In pictures: Norwich v Man Utd
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At first glance it seems as though Manchester United have made a promising start to the Ralf Rangnick era. But Rangnick was hired because he is a perfectionist, and when you look a little closer it is easy to see why he remains far from content with the performance of his side – even if it is just two weeks into his stint in charge.
United have won two and drawn one of Rangnick’s three games so far. They have conceded just one goal – and that was a stunning long-range strike which came against Young Boys when he had made 11 changes.
When compared to the final weeks of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s reign, which included a 5-0 thrashing by Manchester City and the 4-1 loss against Watford, there are signs of green shoots.
But, as Rangnick himself has conceded, the bar for defensive improvements was set extremely low by his predecessor.
“Now we have two clean sheets, which is good,” he explained after Saturday’s 1-0 win over Norwich.
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“But we still need to improve on that away, especially against physical teams or teams that attack high like Norwich did.”
And that, in a nutshell, is what Rangnick is demanding from his side. When he arrived he knew he didn’t have much time, with a six-month interim manager’s contract not providing much job security.
Yet the reason football director John Murtough was so attracted to the 63-year-old was his clear philosophy and the methods he uses to implement it.
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There is often talk of “non-negotiables” in elite sport, with leaders setting out ground rules which everyone must abide by.
While that most commonly means good time-keeping, organisation and exemplary behaviour, for Rangnick it means hard work. He is all about a high-intensity pressing game, so you better get on board.
And that is the area where United are still lacking. United did beat Norwich, but it required a 75th-minute penalty from Cristiano Ronaldo and three outstanding saves from David de Gea.
Considering Norwich are bottom, with the worst attack and defence in the league, that is not a particularly impressive day’s work.
“It was hard work and, in some parts of the game, we were doing well,” Rangnick said post-match.
“In other parts, we lacked a little bit of intensity, body language and we were not as aggressive as Norwich were, especially up front. We could have done with more intensity, with more physicality.”
Rangnick was full of praise for Dean Smith’s side, who went close through Teemu Pukki and Ozan Kabak, but he wanted more from the attacking quartet of Ronaldo, Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Bruno Fernandes.
And, crucially, he wants them to be more aggressive, to challenge fiercely for every ball and suffocate their opponents with their work out of possession.
“I don’t think today it was a question of tactics or the distance to the team-mates,” Rangnick said.
“It was more one-on-one offensively and defensively, the second balls. It’s about who wins more second balls, who wins the one-on-one duels.”
That does not sound much, but it is the very essence of Rangnick’s style. While he doesn’t have much time, the German does have the benefit of a friendly run of fixtures.
United play Brentford on Tuesday before matches against Brighton, Newcastle and Burnley. If they are to reach Rangnick’s levels before the end of the season then they must top those sides in terms of aggression.
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