Four talking points as Man United beat Crystal Palace in Ralf Rangnick's first match as manager
Manchester United 1-0 Crystal Palace.
Ralf Rangnick's reign as Manchester United manager has started with a valuable win over Crystal Palace. Fred scored the only goal of the game on Sunday afternoon, in a match which Man United dominated but struggled to find the finishing touch until the Brazilian stepped up 12 minutes before full-time.
Here are four talking points from the Premier League match.
Man United have a plan.
Rangnick has only had one training session with his new side, but Man United already look like a more coherent team. (Admittedly, the 63-year-old is starting from a low base).
In the first half against Palace, Man United pressed well, passed the ball with more conviction than at any time this season and dominated possession. After 30 minutes at Old Trafford, Rangnick's team had recorded 61 per cent possession and had eight shots on Palace's goal.
There were no clear cut chances in the first half for the home side, but there was evidence of a distinct plan at Old Trafford for the first time in a very long time. Man United played in a 4-2-2-2 formation. Their backline worked as a unit and the front four combined well. Dalot and Telles were also dangerous going forward.
In essence, Man United looked like a well-coached, cohesive, modern team - and some distance from the shambolic rabble that they resembled at the end of Solskjaer's reign. Rangnick will need time to implement his ideas, but the signs are encouraging for the Red Devils.
Dalot a significant upgrade on Wan-Bissaka
Aaron Wan-Bissaka was on the bench against Crystal Palace and should remain there for the foreseeable future. The full-back simply isn't good enough in possession to warrant a place in the Man United first-choice XI.
Wan-Bisska's technique is poor by the standards of elite football, his crossing can be wayward and his passing is unimaginative, often sideways, backwards or a hopeful punt down the channel. Opposition teams target the former Palace full-back and United's moves often break down when he receives the ball.
Wan-Bissaka's supporters will argue that he is strong defensively - but that's not strictly true either. He is a good tackler - which isn't the same as being a good defender. The best defenders don't constantly rely on tackling to stop the opposition from scoring. They anticipate moves, they put themselves in the right position and don't depend on last-ditch, hail mary interceptions.
The full-back, unfortunately, comes up short in almost every department and the arrival of a new manager is the perfect opportunity to freshen up the first XI.
Diogo Dalot’s first half vs. Crystal Palace by numbers:
22 attempted passes
20 successful passes
3 ball recoveries
3 passes into the box
2 passes into final 1/3
2 attempted tackles
2 successful tackles
Bright once again. 💡 pic.twitter.com/xlRCdvs53A
— Statman Dave (@StatmanDave) December 5, 2021
Diogo Dalot was impressive at right-back against Arsenal and continued that form against Palace. The Portugal full-back, 22, is a clear upgrade on Wan-Bisska going forward.
Dalot is comfortable in possession and making runs infield with the ball, as he showed against the Gunners on Thursday. The full-back carried the ball into the middle of the pitch before playing a clever pass out to Rashford, who crossed for Ronaldo to score.
He got forward throughout the game on Sunday and provided the width for Rangnick's team. Dalot also enabled Bruno to find space inside, where he could try to cross to Ronaldo or Rashford.
Telles on the other flank was also an improvement on Luke Shaw, and he offered Man United more of a threat in the final third with his accurate crosses. Telles should retain the left-back slot for the next few games. Shaw, however, is merely out of form. He had an excellent season last year and may benefit from some time out of the spotlight. There is now healthy competition for the left-back slot in Rangnick's team.
On the other side, however, there's no contest - Dalot is simply a better footballer than Wan-Bissaka.
Maguire and Ronaldo
Ronaldo presses less than any of his Man United teammates. That's not news to anyone. So far this season, no United player has had fewer successful pressing attempts. Therefore, it is understandable that some have questioned Ronaldo's role in the team.
Yet, his goalscoring record means Man United must try to find a way around these shortcomings. The 36-year-old will score at a rate that is beyond any of his teammates. Before the Palace game, he had scored 12 goals in 16 games. Ronaldo's record means Rangnick should attempt to adapt his approach, and he indicated he would try to do so. The same, however, cannot be said about Harry Maguire.
In fact, it could be argued that Maguire could be a bigger problem for Rangnick's hard-pressing system than Ronaldo. The Man United captain is slow and has been caught out of position on several occasions this season. And better teams than Crystal Palace will be capable of exploiting the space behind Magure if United play a high line, as they will surely do under their new coach.
The England defender has looked more comfortable in a back-three, but Rangnick appears likely to stick with a back four. Maguire, rather than Ronaldo, could be the weak link in United's new high-pressing game.
Fred could become a cornerstone of Rangnick's team.
Fred is a much-maligned player who has regularly been blamed for the team's troubles this season. When something has gone wrong for United over the last few months, the Brazilian has often been at the scene of the crime.
The midfielder, however, arguably doesn't warrant the criticism he has received. For a start, he's a better player than his midfield partner Scott McTominay. Fred is also ideal for Rangnick's style of play. He will follow his manager's instructions and do the dirty work required in midfield.
After an hour of Sunday's game, Fred had made more tackles than all of his teammates combined (7). And only Maguire had made more passes than him at that point (59 v 56). This is all that Rangnick will ask of Fred: win the ball, and accurately pass it to his teammates. It is a simple task but someone has to do it.
Man United fans may not suddenly start getting Fred's name and number on the back of their jersey, and he'll never be held in the same esteem as some central midfielders who came before him at Old Trafford. But Fred could be vital for Rangnick's United.
The Brazilian scored a stunning goal to give Man United all three points. The Red Devils have moved up to sixth place in the Premier League after the win.