Football/Soccer

Brendan Crossan: Everyone knows Ralf Rangnick is not the problem at Old Trafford

Leaks are emerging from the dressing room criticising Manchester United interim manager Ralf Rangnick
Brendan Crossan - The Boot Room (brendancrossan@yahoo.com)

LIKE most football fans, I was glued to the Premier League clash between Chelsea and Liverpool last Sunday afternoon.

For intensity and pace alone it was a fascinating spectacle. It was noticeable the lightning pace Liverpool played at in getting the ball from back to front.

Two passes were usually enough – one into midfield and another into the front line - and, before you knew it, Sadio Mane, Diogo Jota and Mo Salah were finding wide open prairies to run into which caused Chelsea’s decidedly ropey defence all sorts of problems.

Tactically, Liverpool were brilliant. They didn’t overplay in midfield because they knew their attackers could hurt Chelsea down the sides of their defence, so they fed the trio incessantly.

Chelsea, meanwhile, displayed great resilience and skill to haul themselves back into the game after being two goals down and were unlucky not to take all three points by the end.

Both sets of players ran around Stamford Bridge like their lives depended on the outcome. Whether they received the ball or not, they made support runs, they tackled, kicked and harassed each other and chased down lost causes all afternoon.

The following night at Old Trafford couldn't have been more stark as a modest Wolves side played Manchester United off the park and duly won the game, thanks to Joao Moutinho’s second half strike.

In truth, it was a 1-0 hammering.

United's performances have been unimaginably poor this season. Lying in seventh place, the club is liable to fall into mid-table obscurity rather than go the other way.

Earlier this week, respected journalist and editor of United We Stand, Andy Mitten, lauded the “world-class” players at the club and insisted interim manager Ralf Rangnick needed to start winning some games. For the record, Wolves was his first defeat.

But, of course, the whole premise of that argument is flawed. When you sift through the squad you’d struggle to describe any of the players as “world class”.

A cursory threshold check: David De Gea? Too many basic errors have crept into his game.

Luke Shaw? Erratic and concedes too many lazy fouls for a defender.

Harry Maguire has failed so many stress tests in a United jersey you have to wonder can the team ever improve with him at the heart of defence.

Raphael Varane is long past his best and is entering the injury-prone years of his career.

In an era when full-backs are vital to the team's attack, there isn't one opposition manager who fears Aaron Wan-Bissaka's flat crosses.

Fred? A squad player at best.

Scott McTominay is no longer the up and coming midfielder. He's 25 now and isn't improving.

Energetic and gets around the pitch but he's a ragged kind of performer who takes up odd positions when the team attacks, fouls too readily and can't control midfield.

Bruno Fernandes sulks his way through games nowadays. Likewise, Paul Pogba who should have been shipped out of Old Trafford several seasons ago.

Marcus Rashford has consistently fallen short of expectations, makes too many basic errors and is an erratic finisher.

Cristiano Ronaldo has been getting a bad rap since returning to Old Trafford but remains a world-class finisher even if he turns 37 next month.

Arguably the biggest disappointment has been Jadon Sancho. Since his €85m signing from Borussia Dortmund, the winger has shown little desire to do the hard yards.

Although he doesn’t have the defensive skills set to play as a wing-back – something Rangnick needs to fix – Sancho abdicated his duties against Wolves.

In the 47th minute, he retrieved an easy possession before passing to Luke Shaw who was ahead of him on the left flank.

Shaw then passed inside to Nemanja Matic. At no stage did Sancho bust a gut to get down the left flank and offer himself as an option.

It was a 15-yard run.

Instead, he walked back into his wing-back position as Matic had to look right for options.

Ten minutes later, Sancho was guilty of not tracking Francisco Trincao down his side and is actually seen pulling up at the edge of his own box despite his opponent almost getting on the end of the Wolves move.

Sancho wasn’t alone though.

In the 87th minute, De Gea caught a cross on the edge of his box and with Rashford in a great position to initiate a counter-attack he turned away, a clear signal that he didn’t want the ball, despite only being on the field a short time as a substitute.

The dearth of leadership in the team is truly frightening.

So, who and where are these world class players at Manchester United people speak about?

Why do some commentators continue to perpetuate this myth?

That said, Liverpool don't have world-class players in every position but what they do have is a willingness to work hard.

Right now, Manchester United are a gift to play against. They don’t press the opposition nearly well enough, they play with no tempo and therefore are incapable of stretching defences. They don't do anything well.

What compounds the club's problems is the mock despair articulated on social media by some United players when they miss penalties or lose another game, while Harry Maguire blamed the closure of Carrington, due to a recent COVID outbreak, for yet another poor display.

And just when you think the standing of this United squad couldn’t get any lower, dressing room ‘leaks’ are emerging that appear to be a clear plot against Rangnick – a man who is only in the job a matter of weeks.

On Wednesday, Sky Sports quoted ‘sources’ suggesting that some United players were struggling to adapt to the interim manager’s tactics.

No mention of a lack of work-rate among the team.

Questions must be posed of the club’s player recruitment over the last decade and how they’ve succeeded in assembling this barely average group of players who don't care for collective or individual responsibility.

Everyone knows Rangnick is not the problem.

The recent ‘leaks’ - all of which are crude exercises in self-preservation - tell everything you need to know about where the finger of blame needs pointed.

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Football/Soccer