The six formations Ralf Rangnick has used at Manchester United so far
Manchester United’s players have had to be adaptable under new interim manager Ralf Rangnick.
The results have been mixed so far, with United winning four, drawing two and losing one of the seven matches.
Rangnick has succeeded in tightening up United’s defence, with the team conceding just four goals in those games, compared to the four in Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s last game in charge against Watford.
The attack is yet to click, with Rangnick struggling to get the best out of the team going forward, despite his tactical reshuffling.
With midfield options limited in quality, Rangnick is having to shift the team around to try and get the best out of what he has.
Speaking to BBC Sport ahead of the Villa game, Rangnick says he does not really want to be doing this.
Rangnick said: “For me, the formation is a means to an end, it’s a tool. Of course, in my opinion, this formation has to fit to the players you have available.
“In the long term, it would be good to have one formation or one style of play,’ he added. ‘It was not just a thing overnight. Jurgen Klopp, when he arrived, it took him three months to develop his Liverpool side.”
Here is a look at the six formations Rangnick has used and when, as he looks to try and find a system which he can depend on.
Rangnick developed his preferred 4-2-2-2 system at RB Leipzig and was able to recruit players for cheap transfer fees who were specifically targeted to fit the technical requirements. It does not sound like he will get funds this January with which to strengthen.
He used this system in his opening game against Crystal Palace, against Norwich, and in the first half of matches against Newcastle and Wolves.
Rangnick explained that he does not yet believe he has the players to fit it particularly effectively: “The problem is that if we play in a 4-2-2-2, that means that the space behind the two strikers and the two 6’s is that you don’t have a player, you can only fill that gap by the two 10’s. This is the most challenging and sophisticated job in that system.”
This ultra attacking formation is not one Rangnick will look to use regularly, not without an elite defensive midfielder.
Rangnick used this system in the second half against Newcastle with United 1-0 down and having to chase the game.
It worked with Edinson Cavani scoring the equaliser, and United created enough chances to win the game. On the other hand the defence was left very open, and a more clinical opponent would have taken their opportunities.
United may revisit this when chasing a game again if the team get desperate. It is a real gamble though.
Rangnick used a traditional flat 4-4-2 in Manchester United’s win over Burnley, with Jadon Sancho and Mason Greenwood operating as old fashioned wingers.
This formation tried to make the best of strike duo Edinson Cavani and Cristiano Ronaldo, and United looked good doing so.
The risk with this formation is that if it is not carried out with the right discipline, it risks drifting into a 4-2-4, leaving the midfield outnumbered, while there is also no space for Bruno Fernandes.
On the night, United’s midfield duo of Scott McTominay and Nemanja Matic were better than Burnley’s pairing, but many Premier League sides who play with a three, will overwhelm the United duo.
United shifted into a 3-4-3 in the second half of the Wolves game after the midfield was overran, with Fernandes brought on.
Wolves won the game after Fernandes hit the post, wasting United’s best chance. This formation gave United’s full-backs greater license to get forward and support the midfield.
Rangnick had said ahead of the Villa game that he was open to playing with three centre-backs again in the future, and we could see this one again, with United having a number of good options in the position when everybody is fit.
This was United’s go-to formation utilised under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, and Rangnick went back to this as United started the game against Aston Villa.
The Athletic reported Rangnick and his coaching staff simplified their instructions to United’s players, and a more familiar formation fitted in with this.
But he abandoned this set-up midway through the game, commenting via the club website: : “Against a flexible midfield, at times, it was difficult, because with their 10s behind our sixes, ahead of our central defenders, it’s not too easy to defend that.”
Rangnick utilised a 4-4-2 diamond to combat Villa, remarking, “after we changed to a diamond, it got better.”
The introduction of Donny van de Beek helped with this, and it is worth noting how similar this formation is to Rangnick’s 4-2-2-2, while giving a little more extra width.
We could see more of this set up in the coming weeks, especially with United set to play Villa again this coming weekend.
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