Rangnick already shows Ole’s folly: Neil Humphreys
Interim manager brings defensive discipline to United's midfield
With any new manager, there must be caveats. Even someone of Ralf Rangnick's pedigree has to acknowledge the caveats.
It was only one game. It was only Crystal Palace. There was only one training session. Seriously, how much wisdom could the grandfather of gegenpressing share in a single session on a frosty Friday morning?
|MAN UNITED||YOUNG BOYS|
Quite a lot, it turns out.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's folly was exposed in just 90 minutes against Palace and should be again in the Champions League dead rubber against Young Boys tomorrow morning (Singapore time), when Rangnick gets another chance to bed down his system.
United pressed against Palace, regularly in the first half, less so in the second, when tiring players struggled to sustain a new offensive model, but the Red Devils were finally allowed to follow deep-rooted instincts.
Throw a toddler a football, point towards a homemade goal and watch the kid waddle off towards the target. It's not revolutionary coaching. It's intuitive.
Solskjaer advocated counter-intuitive football. The Red Devils were instructed to sit back. Wait. Concede possession. Spring calculated attacks and fall back.
At times, the Theatre of Dreams felt like scenes from Band of Brothers, except the ramshackle raids were less organised.
The Norwegian insisted upon a style of play that was not only against his players' better judgment, but it was also ineffective once Cristiano Ronaldo came on board. The personnel and the plan were incompatible.
Maybe a single training session was enough, to a degree, giving Rangnick a chance to state the obvious. Press at every opportunity. Do what should be ingrained in every elite footballer. Go forward.
Against Palace, United won possession in the final third 12 times - five more times than in any other game this season, according to ESPN.
That's not a coincidence. That's the direct consequence of a coaching pioneer - one who influenced a new wave of German coaches, including Juergen Klopp and Thomas Tuchel - picking footballers that suited his formation.
Rangnick's 4-2-2-2 allowed him to have his cake and eat it, that is have his gegenpressing and a 36-year-old striker.
The German also benefited from not bringing any emotional baggage or past club connections to United. When Solskjaer wasn't doffing his cap at the altar of Sir Alex Ferguson, he was promoting the "United way" and its emphasis on academy graduates and youthful attacking footballers.
Throw in the media's obsession with United's double pivot - call it the Steven Gerrard-Frank Lampard phenomenon - and Solskjaer was left with the Fred-Scott McTominay dilemma. Who gets picked? Who sits? Who goes?
Solskjaer never found satisfactory answers. Rangnick answered all three in one game.
They both got picked. They both sat. And neither man pressed, until late situations demanded it (and Fred curled in the winner).
Solskjaer spoke like a proud father when addressing McTominay's steady evolution into a more attacking midfielder, with the former manager harbouring ambitions of the Scot becoming a box-to-box archetype of yesteryear for United.
A noble hope, but one that the Red Devils cannot accommodate now, considering they are already overwhelmed with creative footballers and still vulnerable on the counter-attack.
Rangnick has no ties to United's past or interest in the ethos of previous managers, just an impatience to fix what seems self-evident to the 63-year-old.
If he wants to include Ronaldo among four pressing forwards, he needs two disciplined anchormen in Fred and McTominay. If he wants a more narrow 4-2-2-2 to improve the defensive spine, he needs Alex Telles and Diogo Dalot as wing-backs.
And he was rewarded with a rare clean sheet against Palace.
Rangnick will undoubtedly use the inconsequential European tie against Young Boys and winnable games against Norwich City, Brentford and Brighton & Hove Albion to see if his formation can hold until the January transfer window, before taking stock of his squad.
In the meantime, the Red Devils can work towards developing a clear identity again. They've been allowed to drift for long enough.