Ralf Rangnick will inherit a Man United team that is wide open at the back and doesn't create enough chances, with no guarantee Cristiano Ronaldo fits into the starting XI... but a much improved display at Chelsea will give the German some hope

Ralf Rangnick is set to take over as Man United's interim coach later this weekThere were some positives from Sunday's 1-1 draw with league leaders ChelseaUnited pressed far better and had some elusive bite in the midfield battleHowever, they remain vulnerable in defence and aren't creating enough chancesCristiano Ronaldo was benched and it could become familiar for their star man  

At some point this week, once the paperwork and bureaucracy is done with, Ralf Rangnick will get on the training ground and start to mould Manchester United in his image.

The highly-respected German coach, incoming from Lokomotiv Moscow when his work permit is finalised, is tasked with rescuing a season that has really plumbed some depths.

Rangnick won’t be in the dug-out for Thursday’s home game with Arsenal but his influence will certainly be felt.

Eagle-eyed fans suggested Rangnick had a direct line to the United bench during the 1-1 draw at Chelsea because Darren Fletcher was wearing an earpiece.

Gary Neville went as far to suggest Rangnick picked the team – including the big call to bench Cristiano Ronaldo – because it was such a ‘huge departure’ from the win over Villarreal in midweek.

Ralf Rangnick is on his way as Manchester United's interim coach and there's plenty to do

Ralf Rangnick is on his way as Manchester United’s interim coach and there’s plenty to do

Man United fans suggested that Darren Fletcher was communicating with Rangnick via an earpiece during the draw at Chelsea

Man United fans suggested that Darren Fletcher was communicating with Rangnick via an earpiece during the draw at Chelsea 

Gary Neville also suggested that Rangnick was already influencing the team selection

Gary Neville also suggested that Rangnick was already influencing the team selection 

Michael Carrick, the interim’s interim, denied that but sooner rather than later, United will feel the influence of the the man who mentored Jurgen Klopp, Thomas Tuchel and many others.

In the circumstances, a point away to the league leaders was a very respectable result for United even if they rode their luck at times.

Sportmail examines the positive signs Rangnick can build on this week and some of the fixes he will need to make if United are to save their season.

 

THE POSITIVES

Better pressing

The man known as the ‘Godfather of the Gegenpress’ isn’t going to tolerate slackers so it’s just as well United’s players put in a shift at Stamford Bridge.

Carrick bristled at the suggestion United hadn’t been deploying a pressing game this season in his post-match interview on Sky Sports, but there was a noticeable difference here.

Remember the 5-0 defeat to Liverpool when Ole Gunnar Solskjaer asked his players to try and imitate the intense press of Klopp’s team?

It was an absolute disaster. A side that innately knows how to press opponents also knows how to play around an opponent pressing them. The result was carnage and United looked amateurish.

Jadon Sancho's pressing of Jorginho resulted in a mistake that gifted United their goal

Jadon Sancho’s pressing of Jorginho resulted in a mistake that gifted United their goal

Rangnick was no doubt watching Sunday’s game and would have been impressed by the way Jadon Sancho, Marcus Rashford and others in attack acted as the first line of defence when Chelsea had possession.

We can expect a whole lot more of this under Rangnick because it does get results. Against Villarreal, Fred’s anticipation of a poor pass from the goalkeeper led to Cristiano Ronaldo opening the scoring.

And the two ‘red arrows’ Sancho and Rashford hunted down Jorginho in anticipation of a mistake – which duly happened – and led to United’s opener.

Rangnick will point to these two examples as he justifies the importance of hard running and pressure.

Sancho celebrates with Marcus Rashford after they combined to force United's opening goal

Sancho celebrates with Marcus Rashford after they combined to force United’s opening goal

It’s also the way the modern game is. Klopp, Tuchel and Pep Guardiola all demand intensity from their players to win the ball back as quickly as possible. Guardiola puts a six-second clock to the task.

United under Solskjaer somehow saw themselves above all this and a gulf in class has opened up as a result. Rangnick will help close this by implementing what comes naturally to him as a coach.

There are going to be moaners and probably casualties. One could be Cristiano Ronaldo, who only started on the bench on Sunday and quite possibly because he doesn’t put a shift in.

Something will have to give – either Ronaldo works harder, which is well within his capacity even at 36, or Rangnick curbs his tactical instincts to accommodate the star and avoid friction.

