While so many Man United fans were so desperate for things to work out under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, it was clear he had to be let go after their 4-1 loss to relegation candidate Watford, leaving the Reds in seventh place with just 19 points from their 12 games. There was cautious optimism when Ralf Rangnick was brought in to replace him on an interim basis, given his record of turning his teams into ruthless pressers with free-flowing attacking. His first ten games have seen mixed results, with six wins, three draws and one loss and he has them in fourth place. However, they have only scored 14 times in those ten games, and fans are worried that a team with that amount of attacking talent is struggling to score. For his tenure as interim manager to be deemed a success, Rangnick will have to achieve a top-four spot to gain Champions League qualification, and compete to win a trophy. According to these UK betting sites, United currently are at 15/8 to finish in the top four and 18/1 to win the Champions League.
Gary Neville’s thoughts ten games into Rangnick’s tenure
Speaking on Sky Sports, former Manchester United and England defender Gary Neville stated he had seen a change in atmosphere at Old Trafford since the German’s appointment. He was asked if a week in which United got a draw against Aston Villa and wins against Brentford and West Ham could be seen as a turning point. The pundit said: “A very good week. “Tough games — I say tough games, but games you think Manchester United would win. But with the way in which they have been playing, you are not quite sure anymore and I think the first half at Brentford, they rode their luck, but then got there in the second half and yesterday [vs West Ham], there was that little bit of something happening sometimes which goes in your favour.
“I think Ralf Rangnick comes out of this week stronger than he started the week because of events that have occurred. I think everyone has seen what is happening and they are backing him and I feel that he feels stronger and more in control than he maybe was a week or two ago. The goal in the last minute is a big one. A big one for the club and a big one for the scorer. I think it was really important.”
He also commented on Marcus Rashford’s return to goalscoring form, something which could be huge in the run-in for fourth place, saying:
“I think Marcus, in the last couple of months or so, has just looked drained in his face of any energy or spirit and that can’t happen. You can have fire, you can have anger, you can have joy – all of those different emotions, but we need emotion, we can’t have lack of emotion.
“It was a big moment for him and hopefully that now gives him the confidence to rise against, puff his chest out and do the things that he does because he is an excellent striker, an excellent forward.”
The race for fourth
Despite all their preseason hopes of a title charge, United find themselves in the midst of a very tight battle to even qualify for next season’s Champions League. And since Neville’s comments, the last weeks have not been kind to United. Young star Mason Greenwood has been embroiled in off-field controversy, whilst a penalty shoot-out loss to Championship Boro in the FA Cup means unless they go on a miracle run in the Champions League, it will be another season without silverware.
With the top three seemingly locked in between league leaders Manchester City, Liverpool and Chelsea, there is really only one spot left to compete for, and United, Tottenham, Arsenal and West Ham all will be battling it out to make Europe’s premier competition. Since Antonio Conte’s arrival, Spurs have the third most points in the league behind City and Liverpool, and have shown marked improvements under the Italian. Arsenal have been characteristically inconsistent all year, but in Bukayo Saka, Gabi Martinelli and Emile Smith-Rowe they have a young attacking trio most teams would die for. West Ham are probably the least likely to make the top four, but under David Moyes they have become an extremely hard team to beat and in Jarrod Bowen and Declan Rice they have two of the most exciting young talents in the league – and as of writing, currently occupy the 4th spot. Sky Sports pundit Jamie Redknapp believes United are best placed to be the team to finish fourth, saying: “Man United are favourites to get 4th for me,” Redknapp said before Tottenham travelled to Chelsea. But they’ve (Spurs) given themselves a great chance and getting the manager in when they did has made a huge difference for them.”
Could they win a trophy?
While all United fans believe a top four finish is a complete necessity, many think that’s not enough, and Rangnick will have to deliver a trophy for his time as interim manager to be a success. The expectation was to have very little problem beating Middlesborough in the fourth round of the FA Cup, but despite a handful of chances they could not put the Championship side away.
It would be a shock if United win the Champions League, but with the incredible amount of talent in the squad, there’s no reason why they can’t make an unlikely run at the trophy. Thanks to Solskjaer, United topped their group with 11 points, but face a tough opponent in Diego Simeone’s Atletico Madrid. Like United, Atleti have struggled somewhat in the league and failed to live up to preseason expectations. They are currently in fifth place, 18 points behind bitter rivals Real Madrid at the top, and they too are in a fight to qualify for the Champions League after the recent defeat to Barca saw the Catalonians jump them into fourth. While it is certainly a tough draw, it is one that United will fancy. There is some very strong sides left in the tournament and while Untied are far from favourites to win it, they will be hoping to at least make a good run in the competition.
When Rangnick was hired, many commented that it would take time to implement his ideas. His high intensity pressing style of football is very hard to learn halfway through a season, and it is clear that United’s players are still coming to terms with what is expected of them under the German. They’ve got only 6 wins from 12 in all competitions under him – but also only one loss, displaying some resilience in comparison to the poor losing run that ultimately cost Solskjaer