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Ralf Rangnick: How the German plans to transform Manchester United

| 06.12.2021

Ralf Rangnick: Plans and philosophy at Manchester United

Ralf Rangnick’s temporary reign as Manchester United manager got off to the perfect start with a 1-0 victory over Crystal Palace at the weekend.

The former Schalke, Hoffenheim and RB Leipzig boss was unveiled as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s replacement last Thursday on a deal lasting until the end of the season.

United had beaten Arsenal 3-2 on the day Rangnick met the media for the first time and did not even have the luxury of one full training session with the players before Sunday’s game, which was settled by Fred’s superb strike from the edge of the box with his weaker right foot.

That result means the Red Devils are 66/1 to win the Premier League title and 8/11 to finish in the top four but can Rangnick bring back the glory days at Old Trafford?

Here, we look at the plans and philosophy of the man regarded as the Godfather of German football.

What does Rangnick want to achieve during his time at the United helm?

Sunday’s win against the Eagles was his first as a manager since the German cup final in May 2019, when RB Leipzig lost 3-0 to Bayern Munich.

Rangnick has spent more time as executive than coach over the past decade, most recently working with Lokomotiv Moscow, and said he could not turn down the chance to lead a club like United.

He fell in love with the English game when studying in Brighton during the late 1970s and appeared well-versed in United’s history, underlining the need for the club to be challenging for silverware.

That is something that will surely only be possible in the FA Cup and Champions League this season given the gap to the Premier League’s top three but cup success and a top-four finish is not beyond them if Rangnick can get the best out of this talented squad.

What does he need to do to turn things around?

Rangnick is “pretty well aware and acquainted” with what is happening at United, having watched the games against Watford – Solskjaer’s final match – and Chelsea on TV, as well as the Liverpool and Manchester City losses.

The 63-year-old German loved the atmosphere around Old Trafford as he watched the Arsenal win from the stands but stressed that Thursday’s match also underlined the issues at hand.

“The Arsenal game was exciting for the fans, even for myself, but as the future coach those are not the kind of games we need every day,” he said.

“Football, for me, is to minimise the coincidence factor and have control and gain control of a game. This is football, what it’s about.

“This my approach and I will try to help these outstanding, talented players to try and keep away from their own goal.”

How can he make an impact at such a busy time?

Rangnick wants to play on the front foot and make United a more balanced unit, highlighting the need to shore things up at the back.

There is also an acknowledgement the high-energy, pressing style he is admired for will be hard to implement at such a frantic time.

United have six more matches in December, meaning video footage and mental preparation will be key to making tweaks.

Rangnick also intends to utilise the knowledge of the existing coaching staff, although he will not be able to call upon coach Michael Carrick having left the club immediately after overseeing the win against Arsenal as caretaker boss.

The German has also been in the unusual position of being able to pick the brains of his predecessor, with Solskjaer providing him with “all his inside details about the team” over the course of 90 minutes on Sunday.

How will the United squad respond to the new man?

This, Rangnick admits, is the biggest club he has worked at and a “massive challenge”.

It will be interesting to see how he fares after such an extended period away from a coaching position and how quickly his players adapt to his demands.

Rangnick highlighted the need to “train the brain” in modern football and the importance of being malleable to get the best out of players like 36-year-old star Cristiano Ronaldo.

“You always have to adapt your style or your idea of football to the players you have available, not vice-versa,” the new boss said.

Rangnick was also asked about whether he would have to compromise in terms of style but said the focus is on working together with the group and incremental improvements.

“They have to follow not only my instructions but they have to buy into the idea that I can offer them how we should want to play in the future,” Rangnick said.

“That is what it’s all about. It has to happen step by step. It cannot be done within one or two days like this [clicks fingers]. It will not work like that.”

What did Rangnick think of his team’s performance against Palace?

United lined up in a 4-2-2-2 formation against Palace in which Ronaldo and Marcus Rashford played in front of Bruno Fernandes and Jadon Sancho.

“We wanted to play with two strikers and with two 10s,” he told Match of the Day. “That was the idea to get more control in the centre of midfield – to put more pressure on their defence most of the time but also to make sure Cristiano was not the only striker.”

Their performance petered off after a breathless opening 30 minutes but Fred stepped up late on to secure an important victory.

“Overall I am more than happy,” United boss Rangnick said in his post-match press conference. “I was positively surprised by the physical state and intensity. The first half hour was amazing. I felt it was extremely high tempo, high intensity, always on the front.

“The only thing that was missing in this first half hour was scoring one or two, if not three, goals. But it was clear that you cannot play the whole game, 90 minutes, on this kind of intensity level.

“But, still, even after that we had control of the game. Second half, we started the game well and, in the end, we deserve to win. I am more than happy with the clean sheet.

“Beautiful goal with this weak right foot from Fred and, as I said, for me, it was about gaining control and we had control most of the time of the game.”

He added: “I was a bit surprised because not only did we play Thursday, a late kick-off, we had two days less to recover compared to Crystal Palace and we had not even a full training session yesterday because it was 45 minutes, it was pouring (with rain).

“It was not just Manchester weather, it was just disgusting – it was heavy, raining, windy, so it was almost impossible to train in a concentrated and focused manner. But they still did it, those 45 minutes were important on the pitch.

“We explained to them how we want to play, which manner we want to play and the rest was video footage, a lot of personal conversations with players, individually and in groups, explaining to them how we want to play.”

The next month or two will determine whether United’s star-spangled squad are up to the challenge of the ‘gegenpress’ and a high-intensity style of play but they have passed the first test under their new and for now calm seems to have momentarily descended on Old Trafford.

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Warren Barner