team, that we continue the application of the defensive processes and fine tune our collective defending.”
Rangnick’s reality check
Rangnick will of course be wanting to win every competition he is in, and the team has already qualified for the knockout phase.
But he is sensibly playing down suggestions the team can go all the way, and reminding everybody that he has not even been in the job for a week yet.
A younger, cockier manager might have come in and set an ambitious target to publicly try and win the trophy. That usually would backfire.
United have the talent to reach the final, but there are so many variables and pitfalls along the way at this early stage of the competition.
The knockout games begin again next February, by which time United’s players will have had two full months working under Rangnick, as opposed to two days, and he might even have bought a player or two.
Ask Rangnick the same question next year and he will probably have a similar response, but he may have a little more confidence in the team.
It was notable that his response focused on United’s defence, the major weak point this season. United have the attacking depth and have just been let down by an atrocious backline and weak midfield. The new boss came in and had a positive impact at the weekend, and he is looking for that to continue.
Rangnick added: “Six months, no clean sheet in your own stadium, for me it was clear where the priorities should be and how we should develop the team in the next couple of weeks. I’m also aware that in the end to be successful, it hopefully means playing in the Champions League next season, and being successful in the Champions League and the FA Cup.”
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