By Charlie DeMatteo
The mayhem surrounding Manchester United and their manager after the sacking of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer seems to have come to an end after the appointment of German Ralf Rangnick last week. Rangnick comes with boat loads of experience from across Europe, and has been the mentor of top managers around the world today such as Liverpool’s Jurgen Klopp, Chelsea’s Thomas Tuchel, and Bayern Munich’s Julian Nagelsmann.
With Rangnick’s high press and high intensity style matching up far different from the counter-attacking style of previous manager Solskjaer, it’s time to determine which of the United squad will thrive under Rangnick, and those who may struggle.
JADON SANCHO: Jadon Sancho is a player who Manchester United had been chasing for nearly two years before they splashed £74 million on him this summer from Borussia Dortmund, and there is good reason. Sancho is a dynamic wide player whose on the ball ability and creative nature is an asset to any team in Europe. With that being said, the counter attacking and slow build-up style of Solskjaer was not one that fit Sancho’s style of play. Unable to truly make a difference in games, only recently against Villareal and Chelsea have we seen what the young Englishmen is capable of.
With Rangnick coming in, it can only mean good things for Sancho as he will be able to maintain a higher position on the pitch consistently, and have the opportunity to influence the game far more regularly than under Ole. Rangnick’s German background, and Sancho’s success in the Bundesliga with Dortmund will no doubt be a match made in heaven for this pair; and it won’t surprise me if Sancho becomes the talisman of Rangnick’s identity.
ERIC BAILLY: You may be a little surprised to see Bailly’s name on this list as he has been an understudy for the last few years at United and has not seen consistent game time. However, what bewilders me is the reason for this lack of game time. At no point has he looked poor or out of place in the United 11, and last fall when United looked like title challengers it was he and Harry Maguire who looked like the better partnership than the latter and Victor Lindelof.
Bailly possesses great speed and his defensive awareness is underrated. With a high press and the need for center backs to be high up the pitch both staples in a Rangnick team, the speed and quickness advantage Bailly has over Maguire and Lindelof could see him form an unlikely partnership with Raphael Varane as the two main center backs for United once the Frenchman returns from injury.
DONNY VAN DE BEEK: If of these three players there was a riskiest option in terms of likelihood to succeed under Rangnick, Van de Beek would most likely fit that description. This is solely down to the fact that under Ole, he was going to be forced out of the club in January. However, it seems unlikely that Van de Beek will not get a chance to show off his skill set for the new manager over the next month, and I think those could be a massive few games for Van de Beek’s career.
The signing of Van de Beek by Manchester United was first seen as a shrewd bit of business. He showed promise at a Champions League level with Ajax, wasn’t too expensive, and was a young player United could potentially reshape their midfield around. However, the continuous lack of play time shown to the Dutchman by Solskjaer in his time at the club has led the reasoning of signing Van de Beek to be questioned. When Donny got minutes, he looked decent, but was for some reason never given continuous game time. With Rangnick’s high press, the football IQ of midfielders who will be extremely far forward will be necessary.
Van de Beek possesses a level of understanding unique to much of the United squad due to his upbringing at the Ajax academy. Partnered with Fred (who I think will also become a staple in the United squad under Rangnick) potentially in a midfield two which sees Donny act as a box to box player could see him fulfill his potential as a top level midfielder in the Premier League. Van de Beek may still fancy a move in January, but I like the chances he sticks around and gets significant minutes under Rangnick.
SCOTT MCTOMINAY: Look, Scott McTominay is a decent athlete and has a good engine on him, but he does not possess anywhere near the amount of footballing IQ and awareness required to influence a game at the top level. Part of this could be down to the way he has been coached by Ole and his staff for the last few years, or part of this could be down to his lack of ability. The naivety on display in United’s recent game against Arsenal was staggering. As a holding midfielder, he almost never showed for the ball as an option for the rest of his teammates, and his presses seemed to be as calculated as a drunk person’s decision-making. The trust Ralf Rangnick will require from his holding midfielders will be major, and unless a serious transformation takes place, I could see McTominay being relegated to a squad player while the German is in charge at United.
HARRY MAGUIRE: Harry Maguire as a player is somewhat inconsistent, and the qualities needed to be a Manchester United central defender and captain seem to be lost on Maguire’s bad days. On a good day, Maguire is a solid defender in a team which soaks up pressure. But when Ralf Rangnick asks Harry Maguire to sit on the half way line, and ensure the other team stays in their own half, I seem to have trouble comprehending how Maguire’s lack of agility and speed will cope with that task. It will be a hard call no doubt, and Rangnick may not even strip Maguire of his captaincy. But in my opinion, Maguire is nowhere near the level of a United captain any day of the week, and not the level of a United defender on some days of the week, especially under Rangnick.
AARON WAN-BISSAKA: AWB is a player who, like Harry Maguire, is good on his day, but inconsistent. At his best, he is a world class defending right-back, but pretty lackluster going forward. Over recent weeks, we have seen probably the worst AWB there has been in a United shirt. Not only does Wan-Bissaka’s form cause for a worry, the attacking demand Rangnick will most likely require from his full-backs may cause AWB to lose his place in the team.
As seen in the early days of Jurgen Klopp’s gegenpress at Liverpool, both fullbacks were integral to the attacking output which showed so much prowess. With United’s press which will be introduced under Rangnick, both fullbacks will need to get very comfortable being in and around the opponents 18-yard box, and AWB will no doubt need to make some improvements if his attacking output is to suit the requirements of a fullback under Ralf Rangnick.
The next two weeks will be incredibly telling of the next few years at Manchester United. After this season is over, Rangnick will be moving upstairs to a consultancy role at the club for the next two years. If the players mentioned can prosper, they can be staples of the United team for years to come. However, if other players mentioned are unable to make an impression on the German, they could see their time in Manchester come to an abrupt halt at the end of the season.
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