Manchester United boss Ralf Rangnick has called out Cristiano Ronaldo in all but name by insisting his players have to be ‘willing and able’ to press their opponents.
The interim German coach has laid down the law to his team, telling them they have to get after the opposition, if they are to have any chance of challenging in the Premier League.
He wants intensity, sprinting and physicality to win the ball back high up the pitch. In other words, everything his star striker, who has 14 goals in all competitions, hasn’t been this season.
Manchester United’s Cristiano Ronaldo presses opponents less that his attacking team mates
Manchester United’s Pressing Statistics
Pressures per 90 minutes
Statsbomb via Fbref
Ronaldo, 36, has pressed the opposition around half as much as any team mate in a forward position, so far this term. In some cases, his colleagues, Bruno Fernandes, are pressing almost three times more than him.
Given the numbers, it is hard not to conclude Rangnick’s comments yesterday were aimed at Ronaldo above everyone else.
As the 63-year-old prepared for his seventh match in charge, against Aston Villa in the FA Cup tonight, he stressed the importance of the players meeting his demands.
‘This is the only way we can compete at this level,’ said Rangnick.
‘Whenever you watch games, even if it’s not the top teams, they play with intensity, they play with physicality, they play with energy and they sprint.
Ralf Rangnick’s interim manager at Manchester United has been underwhelming so far
‘This is what we have to do. We have to develop into this kind of team.
And he added: ‘We have to do it together with the players and we have, obviously, to develop the players, identify for each game, the players who are willing and able to do that and to deliver exactly what we spoke about.’
Any criticism of Ronaldo – perceived or otherwise – sits awkwardly with the fact that he has scored 14 goals in all competitions this season, the most of any Red Devil. His nearest rival is Fernandes way back on five.
However, there is a sense that the team has functioned poorly and been reliant on Ronaldo’s brilliance in front of goal to bail them out of shambolic performances.
Too often, it feels as though they are muddling through.
Rangnick, who played a seminal role in developing the modern version of the high-press, believes that for United to be consistently competitive, they have to work harder and everyone has to be on the same page.
Bruno Fernandes presses the opposition almost three times as much as team mate, Ronaldo
Marcus Rashford’s pressing standards also compare well with other forward players in Prem
The coach has a point. United have put in too many hit and miss performances this season, before and after his arrival.
Ronaldo may be expected to press more
Back in October, Alan Shearer skilfully dissected United’s chaotic display at Leicester City, which resulted in a 4-2 defeat at the King Power.
He described United that day as ‘half-hearted’.
‘You cannot press if you haven’t got that aggression. If you don’t know what to do, then you’ve got to sit back and be compacted as a team,’ told the BBCs MOTD, in comments that foreshadowed Rangnick’s own observations.
‘The team I saw today, Man United, didn’t know whether to go, didn’t know whether to sit. When they did go it was half-hearted and not as a team.’
When Rangnick arrived, it seemed he had instantly succeeded where his predecessor, Ole Gunnar Solksjaer had failed. In the German’s first game in charge, United flew into the faces of a startled Crystal Palace side.
But since then, the intensity has fallen away and against Wolves, United were again lacklustre in a 1-0 surrender at Old Trafford. The away fans were chanting ‘ole’ as their team racked up the passes inside the first 20 minutes.
Rangnick has met with his players individually. Surely, the conversation with the five-time Ballon d’Or winner must have reviewed the pressing stats.
Chelsea’s forward Kai Havertz presses opponents high up the pitch for the Blues
And Christian Pulisic has achieved 20.1 presses per 90 minutes for Chelsea so far this season
The fact is some of Ronaldo’s colleagues are pressing at a similar rate to their counterparts at Manchester City, Liverpool and Chelsea. Ronaldo, for all his goals, is the outlier.
This season in the Premier League, Fernandes has achieved 17.8 presses per 90 minutes, Jadon Sancho 16.2, Marcus Rashford 14.5, Edinson Cavani 12.7 and Mason Greenwood 11.3, according to Statsbomb via Fbref.
Liverpool’s Sadio Mane and Mo Salah have both achieved 13.8 presses of an opponent per 90 minutes, while Manchester City’s Phil Foden has put in 17 and Raheem Sterling 12.5.
Chelsea appear to possess the top flight’s new ‘pressing monsters’ at the half way stage of the campaign with Christian Pulisic achieving 20.2 presses per 90 minutes and Kai Havertz 16.9.
Meanwhile, Ronaldo has pressured opponents on average just 6.5 times per 90.
It is significant Rangnick has emphasised that when it comes to his high-intensity approach, ‘we have to do it together’. As Shearer pointed out at Leicester, pressing only works if everyone is at it.
Ronaldo is well off the pace of how Rangnick wants to play. And it seems the coach is calling it.