Manchester United scraped past Norwich City at Carrow Road on Saturday with a slender 1-0 victory. Cristiano Ronaldo’s perfectly dispatched penalty was enough to mask a worryingly poor performance, something that has become all too familiar for United this season.
A lacklustre performance that was in complete contrast to the efforts against Crystal Palace last week should be a reminder to the new United manager Ralf Rangnick that he must be ruthless to achieve any kind of success this season.
While it’s now back to back clean sheets for Rangnick’s reds (in the Premier League), the amount of chances conceded will be of concern to the veteran German manager. Rangnick has to work quickly in order to implement his philosophy and tactics, but one of the most important things alongside this will be his ability to make the tough decisions.
United’s previous manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was renowned for being a friendly face around the club- even nicknamed ‘the baby-faced assassin’, however Solskjaer’s ‘arm around the shoulder’ approach as manager had clearly lost effectiveness by the end of his tenure, and United’s players may need to be managed in a different way.
Rangnick’s first couple of weeks in charge will set a precedent in terms of the way he operates, so it’s vital he takes a firm approach to decision making and establishes himself as the ultimate authority. It’s clear the German will not need to be told this though as all of his interviews and press briefings have suggested Rangnick is here to do whatever is best for the team and club as a whole, regardless of what that may take.
When quizzed about Paul Pogba and his recent injury, Rangnick questioned the need for the Frenchman to fly all the way to Dubai for rehabilitation. This line of public questioning of his own player is in sharp contrast to Solskjaer, who let his stars almost have free reign in how they conducted themselves off the pitch.
This is indicative of one of Rangnick’s strengths of being someone who is almost a ‘control freak’, a trait that lends itself well to the many director positions the German has held and the future consultancy role at United. Rangnick namedropped the word ‘control’ several times in his first interview and press conference as club manager, again reflecting his ethos and past experiences that led to success.
It’s too romantic to start drawing similarities between Rangnick and legendary United manager Sir Alex Ferguson, but history has shown Ferguson’s ruling was absolute at United, which led to years of continued success.
With Rangnick’s appetite for control established, it then seems odd that the manager would make a decision that almost goes against that ethos in the game against Norwich. Marcus Rashford had started up front alongside Ronaldo, but the English forward was having a terrible performance. Loose in possession and poor with his passing, Rashford looked certain to be subbed off at some point in the second half.
Yet when Mason Greenwood was stripped and ready to come on, it was the number 25 of a dejected Jadon Sancho held aloft on the fourth official’s board. This decision to replace Sancho and not Rashford was truly bizarre, leading one to think that Rangnick knew something everyone else didn’t, but if not, then there are serious questions to be asked.
Rangnick simply cannot afford to play favourites with players, it could be argued that Solskjaer did this and obviously that didn’t end well for him.
Rangnick may have simply just been trying to show good faith in Rashford to boost his confidence levels, however in a league as demanding as the Premier League a more ruthless approach is paramount to success.
Going back to Rangnick’s press conference there was also a discussion surrounding the future of Pogba and his contract situation. This is where Rangnick displayed the most ruthlessness we may have seen from a United manager in years- rather than being dip.
This is the stance the club needs to adapt going forward if trophies are to return, as no player is ever bigger than the club itself. United fans finally have their optimism back and it looks like with Rangnick at the helm they have good reason, the German manager is more likely than any to make the tough decisions that will ultimately lead the club back to the top, but it’s a long road to get there.
Written by Sam Wilson