MARTIN KEOWN: Ralf Rangnick is failing to improve Manchester United’s pitiful pressing… the German has big calls to make but he MUST keep Cristiano Ronaldo in his starting XI
- Manchester United lost 1-0 at home to Wolves on Monday night
- There was no sign of the control and pressing Ralf Rangnick demanded
- Luke Shaw admitted United lacked intensity and aggression in the defeat
- United are seventh in the table, four points off a Champions League spot
Ralf Rangnick was hired as a quick-fix boss but he isn’t fixing Manchester United’s problems nearly quickly enough.
I was shocked by the ease with which Wolves built their attacks from the back during their 1-0 win at Old Trafford on Monday. It was the first time United had faced a three-man defence under Rangnick and it looked like the players didn’t know when and how to press.
Rangnick is a very intelligent tactician, but this screamed of a lack of preparation. The match was barely one minute old when Wolves beat United’s press for the first time.
Ralf Rangnick is facing criticism at Manchester United after the 1-0 defeat against Wolves
It started with Jadon Sancho flying forward to put pressure on right-sided centre back Max Kilman, which left Luke Shaw with two players to pick up in Nelson Semedo and Francisco Trincao (Picture 1).
Kilman passes to Semedo, who cuts inside and is followed by Shaw, leaving Trincao all on his own and in space on the wing (Picture 2). Semedo passes to Joao Moutinho, who sets Trincao away with one pass (Picture 3).
Wolves went on to have their first of 19 shots at Old Trafford from this passage of play. This unlocking of the door was happening repeatedly on both sides of the pitch.
United were carved open by Wolves on Monday night and struggled to control the game
Shaw said that United lacked intensity, aggression, and motivation. But what was most glaring and worrying was the lack of direction from a manager who, with his 20 years of experience in charge of various clubs, will surely have faced systems like the one Wolves used on Monday.
Rangnick did change system at half-time and matched up to the visitors, moving to a back three of his own with Phil Jones, Raphael Varane and Shaw. Aaron Wan-Bissaka moved to right wing-back, Sancho went to left wing-back and, significantly, Mason Greenwood played off the front two.
It gave United much more of a foothold in the game as they managed 76 per cent possession in the first 10 minutes of the second half.
But Rangnick, with his football knowledge, should have been making changes much earlier than at half-time.
Luke Shaw conceded United lacked intensity and aggression against Wolves on Monday
Jadon Sancho was underwhelming against Wolves and was replaced in the second half
Their first-half system failure had a massive impact on United’s players’ performance and confidence. It affected them for the rest of that match and they ended up losing.
Rangnick will be considering what to do with his formation now. He has learned the hard way that he will not get the same protection that was afforded his predecessor Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, who was a great of the club.
If anything goes wrong, he will get criticism by the bucket-load and it will come at him from all quarters.
But he deserves time before being written off. Solskjaer had three years and Rangnick has had two months.
United can still finish fourth in the Premier League, but mistakes like the ones made against Wolves need to be kept to a minimum.
Rangnick will be wondering if it is feasible to continue using Cristiano Ronaldo and Edinson Cavani as twin strikers. It feels as if he has been trying to accommodate both, but there aren’t many coaches who play with two up front now. That a rarity in the modern game and this pair have a combined age of 70.
Cristiano Ronaldo has struggled for form since Ralf Rangnick’s arrival at Old Trafford
Edinson Cavani has started the last two Premier League games alongside Ronaldo
On either side of Ronaldo and Cavani, Rangnick has been using two young and exciting withdrawn wingers but they haven’t been effective enough with or without the ball. Sancho needs to be more direct, and so does Greenwood.
I prefer a front three. Ronaldo could act as the single striker for United — he made good runs against Wolves but was ignored by a midfield who rarely looked for the guy who has scored more than 800 goals in his career.
Regardless of the formation, the players’ decision-making needs to improve, and so must Rangnick’s if United are to grab a Champions League spot.