Have Manchester United improved under Ralf Rangnick?

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Molten official UEFA Europa League Balls are seen on the net prior to the Uefa Europa League 2021/2022 group C football match between SSC Napoli and Leicester at Diego Armando Maradona stadium in Napoli Italy, December 09th, 2021. Photo Cesare Purini / Insidefoto cesarexpurini

The vast majority of Manchester United fans were absolutely desperate for things to work out under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. After the acrimonious circumstances in which Jose Mourinho left the club, Solskjaer certainly did improve things in the short term when he was hired, but after significant backing in the transfer window in the summer, he failed to get United in the position a club of their stature should be – competing year in, year out for league titles. After a shocking 4-1 loss to relegation candidates Watford, he was sacked in November. When Ralf Rangnick was hired on an interim basis, there was certainly cautious optimism amongst United fans that he would improve the team, particularly in defence, an area where the Reds have been lacklustre all season. He is known as ‘the Godfather of the gegenpress’, due to his team’s high-intensity pressing style, which saw great success at RB Leipzig and Schalke. Ten games into his tenure, results have been mostly good, but performances have been inconsistent, and United are seemingly as unpredictable as casino sites like these at the moment. 

What was the verdict after ten games?

When Rangnick joined United, they were in seventh place in the Premier League with just 19 points from their ten games. In his first 10 games, Rangnick’s side picked up 17 points from a possible 24 in the league, initially had successfully navigated themselves through the third round of the FA Cup and drew their remaining Champions League group game, when they had already qualified in first place. Results have certainly improved since the German arrived, but performances have left a little to be desired. In those ten games, his side have managed just 14 goals, and they have scored more than once in a single game only twice, which is bitterly disappointing given the wealth of attacking talent he has at his disposal. Their three most recent games all occurred within a week, and was a 2-2 draw with Aston Villa, followed by a 3-1 win over Brentford and a 1-0 win against West Ham. When asked if that week could be a turning point in United’s season, Sky Sports pundit and Manchester United legend Gary Neville said: “A very good week. “Tough games — I say tough games, but games you think Manchester United would win. But with the way in which they have been playing, you are not quite sure anymore and I think the first half at Brentford, they rode their luck, but then got there in the second half and yesterday [vs West Ham], there was that little bit of something happening sometimes which goes in your favour.

“I think Ralf Rangnick comes out of this week stronger than he started the week because of events that have occurred. I think everyone has seen what is happening and they are backing him and I feel that he feels stronger and more in control than he maybe was a week or two ago. The goal in the last minute is a big one. A big one for the club and a big one for the scorer. I think it was really important.”

Since the win against West Ham, United are unbeaten in their last three league games, although the draws against Burnley and Southampton can be considered disappointing. 

One huge positive sign is that Rangnick seems to have helped Marcus Rashford back into form. Neville noted that this could be massive for the club in their hunt for fourth place, saying: “I think Marcus, in the last couple of months or so, has just looked drained in his face of any energy or spirit and that can’t happen. You can have fire, you can have anger, you can have joy – all of those different emotions, but we need emotion, we can’t have lack of emotion.

“It was a big moment for him and hopefully that now gives him the confidence to rise against, puff his chest out and do the things that he does because he is an excellent striker, an excellent forward.”

What does Rangnick need to achieve for this season to be a success?

At the beginning of the season, after the arrival of Cristiano Ronaldo, Jadon Sancho and Raphael Varane, many fans were suggesting this would be the year United would challenge for the Premier League title and to fight for trophies. Sadly for them, that was far from the case, with their lack of midfield options proving to be very costly indeed. Now they find themselves in a battle for Champions League qualification with Spurs, Arsenal and West Ham, which if they fail to do, would be incredibly costly. Arsenal have been incredibly inconsistent all season, but are still very much in the hunt and with Bukayo Saka, Emile Smith-Rowe and Gabi Martinelli, they boast one of the most exciting young attacks in the league. West Ham seem most unlikely to make fourth, but under former United manager David Moyes they are incredibly tough to beat. 

The FA Cup and Champions League represented an opportunity for United to compete for trophies, with United fans expecting a deep cup run after drawing Championship side Middlesborough in the fourth round of the FA Cup. However, despite a game of plenty chances, United crashed out on penalties – and now the Champion’s League is their last shot at a trophy. 

They face a tricky tie in the last 16 in the Champions League against Atletico Madrid, but the Spaniard’s have been experiencing a tricky season themselves. For Rangnick’s time as interim manager to deemed a success, finishing in fourth is a necessity, and a decent run in the CL would provide both the board and fans a suggestion that Rangnick is the right man for the job as he moves into the Director of Football position at the season’s end. It is certainly true that it will take time for Rangnick to properly implement his ideas at the club, but time is not something he can be afforded. Such is the nature of Manchester United, he needs to show signs of immediate success and progress this season.