Reality check for Rangnick

Ralf Rangnick's famed gegenpressing lasted just 30 minutes against Crystal Palace and was not seen again! The imbalance in the massive squad was very quickly laid bare. But the more serious issue was the lack of effort on display by the players. Soon the dressing room unrest became the media frenzy. Spotlight was on the new coaching setup who were settling in after the exodus of coaches under Solskjaer, and the outbreak of Covid-19 that forced the closure of Carrington for few days did not help either. The appalling game against Newcastle (13 shots apiece for both clubs) and defeat at home to Wolves (only 9 shots compared to 19 from visitors) brought the reality check. That loss to Wolves a first at Old Trafford since 19, August 1980 also the first loss of Rangnick's reign after just six games (3Wins, 2Draws, 1Loss).

As Sir Matt Busby used to point out its about the method and the progress, Ralf set out as 4-2-2-2 as a template for his method but disowned it after being out played by Wolves and move to three at the back. And still lost. This is where the new coach is not sticking to the method but disbanding it to be accommodative. That is an immediate betrayal which can be pardoned only if he goes back to it after getting the profile of players needed to play in a very specific way. If not the rot will be masked to rear its head again. In stark contract Wolves players were following instructions to the tee from the coach Bruno Lage who clearly explained how his team used the spaces to outdo United in post match interview. Phil Jones made a solid comeback with a good performance against Wolves, his first competitive match in nearly two years!

The most pressing shortage is in the central defensive midfield role or the engine room that connects the defensive with attack or in short controls the game. Its shocking to think that United would be lacking dominating midfielders which has been its staple through the decades. If the chance to get a stop-gap emerges it should be exercised as Fred and Scott McTominay have no backup and neither are of the profile employed by clubs who play gegenpressing. Primary targets like Declan Rice, Aurelien Tchouameni or Reuben Neves might not be available but secondary ones like Amadou Haidara, Dennis Zakaria or Boubacar Kamara might be feasible if any departures come about like Martial, Lingard or Bailly. 

One of the surprising things to come out is that the non-selection of Donny van de Beek under Rangnick, with reports that suggest that the Dutchman can at best play in number 10 now occupied by Bruno Fernandes where Paul Pogba and Jesse Lingard can also play, but struggles to cover the ground elsewhere in midfield. While the most visible change is in the full-back position where Rangnick has used Telles and Dalot instead of Shaw and Wan-Bissaka. Martial wants out which if materialized will free-up one position in the bloated squad. Eight is a high number of experienced players who are are on the fringes of the squad Henderson, Bailly, Jones, Mata, Lingard, van de Beek, Martial and Paul Pogba's(played <50% of games due to injury) contract due to expire in June. Rangnick's reply to a question whether he should persuade a player to stay at Manchester United was on-the-spot "Players have to want to play for a big club like Manchester United. If a player does not want to play Manchester United in the medium or long term, I don’t think it makes sense to convince him to change his mind."

Three wins and a draw has taken Wayne Rooney's Derby County within 3 points of second from bottom team in the table considering the massive 21-points deduction for financial breaches at the start of this season. If Derby avoid relegation to League One, Rooney will certainly be a bona fide legend as a manager. An intriguing fixture was in the FA Cup where Derby lost to another former ex-United player managed team Coventry City, Mark Robins. As expected Richard Arnold has been confirmed as new CEO from Ed Woodward thus bringing the curtains down to perhaps the most torrid period of United history since mid-70's.

United face their lucky charm Aston Villa in the third round of FA Cup though its not at Villa Park. The corresponding fixture in 1948 when United beat Villa 6-4 at Villa Park was described by Geoffrey Green as one of the best matches in the history of the Cup. Villa led 1-0 within a minute then United annhilated the hosts with five goals and in second half Villa hit back with three goals to setup a humdinger of a finale before Stan Pearson struck to soothe the nerves. "For dramatic content and depth of plot that Villa-United tie lives with the best... as a match of high drama, swaying one way then another and hightened by the storm of rain, it takes some beating." Busby's United went on to win their first trophy. Only two losses came in third round of 19-20 and in final of 56-57 when United were chasing the first double of last century of league and FA Cup. United though beat Villa en-route to winning the FA Cup in 62-63, 76-77 and 03-04 campaigns. During the treble winning season Ryan Giggs's solo goal at Villa Park waltzing his way through the Arsenal midfield and defense is certainly the greatest FA Cup goal. Rangnick would hope world's most famous and oldest cup competition provides the perfect opportunity for United to get their season back on track.

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