The Burnley game aside, United have failed to convince under new coach, Ralf Rangnick, especially after the promise of changes in their style of play. Rangnick was introduced as the ‘Godfather’ of pressing football, who inspired the likes of Jurgen Klopp and Thomas Tuchel, who are doing well in their respective teams.
Great pressing teams aren’t built over a couple of games, and not halfway through the season. Having been used to the infamous ‘Ole ball’ for two seasons, United needs a bit of a demolition job in player personnel. Weed out the bad, keep those that are fixable, and inject new blood that will have the energy required to play Ralf-ball.
That’s something that could take place when the current season is wrapped, but the team needs to fix their current state of play and pick up points if they are serious about featuring in next season’s UEFA Champions League, a major drawcard for the best players in Europe.
United has players who aren’t sure about what they need to do when on or off the ball. Some, even when they decide what to do on it, the execution isn’t quite great, like a simple through ball that goes out for a throw-in instead, or straight to the opposition keeper instead of the strikers up front. Delivery from midfield and wide areas is bang average. Cristiano Ronaldo and Edinson Cavani had to drop deep just to have a few touches, in areas that do not threaten the opposition.
This is what Rangnick had to say after the game against Wolves:
“We didn’t play well at all, neither individually nor collectively. In the first half, we had big problems keeping them away from our box and our goal. In the second half, we changed to a different formation, with a back three, and we had more control over the game. The game showed that we have a lot of work to do, especially against the ball. We had too many unforced errors and we have to get better. This is an issue for the whole team.”
Spot on, as always in his post-match interviews. There are half-hearted attempts to press teams up the field when possession is lost, the midfield is quick to drop and join the final line of defence because there is no unity in their press.
Pressing works when every one of the 10 outfield players is well aware of what needs to be done when off the ball. It works like four wheels in a car, if one of them isn’t balanced and aligned, the entire car, which is the team in this case, suffers.
Right now, the Manchester United vehicle looks very likely to be wobbling towards the dreaded Europa League places with Arsenal and Tottenham looking like they are in no mood to scramble for the top four in the final games of the season. While Arsenal lost to Manchester City recently, to many of their fans, it didn’t feel like a loss.
Their young team challenged the big boys in the league and almost got something from the game. United, on the other hand, struggled against basement boys Norwich and Newcastle and managed to let Wolves record the most goal attempts they have ever had in a first half in their Premier League history.
In the second half, Rangnick managed to change the formation to a back three late in the game. The question is; if he feels his team attacks better with a back three when under pressure, why was this not picked up in previous games? Training? Why not start with a formation that will have the team on the front foot and help it win the midfield battle it’s forever losing?
Rangnick will have to start taking decisive decisions soon to get the best out of the bunch he has. If he is sticking with the 4-2-2-2 formation, there are players he must drop that do not benefit the team, something club legend Rio Ferdinand suggested after the game. He could also learn from the coaches who learned from him early in their careers. There’s a reason why Liverpool and Chelsea aren’t using this formation.