20th November 2021, Manchester United have just lost 4-1 to Watford in the Premier League leaving them 7th in the table. The defeat would be the last game in charge for manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, whose ridiculed reign would end the next day with his sacking leaving Old Trafford trophyless and seemingly clueless. Alongside this announcement, the United board outline their intentions to hire an interim manager to guide them for the rest of the season. This man would end up being Ralf Rangnick; the grandfather to the ‘gegenpress’ and credited with being a massive influence for several German managers like Thomas Tucheland Jurgen Klopp. Manchester United fans could dare to dream once more. Fast forward to now and the anticipated improvements have not come. With realistic trophy chances dead in the water following FA cup elimination to Middlesbrough and a dressing room in disarray, let’s have a look at what Rangnick has done at the wheel, right or wrong.
Impact of tactics employed by Rangnick
It’s important to mention that while an improvement was expected from Rangnick’s appointment, he certainly wasn’t brought in to be a miracle worker. The minimum expectation was to install some tactical nous into a side which lacked identity under its previous manager. In this regard there have been glimmers of improvement as United have started to show more signs of control in games with good numbers of shots on goal in recent matches. But despite this improvement, it has also brought attention to arguably United’s biggest problem, that being a lack of end-product.
In Rangnick’s fifteen games in charge, Manchester United have scored a single goal or less in ten of those fixtures. For a manager with the attacking reputation of Rangnick and the attacking talent he possesses, this has simply not been good enough. This has resulted in United throwing easy wins away against bottom half sides due to a defence that has been characterised by silly errors. Fans may point the blame at captain Harry Maguire for a series of small mistakes, but the blame must be shared by Rangnick for failing to instil resilience into a defence that has more often than not relied on its goalkeeper to keep it out of trouble. It’s not a shock that David De Gea was named Premier League Player of the Month in January.
Hopes and disappointments of the transfer window
Rangnick’s appointment was accompanied by a raft of headlines linking several names to Manchester United, arising from Rangnick’s past as an impressive talent spotter from his time working in the Red Bull project. Chief among them were midfielders Denis Zakaria and Amadou Haidara, players identified with bolstering what has been described as a technically weak midfield. Come the end of the window and this all proved to be a false dawn. United signed no one and arguably weakened after the loan departures of blunt but talented forward Anthony Martial and underutilised midfielder Donny Van De Beek. This has piled another layer of disappointment on Rangnick’s tenure, leaving the squad demoralised and the fans hungry for more.
Has Rangnick lost the dressing room?
A lot has been said in the media about the unrest within the United dressing room at Rangnick, which has been batted back by several players as ‘fake news’. But one aspect of Rangnick’s management of the dressing room is the treatment of Cristiano Ronaldo. When Rangnick was linked with the interim job back in November, many were quick to talk about how he would gel with Ronaldo having said he was ‘too old and too expensive’ back in 2016. The results of this have been evident; Ronaldo has only scored 3 goals since Rangnick’s appointment, with increasing reports of a fractured relationship between the two. This is simply one case of Rangnick being unable to get the dressing room behind a manager who will be gone in a few moths anyway, with Fred confessing it being ‘a bit strange’ to work with a manager while knowing that he will soon be gone.
The conclusion with Rangnick? A man given a tough task who was arguably set up to fail. Rangnick possibly saw his impact as a manager only brought in as a stop gap coming, only agreeing to the role if he was given a consulting role for the next 2 years. That being said, despite wavering support from the board, fans and pundits alike, there is still a chance for Ralf to prevent his tenure from being regarded as a failure. The club (as of writing) are still in the Champions League, Top Four is still a realistic possibility and a driven 4-2 win over rivals Leeds could provide the springboard for this so far miserable season in Manchester to have a happy ending.