It will be fascinating to see how this powerplay works out between United’s superstar name and the coach who, after all, is only a stop-gap.

Ronaldo's goal against Villarreal last week also resulted from pressing forcing a mistake

Ronaldo’s goal against Villarreal last week also resulted from pressing forcing a mistake 

 

Midfield up for a scrap

United’s midfield was virtually non-existent in the games against Leicester, Liverpool, Manchester City and Watford that led to Solskjaer’s downfall.

There was a giant void in the centre of the park, no grip on proceedings even when the first choice pair of Fred and Scott McTominay were playing, and consequently plenty of space for even modest opponents to exploit.

Sunday was much, much better. Carrick went belt and braces with Fred, McTominay and Nemanja Matic to ensure Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Jorginho couldn’t influence things. And overall, it worked.

Nemanja Matic gets to grips with Reece James as United's midfield put in a shift on Sunday

Nemanja Matic gets to grips with Reece James as United’s midfield put in a shift on Sunday

McTominay put in a marathon shift that would have impressed Rangnick, Fred was tenacious and Matic used his experience to play United out of trouble.

Playing three in midfield was a bespoke tactic to counter Chelsea’s many threats. Rangnick won’t set his team up that way against Palace, for example, but it was still encouraging.

It was as though all three midfielders were auditioning to keep their place and to deter Rangnick going into the transfer market for that extra defensive midfielder in January.

Importantly, they were all up for the scrap on Sunday and while Chelsea did create plenty of chances, you couldn’t say they dominated the midfield battle.

Scott McTominay (right) put in a hard-working shift to ensure United had midfield control

Scott McTominay (right) put in a hard-working shift to ensure United had midfield control

 

Counter-attacking remains sharp

When United can’t gain absolute control of the game with 70 per cent possession, at least there are signs that counter-attacking remains firmly embedded in their DNA.

Their goal at Chelsea was the ultimate example as it stemmed from a Chelsea corner, albeit from Jorginho’s mistake.

But that ability to race from one end of the pitch to another remains intact with Sancho, now brimming with confidence after a great week, and Marcus Rashford more than able to lead it.

Their speed, plus Ronaldo’s, make United a devastating threat going forward when everything comes together. We just haven’t seen too much of it late.

There were signs on Sunday that United still have an incisive edge on the counter-attack

There were signs on Sunday that United still have an incisive edge on the counter-attack 

When United fully restore their confidence with a few wins, the snap of their transitions will return and they’ll pose a real danger down the flanks.

Swift and incisive counter-attacking was a hallmark of Solskjaer’s time in charge and the fundamentals won’t have gone away overnight.

Rangnick should make use of it because it goes hand-in-glove with his counter-pressing philosophy.

The fixture list gets easier

After the meeting with a much-improved Arsenal on Thursday, things do ease off a little for United after the daunting run of games that exposed Solskjaer’s weaknesses.

Palace are entertaining this season but also susceptible to conceding goals so United should beat them next weekend.

And the fact United already know they will top their Champions League group will allow Rangnick the chance to field a second string on matchday six at home to Young Boys and use it as a training week to iron out any early problems.

After that, United play Norwich, Brentford, Brighton, Newcastle, Burnley and Wolves up to the start of January.

They must expect maximum returns from those games and if they achieve that, they could well be back in the top four and looking ahead to the second half of the campaign with optimism.

 

THE NEGATIVES

Lack of control

Though United were much improved against Chelsea, it still felt they were in a spin cycle at times.

It was the Blues who controlled the vast majority of the game, enjoying two-thirds of the ball and having 24 shots. Nine times out of 10, they would have emerged the winner.

United haven’t enjoyed genuine control over a Premier League game for quite a while now and they continue to look callow and vulnerable.

United's lack of control in the game will worry Rangnick - they continue to look vulnerable

United’s lack of control in the game will worry Rangnick – they continue to look vulnerable 

Rangnick will hope improved pressing and higher work rate will remedy some of this problem but United are a long way from having the kind of authority in games Liverpool, City and Chelsea have.

There are periods in games where it helps to just hog the ball, even if it means stroking it around at the back, to get a breather and restore a bit of control.

Too open at the back

During November, United have faced more shots (60) than any other side in the Premier League.

They allowed Chelsea 24 attempts, Watford 20 and Man City 16. It doesn’t take a new manager to make the players realise this is unacceptable.

