Since Ralf Rangnick took over at Manchester United, performances have not impressed the majority of the fanbase, with Norwich, Newcastle, and Aston Villa all feeling they should have come away from the game with better results, having been the better team for large spells of the game.
Despite these sub-par performances, Rangnick’s reds have not conceded more than 1 goal in any games so far, something which occurred very frequently under his predecessor, Ole Gunnar Solskjær. However, Ralf’s team has struggled to score goals freely, having only once scored more than 1 goal in a game, namely in the 3-1 win at home to Burnley.
Thus, there is clearly an issue of balance here. What’s the reason behind this issue? Why aren’t these players firing on all cylinders? I highlight some problems we are facing and how we could possibly solve them below.
Let’s start by analyzing Ralf’s preferred formation. In 6 of Rangnick’s 7 games so far, he has opted for a 4-2-2-2 formation, which is associated with counter-pressing, quick, vertical passing when in attacking transition. The first half of the Crystal Palace game, Ralf’s opener, definitely showed us something we could buy into. Manchester United won possession in the final 3rd 12 times in the game, the most per game since Sir Alex was in charge, remarkably.
Unfortunately, ever since this opening half, Ralf’s ideology has often been difficult to notice on the pitch. There was a clear 4-4-2 structure off the ball against Palace and Norwich and more of a flat 4-4-2 on the ball against Burnley, however all of the excitement that had us on the edge of our seats in the first game seems to have disappeared.
There are several issues with the 4-2-2-2 that Ralf has adopted so far:
- Low clear-cut chance creation
- High turnovers of possession- (e.g. Possession lost 167 times against Newcastle)
- High vulnerability to counter-attacks
I discussed this in more depth after the 1-1 draw away at Newcastle.
Another issue which I felt often went under the radar during Ole’s tenure and also now under Rangnick is the balance of the attack. Under Ole very often this season Rashford/Sancho, Bruno, Greenwood, and Ronaldo started the game. The issue with this is balance. Although Bruno does create lots of chances, his possession lost statistics have been worrying, likewise for the other players mentioned above.
This would not be so much of a problem for Rangnick if it was the final phase pass that was going wrong. But very often it is that pass or touch in the build-up that is going astray, preventing the counter-attack from being effective. It is almost as if the players’ feet are working faster than their brains, they’re struggling with the quick decision-making they need to take.
Evidence from the manager himself is given below:
The ball is being overturned very easily and thus our vulnerability to counter attacks increases. With the full-backs so high and wide in the 4-2-2-2, the opposition can take advantage of spaces in wide areas, as Newcastle did in the 1-1 draw.
Therefore, what’s the solution both formation and personnel-wise? I propose a solution below.
Rangnick adopted a 4-2-3-1 formation in the recent 1-0 victory in the FA Cup against Aston Villa, however for large periods of the game United’s midfield was isolated yet again. Mctominay and Fred found themselves doing more work than they should have needed to do, including covering wider areas. This allowed Aston Villa more spaces in the middle of the pitch, something which Jacob Ramsey took advantage of, playing at the tip of Villa’s 4-4-2 diamond.
Whereas, when Donny van de Beek was brought onto the pitch, Manchester United changed approach and flooded the midfield area, Elanga and Lingard also brought lots of energy and Villa’s momentum cooled down.
This shape is something I think Rangnick should adopt in future matches.
- Donny, Mctominay/Matic, Fred midfield 3
- 2 wide players (more creative options needed) such as Sancho
My overall proposal is to take out at least 1 of Rashford/Greenwood and bring in Sancho/Martial- (obviously there is transfer talk around the Frenchman).
Also, to bring more balance to midfield and reduce the space between midfield and attack, Donny van de Beek to come in for Bruno Fernandes. These might not be popular choices, but my real overall worry at the moment is balance.
More forward players do not equal more goals.
In fact, the opposite. Ralf Rangnick needs to have more midfield players in the team and more creative wingers rather than goal-scoring forwards, this way the team should control the midfield better, keep the ball better as wide players look to retain the ball rather than shoot on sight. Thus, on the ball control would improve.
After the Wolves defeat, Rangnick highlighted the lack of control in midfield, which is not necessarily all down to personnel, it is shape as well:
The off-ball press would still be possible, Rangnick has used the 4-3-3 in the past with Hoffenheim and has knowledge of the patterns of pressing he wants to use.
The 2 words he uses so often, Balance and Control. It is now time to see that in his team selections and from the players on the pitch.
Thank you for taking your time to read this piece.