Ralf Rangnick’s time as Manchester United manager will not be fondly remembered.
A thrilling opening 45 minutes in his first game in charge when it seemed like anything was possible and a pressing revolution was dawning at Old Trafford aside, things have resumed in the bleak trajectory they were heading in before Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s sacking. The football has been dull, the results have been mostly awful and most of the players have done nothing but erode an already fraying relationship with a disenchanted and frustrated fanbase.
Rangnick hasn’t showered himself in glory, with a refusal to drop certain players and some iffy substitutions being questioned, but little of the blame can be laid at his feet and he has largely kept many of the fans’ respect. His straight talking and simple explanations of where United have gone wrong and what is needed to fix it have ingratiated him with supporters who have grown tired of PR platitudes from managers and executives.
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If the German is allowed freedom in his upcoming consultancy role and is given the power to make fundamental change at Old Trafford, then he may well go down in the history books at United. But at present, he will be known as the man in charge of one of the worst United sides in recent memory. The first to get told by the home crowd that they aren’t fit to wear the shirt.
However, even if Rangnick is ignored and shunted to the side when he moves upstairs, he will always have the development of Anthony Elanga on his CV Every United manager since Sir Alex Ferguson’s sacking has had at least one prized youngster they blooded in the first team and then went onto perform brilliantly; Elanga is Rangnick’s.
He gave Elanga a chance and though the teenage forward is still raw and can fade in matches, his energy, passion and talent has been a rare bright spot this season. The Swede is only 19 and if he carries on improving at his current rate, he has the potential to be a serious player for United and that will be Rangnick’s legacy on the pitch. Now the interim boss has a chance to improve it further.
Despite many senior stars underperforming, Rangnick has been unwilling to give any more of the promising academy talents a shot in the team. And there is a wealth of them. Hannibal Mejbri had to wait until the latter stages at Anfield to get a chance this season, while Alejandro Garnacho was named on the bench for the first time in Saturday’s win against Norwich.
Excitement was high among supporters when Garnacho was spotted with the squad but Rangnick was quick to downplay the prospect of him getting any minutes. “It’s always about playing the strongest available team because they are not friendly games and I don’t think we would do some of the youngsters a favor if we bring them in at the wrong moment,” he explained.
“I love to play young players but in a moment when the team is performing well and playing with confidence. Then it could be the right moment to give young players game-time, but not in a situation like we’re in right now. “
His line of thinking makes a degree of sense, especially as United somehow still have a chance to win a race that nobody seemingly wants to finish first in and get a Champions League spot. Yet, at left-back he should seriously consider revising his stance.
With Luke Shaw possibly out until the end of the season after undergoing an operation to remove metal screws from his leg, United are left with just Alex Telles as their only senior option at left-back. This could be quite a problem as the Brazilian is proving to be quite bad.
Telles arrived at United to great fanfare — largely because of his great goal and assist numbers in Portugal — but has failed to live up to the billing. Chances have been few and far between during his two seasons with the club and it’s becoming apparent why.
Against Norwich, the league’s bottom side, he was dreadful. His positioning wasn’t of a player who knew how to defend in the slightest and that played his part in both goals United conceded. Against Liverpool, Rangnick left Telles out altogether and opted to play Diogo Dalot, and then Aaron Wan-Bissaka, at left back.
Wan-Bissaka did okay in moments against Liverpool, but has been in equally abject form this season and appears just as liable to make a costly mistake. Instead, Rangnick should consider playing youngster Alvaro Fernandez. At 19 he is ready to get a shot at the top level. His performances in the youth teams have earned him as much. The Spaniard has four goals and six assists to his name and has shown superb ability at both ends of the pitch.
Shaw’s injury and Telles’ form are big problems for Rangnick, but they have also presented him with an opportunity to enhance his legacy further by giving another prospect his first chance. If Fernandez took such a chance, then who knows how good he could be.
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