Whether an opponent attacks directly through the middle at Harry Maguire, Victor Lindelof or Eric Bailly, or down the flanks, where Aaron Wan-Bissaka often looks exposed, United are in trouble.

Goalkeeper David de Gea can rightly question why his defence is so open in matches

Goalkeeper David de Gea can rightly question why his defence is so open in matches

David de Gea didn’t have a whole lot to do at Stamford Bridge compared to some games of late but the Spanish stopper has to keep United in contention far too often.

There are plenty of occasions when the defenders allow the ball to drop or bounce and a mad scramble ensues to clear the danger. In short, United are all at sea defensively.

A bit more pressing from the front may cut some of the danger off at source but work on defensive organisation and getting tighter to opponents, especially in wide areas, is an urgent fix for Rangnick.

Victor Lindelof tries to get to grips with Romelu Lukaku during the closing stages on Sunday

Victor Lindelof tries to get to grips with Romelu Lukaku during the closing stages on Sunday

Not creating enough chances

Even worse, not only are United conceding too many chances, they’re not creating anywhere near enough either.

This month, they have managed only 17 shots in their three Premier League games – the lowest of anyone in the division.

Fine, two of those games were against good opposition in City and Chelsea, but it’s a stat that highlights just how far United’s stock has fallen.

Just three chances created at Chelsea on Sunday, two of which were on target and one was the goal. Nineteen individual players mustered more shots this weekend than United as a collective. Shocking.

These are figures almost unheard of in the Premier League era for a team that used to pepper opposition goalkeepers almost at will.

Bruno Fernandes looked off-colour in the Chelsea draw and United need him back to his best

Bruno Fernandes looked off-colour in the Chelsea draw and United need him back to his best

It ties into that overall lack of control and a shortage of possession, yet surely with the attacking talent at their disposal, United should be creating more.

It doesn’t help their main creative influence, Bruno Fernandes, looks knackered and off-colour. He gave the ball away a lot at Stamford Bridge and lacked a spark going forward.

When that happens, Sancho and Rashford are starved of the ball and they can’t continuously carry it forward themselves with limited support.

United will likely return to a more attacking formation in their two upcoming home games and Rangnick will want to see everyone with a more advanced average position.

Rather than sitting back and inviting pressure, the new interim manager will want United on the front foot from the first whistle, swarming the other team and not allowing them to settle.

From that base, a higher number of openings should come.

Jadon Sancho has broken his duck for United and his confidence appears to be restored

Jadon Sancho has broken his duck for United and his confidence appears to be restored 

The Ronaldo issue

Ronaldo heading straight down the tunnel without even shaking anyone’s hand or acknowledging the travelling United fans wasn’t the best sign.

Carrick insisted that Ronaldo was ‘great’ in his response to being told he’d start on the bench in one of United’s biggest games of the season.

The Portuguese star paid at least fleeting attention to the laminated book of tactical instructions shoved under his nose and explained by Carrick shortly before coming on for Sancho on 64 minutes.

He then made next to no impact and now everyone waits to see how Rangnick approaches the biggest personnel problem facing him at United.

Ronaldo studied instructions shortly before coming on in the game at Stamford Bridge

Ronaldo studied instructions shortly before coming on in the game at Stamford Bridge

On the face of it, Ronaldo simply does not fit into his ‘gegenpressing’ approach. Much has been made of the way he doesn’t run to press opponents or track back to help his team-mates.

Yet he remains far and away the most likely figure in the United team to conjure a winning goal. So Rangnick has a dilemma.

Ronaldo isn’t going to be content to serve as an impact sub but that could increasingly become the reality of his second spell at Old Trafford unless he is willing to change.

It remains to be seen whether Ronaldo is receptive to Rangnick's ideas about 'gegenpressing'

It remains to be seen whether Ronaldo is receptive to Rangnick’s ideas about ‘gegenpressing’

Rangnick isn’t likely to genuflect to Ronaldo’s wishes as readily as Solskjaer did. He won’t tolerate egos that conflict the game plan he is trying to instil.

Chances are we will see more pressing from Ronaldo because he will come to appreciate it’s a good way of getting more goals – as we saw in Villarreal.

At the age of 36, it’s a small sacrifice he should be willing to make to ensure his career doesn’t just fizzle out. Trouble is, Rangnick is just the interim and Ronaldo is influential.

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