The Godfather of Gegenpressing may not be in the building yet, but Ralf Rangnick is already having an impact on Manchester United. The 1-1 draw at Stamford Bridge was far from a perfect performance from the away side, yet it represented a clear shift in style and application from the dark final weeks of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s reign.
Chelsea had won nine of their last 10 games in all competitions going into Sunday’s Premier League clash in west London.
Thomas Tuchel’s side had kept clean sheets in seven of those games. They were top of the league coming into the weekend’s round of fixtures.
In short, this was just about the hardest fixture interim boss Michael Carrick could have had. With Rangnick waiting in the wings, it could have been viewed as somewhat of a free hit.
But United’s approach showed that they did not consider it this way. It was looked upon as an opportunity, rather than a potential stumbling block.
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With Jadon Sancho, Marcus Rashford and Bruno Fernandes leading the line, United looked a completely different side out of possession as they pressed hard from the front.
Solskjaer’s side often looked sluggish and disinterested out of possession, but those days appear to be gone already.
The United game plan was clear: put pressure on Chelsea, work hard and then try and spring counter-attacks using the pace of Sancho and Rashford.
And it may have been a shocking touch from Jorginho which allowed Sancho through on goal, but it is arguable United would not have received such good fortune previously when their team lacked intensity.
The post-match statistics showed the extent of Chelsea’s dominance, yet also a change in United’s efforts.
The visitors had just seven touches in opposition box, three shots, two of which were on target and 34 per cent of the ball.
Yet they also a coherent, if conservative game plan, and made 21 tackles and eight blocks – both season-high numbers.
Former United defender Gary Neville summed up the prevailing feeling amongst United fans.
“A lot of people having a go at Michael Carrick for dropping Ronaldo and picking that MDF,” he wrote on Twitter. “I’ve a feeling the the incoming manager has picked that team as it’s a huge departure from midweek and what they’ve been doing.”
A few minutes later he added: “Having watched 1min I’m now convinced on influence on the team and style!”
Over the past few years under Solskjaer United have lacked a clear identity. So often they have lived off the Norwegian’s pervasive positivity and individual quality to get them through tough patches.
The appointment of Rangnick can be seen as an admission that they have lost their way; that they need a clear guiding principle to turn things around.
Rangnick is not the kind of big-name, big-personality manager who will command respect in the dressing room, but he is a tactical mind who demands 100 per cent commitment on the training pitch.
The 63-year-old will work hard to give United an identity. He will drill them, motivate them and then hand over the reins to another manager in the summer.
Whether he had a say on team selection on Sunday, like Neville speculated, is unclear, although Darren Fletcher’s ear piece on the touchline does lend that theory some credence.
But what is clear is that there is finally some joined-up thinking at the club.
It is only a draw – and they are still eighth in the Premier League – but after weeks of inertia it is something to build on once Rangnick’s arrival is confirmed.