The Ralf Rangnick Revolution: Man Utd's issues and what we have learned so far

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The Ralf Rangnick Revolution: Man Utd's issues and what we have learned so far - SHUTTERSTOCK
The Ralf Rangnick Revolution: Man Utd's issues and what we have learned so far - SHUTTERSTOCK

Manchester United ended 2021 with a much-needed win against a depleted Burnley.

Having gone top of the Premier League with victory at Turf Moor in January, talk of a title challenge had turned to the need to kickstart their Champions League qualification push by the end of a topsy-turvy year.

There remains plenty of work for Ralf Rangnick to do, but Thursday's 3-1 win against an under-strength Burnley continued the unbeaten start to his interim stint and sent the side up to sixth heading into the new year.

But where has the German's influence been evident thus far? And what issues still persist?

Getting message across with authority

Ralf Rangnick was always likely to face the problem of his players not listening to a coach whose contract expires at the end of the season. It is the equivalent of how pupils treat a substitute teacher, and the German has not been helped by Carrington being shut during a period of time when he wanted to stamp his authority on the squad.

There were signs, however, that his message is getting across, albeit against a depleted Burnley team with four players absent with Covid-19. In particular, he was upset at the body language in the recent victory over Norwich City but here chief whinger Cristiano Ronaldo was encouraging his team-mates and demanding more even when two goals ahead.

“Body language is one thing and the manager has completely cut it out. He wants no more so that's final. All the players have firmly taken that on board and it is important we do,” said Scott McTominay.

His authority will heighten in January if he can loan out players such as Anthony Martial who want to leave and could damage morale.

Formation and using Bruno Fernandes

Rangnick is wedded to the 4-2-2-2 formation he brought to Old Trafford at the start of the month and it is clearly a system he believes in. At its best, it gives him flying wingers, enough protection in central midfield and numbers up front with two strikers.

Bruno Fernandes is the player that loses out in this system. He has gone off the boil during Rangnick’s start at United and was suspended for this victory. The Portugal international will need to play as a centre-forward in this formation as the two players between midfield and attack need to be out and out wide men. That is where all of United’s goals came from in the first half.

Centre-backs

Eric Bailly was allowed to leave early for African Cup of Nations duty with Ivory Coast but flew back for this game, as Victor Lindelof is out with Covid and Raphael Varane has only just returned from a hamstring injury. Being thrown into the match could account for his mistake that led to Aaron Lennon’s goal, with the veteran winger taking advantage of a poor touch.

Varane and Harry Maguire is the partnership that United would like to build their defence around but Maguire has been rattled by some of the forwards he has marked recently. Chris Wood troubled him in this game. Getting his two main centre-backs understanding each other will take time on the training ground as well as matches. In the meantime, United do look vulnerable to quick attacks.

The Ralf Rangnick Revolution: Man Utd's issues and what we have learned so far - SHUTTERSTOCK
The Ralf Rangnick Revolution: Man Utd's issues and what we have learned so far - SHUTTERSTOCK

Sticking with Shaw

It was Luke Shaw’s first Premier League start under Rangnick and he showed why he should be playing in the United defence every week with his tireless runs down the left flank. The England full-back set up attacks and had a hand in Ben Mee’s own goal with his industry on the wing.

After playing with broken ribs at the Euros, it has been an understated campaign for Shaw on the back of scoring in the final. He will take encouragement from this display. Alex Telles pushed him last season and there is healthy competition in both full-back places now, with Diogo Dalot challenging Aaron Wan-Bissaka at right-back.

Golden oldies instead of Rashford

Marcus Rashford came back from his shoulder operation in October with three goals in four games but his recent form has seen his place under threat. This was his first Premier League match on the bench after six consecutive starts. Part of the thinking will be rotation but his form has also dipped over the last month and it will be a test of Rangnick’s coaching to get the best out of him.

United’s system should suit Rashford, either as a striker or a wide forward. But Edinson Cavani and Ronaldo looks the correct combination for now. Cavani has been pushing for a first start after tendon problems and his mobility, even at 34, compliments Ronaldo working off the shoulder of the last defender.

“Cristiano and Edi did a lot for the team,” said Rangnick. “It is important to have them on board, the work-ethic they showed was important.”

Great Scott

Scott McTominay was by far and away United’s best player against Burnley, driving them forward as much as giving his back four protection, even though he almost missed the game with an ankle injury. It will be between Fred and Nemanja Matic as to who partners him.

“We only decided this afternoon at two o'clock that he would play as he had some problems with the ankle contusion he suffered at Newcastle, so it was good to have him available and in the team,” Rangnick said.

“At half-time, our team doctor told me he will be struggling in the second half but it was very important to have him in the team, and in the end, he could play 92 or 93 mins. He was a very important player for us today, he played in a 4-4-2 defensively and a 4-2-4 offensively, and therefore it was important to have him and Nemanja as the two sixes playing next to each other.”

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