The Red Devils are finding themselves under scrutiny again following substandard performances.
10 points earned out of a possible 15. What seemed to be a happy start of life under Ralf Rangnick for Manchester United and fans has come down to the same question yet again. What next? Although the manager deserves time to build, how is it exactly going to be done? Although the answer now has become redundant – that the club needs a massive overhaul and a new vision.
The fundamental difference lies in the change of approach this time around. Unlike their time under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, this is a side looking to resurge under a personality that demands a certain brand of football. Whether that works in a longer period is yet to be seen, but the side has definitely struggled in its first steps.
So, what are the fundamental aspects that have come up as struggles under Ralf Rangnick? Here are five of those problems that have spontaneously continued to haunt Manchester United under the German manager.
5. The search for a lasting identity
The advent of Ralf Rangnick certainly brought an array of new aspirations. Despite showing signs of playing a particular brand of football under Solskjaer in the initial season, things quickly began to dwindle for the Red Devils. The German tactician’s arrival was expected to solve that and instill a new way in which the club’s resources could be best utilized.
The quest for that, however, comes with a compromise. Building a prolific style of play demands time, and Manchester United do not look to be having that at the moment. Alongside the COVID-19 outbreak and injuries, lack of time to get immersed in the new routines has left United looking like a team still hungover by a recent version of themselves. As a result, despite tactical intents, the team has clearly lagged execution.
Things were supposed to take time, and they will eventually. But Rangnick’s side, for the first five games that they have played in the Premier League under him, have looked like amateurs in mastering the new brand. Ultimately, one of the major reasons looks to be lack of preparedness, since developing something certainly takes time – even more so concerning the club right now.
4. Pressing issues and lousy off-the-ball tempo
Ralf Rangnick is widely known to be one of the pioneers of heavy metal football, or gegenpressing, in German football. Despite having a not so impressive cabinet for the influence that he has had on the game, he demands more off the ball than others in his position. After he took the helm at Old Trafford, his side has looked a little too faint in that regard.
There’s a widely established fact in football: no pressing is better than bad pressing. In case of the Red Devils, this becomes more evident. While Rangnick’s side have tried to do that (especially against Crystal Palace), the intensity has lacked ever since. In addition, pressures are only successful when the 10 outfield players operate in a system. United’s pressing lacks that, and as a result, opponents have managed to work around it. The latest instance of that shortcoming was against the Wolves, who utilized on the side’s tendency to leave wide spaces off the ball.
3. Struggles on the ball
While lack of off-the-ball tempo and intensity continue to be a major issue, on the ball struggles have also stuck with Manchester United. The inability to quickly regain ball when it is lost is a problem, but then losing it frequently is another problem to look at. In the lack of players that can hold the ball, or make the most out of it, Manchester United get caught in possession, or lose it with loose passes.
Such was the case against Wolves, who seemed to almost get the ball every time they wanted. In the lack of a synchrony, partly due to the shape and lack of attacking spaces, the difference between the front two and rest of the team seemed wider as the game progressed. As a result of the incapability of making progressive passes, they were seen getting caught more often than not.
2. Lack of spatial utilization
Manchester United do not have the setup to build-up from the back like Manchester City. Yet, the initial signs under Ralf Rangnick, in the 4-2-2-2 system, have suggested they will need to attack spaces more often, and try to make runs into them. Right now, and in the initial matches, that aspect has not been consistent at all.
On the ball, United look like a flat 4-2-4 side, with additional two wing-backs joining Edinson Cavani and Cristiano Ronaldo upfront. For that very reason, Manchester United rely entirely on their central midfielders. Unfortunately for the Red Devils, they do not possess the luxury of having incredible passers in that position, nor do they have ball runners to rush forward and defend back at the same time. The space created between these two lines is what has not been utilized, and is what has made them more vulnerable.
In addition, this has added to David de Gea‘s plight too. During distributions, it comes down to playing players via long, risky passes, or playing it to a closely marked option. In the lack of spatial utilization, Rangnick’s side struggle against sides that are better organized and prefer to be a little more aggressive off the ball.
1. The central midfield paradox
Central midfield, albeit often looked at from creative spectacle, is perhaps the most vital area that makes pressures successful. As of yet, Ralf Rangnick is yet to figure out his go-to combination at the core of the midfield. This uncertainty, has in turn, made the core weaker — both defensively and offensively.
While Fred was quick to find his feet in Rangnick’s first game, he has not been the German’s pick in the recent games. Constantly shifting combinations have, in this short period, landed the duties to Nemanja Matic and Scott McTominay coming into the Wolves game. It went lackluster for the home side, as the duo looked helpless and stretched at times. While a box-to-box midfielder, like Donny van de Beek, would have aided in that circumstance, the problem has long been omnipresent.
The central midfield paradox has also put Bruno Fernandes’ free role into scrutiny and questioned whether Manchester United can make the most out of his individual brilliance. In addition, with two poachers, Cavani and Ronaldo upfront, having a reliable service is a must have. So far, that has been missing for Ralf Rangnick and co.