OWhen Manchester United lost 4-1 at Watford in November, a loss that cost Ole Gunnar Solskjaer his job, things were so bad that I thought it could only get better for the club. Since then, not much has changed at Old Trafford.
The squad available to Ralf Rangnick should finish in the top 4 of the Premier League. They are fourth but could cede that position to teams that have games in progress. If they fail to qualify for the Champions League, there will be a lot of blame to be had, not just for those in the dugout or on the pitch, but also in the boardroom.
Manchester City are not only above United in the table, but have overtaken them off the pitch as well. City have eclipsed United in terms of revenue generated, earning almost £75million more than their main rivals in the 2020-21 season. I’m studying business, and when that side of things doesn’t go perfectly, it spills over into the field. United made bad business decisions; a number of managers have come and gone since Sir Alex Ferguson’s departure nine years ago, none of them have managed to replicate that level of success, and many signings have not had a impact.
There were no signings in January to improve a side with flaws in defense and midfield. United have an interim manager, so handing Rangnick a budget to invest in players his replacement might not want could be seen as a risk not worth taking. There are obvious problems, like in central midfield where United are very weak, but they won’t be fixed until the end of the season.
It’s hard to make an impact on the team as a temp. The defensive structure is better and they’re pressing slightly differently, but nothing made me sit up and notice.
Rangnick has handled Cristiano Ronaldo differently from Solskjær, dropping him when he sees fit and replacing him when necessary. Ronaldo may not like it but he’s 37 and no matter how fit he can’t be at his best for a long season if he plays 90 minutes twice a week from August to May. United need him to thrive. He has 15 goals in 27 appearances, seven more than the club’s second top scorer. Without Ronaldo, United would be lower in the table and out of the Champions League. Like him shown against Brighton he can score an incredible goal out of the blue. Ronaldo may not be happy not to play every minute, but Rangnick may be doing Ronaldo and the team a big favor.
Leaks are apparently coming out of the locker room about the coaching staff and the roster. If the stories are accurate, you have to wonder who is leaking them and what does they stand to gain. This is not beautiful. Some players will think they can get away with not adapting to Rangnick’s methods because he won’t be around too long and they can wait for the next manager.
I remember hearing United players from the Ferguson era say that what happened in the dressing room stayed there. They would leave with England and not discuss what was happening at Old Trafford to make sure nothing went beyond those who needed to know, not even international team-mates. Secrecy was hallowed under Ferguson during their most successful time as a club and he wouldn’t have endured that. When things are leaked, it doesn’t bode well.
The aura United had during the Ferguson era is long gone. The teams would arrive at Old Trafford and feel in the warm-up that they were 1-0 up. Now they feel they can win and they are not afraid anymore. United have won seven of 13 home league games this season, which is not enough for a side aiming to finish in the top four. This incites opponents. Even though United are no longer the scalp they used to be, winning at Old Trafford is huge for an opposing player. The team is different but the kits and the stadium are the same, so it will be an exhilarating experience to take points from United.
Rangnick has lost just one league game but has drawn four of those 11 games and he has been knocked out of the FA Cup by Championship team Middlesbrough at home. In many of those matches, United took the lead but failed to capitalize on it. It used to be that United would hit three or four to be out of sight long before the final whistle. The reason they don’t is because the defense and the midfield are fragile. The players are pushing hard for the manager but they’re not going to wave caution – they’re protecting their lead.
Missing out on the Champions League would be a huge failure for a club of United’s stature and a fairly good squad of players. They need to be at the top of Europe to give their new manager the best chance of getting the club back to where the fans want it – but there’s a lot to be done if United are to once again compete with Manchester City and Liverpool.