Ralf Rangnick deserves credit for his work at Man United and he may be solution to long-term problem
Rangnick is not to blame for Man United's troubles.
"If anybody thinks Ralf’s the problem, then they’re not watching properly," Owen Hargraves said on Saturday. The former Manchester United midfielder was speaking about Ralf Rangnick following the team's 0-0 draw with Watford, another disappointing result for the Red Devils.
Hargreaves may not be a box office pundit, like Roy Keane or Gary Neville, but he hit the nail on the head regarding the situation at Old Trafford. Rangnick is not one of the many problems at Old Trafford, and he may even be a solution to a long-term issue.
Man United before Ragnick this season.
The German was given a hospital pass by Man United. The 63-year-old took over as interim manager with the club in eighth place, with five wins from 12 games and confidence at rock bottom after the disastrous final months of Solsjaer's reign.
The Red Devils had lost 5-0 to Liverpool, 4-2 to Leicester City, 2-0 to Manchester and 4-0 to Watford in the previous month. The squad was divided and unbalanced, assembled by five different managers under the misdirection of former executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward.
Many issues still remain at the club. There are major question marks about the suitability and form of the club's captain, Harry Maguire, and their most famous player, Cristiano Ronaldo. Man United also need an entirely new midfield, a top-class right back and to somehow find a way to offload their underperforming players.
Yet, despite all these issues and more, Rangnick has managed to put some shape on the first team.
Man United are currently in fourth place in the Premier League, with 47 points from 27 games. On the surface, it appears as though United have plateaued under the 63-year-old. Since the turn of the year, the club have played seven games and won just twice - a 2-0 victory over Brighton and Hove Albion and a 4-2 win against an injury-hit Leeds United.
However, look deeper and it is clear that the German has held up his side of the bargain and is being let down by some of his players.
If we look at the Premier League table from Rangnick's time as coach, Man United are in third place with 26 points from 13 games. The team are averaging two points per game, a figure that would be enough to secure Champions League football in seven of the last eight seasons.
Yet, they have squandered the chance to be further up the table and left points on the shelf due to poor finishing. Again, this isn't the German's fault.
Man United under Rangnick.
In Man United's last six Premier League games, they have averaged an expected goals tally of 2.2. In other words, they should have scored at least two goals in each game given the number of, and quality of, goalscoring chances they created. In Solskjaer's final six league matches as manager, the team had an average xG of 1.2 per game.
In the team's last six matches, they recorded an average expected goals conceded figure of 1.2 per game. In Solskjaer's final six Premier League games, Man United's xGa (expected goals against) average was 2.15 per game.
These figures show that Rangnick has improved Man United. Under their interim manager, the team are creating more, and better quality, chances and conceding fewer goalscoring opportunities. There is clear evidence of a plan, but the final touch, the most important aspect - scoring goals - has let the team down. While, at the other end, poor defending has cost them sloppy goals in some games - such as against Atletico Madrid and Burnley.
On Saturday, Man United had an xG of 2.9 against Watford - a figure high enough to win almost any Premier League game, especially against a relegation-threatened team. However, United failed to find the net despite their dominance, and the presence of Ronaldo, one of the sport's greatest ever goalscorers did not help the side.
Since Ralf Rangnick became interim manager at Man Utd, no team has created more chances in the Premier League .
But 4️⃣ teams have scored more goals than #MUFC  during that period.
Wasteful. 😫 pic.twitter.com/XWe28FLNhw
— Statman Dave (@StatmanDave) February 28, 2022
Rangnick could be the solution to Man United issues.
Rangnick also deserves credit for the emergence of Anthony Elanga, who was about to go out on loan when the German arrived, and the form of Jadon Sancho, who looked lost under Solskjaer. Unlike his predecessor, the German has not been deferential to his famous players. There are no favourites and the team is picked on merit.
He also appears to have identified the primary issues within the team - the form of Maguire and Ronaldo's suitability for the side. The evidence suggests Man United would be, in the long-term, better off without either.
Rangnick didn't start Maguire against Watford. Whether this was due to squad rotation or not is unclear, but United are a better side without their out of form captain. Rangnick surely knows this and even admitted that Maguire is still adjusting to playing in a back four for a high-pressing team.
While, according to reports on Monday, Rangnick has lost patience with Ronaldo. The Portugal captain has scored once in his last 10 appearances and is experiencing one of the most difficult spells of his illustrious career.
Of United's outfield players, only Maguire and Bruno Fernandes have played more minutes in the Premier League this season. The 37-year-old, unsurprisingly, looks weary and is starting to show his age.
According to the Manchester Evening News, Rangnick has 'major reservations' about Ronaldo leading the line for United next season. Unfortunately for the German, United's other options upfront - Edinson Cavani and Marcus Rashford - are either unavailable or unreliable.
The German is due to move into a consultant role at the club next season, with United expected to appoint either Erik ten Haag or Mauricio Pochettino.
Yet, it could be argued that Man United could do a lot worse than keep Rangnick in the dugout for another season. He could be the one to finally clear the club of its dead weight and tackle the issues within the squad.
The German could do the dirty work of getting rid of the club's underperforming players and leave a clean slate for his permanent successor. Neither Pochettino nor Ten Hag would relish the prospect of dismantling an expensively assembled squad with several seemingly untouchable players. Rangnick may be a solution for this long-standing issue and the one to overhaul the squad.
He would need another season as the manager to do it, or for his consultant role to be upgraded to a director of football position. But Man United's clearout is long overdue, and the German looks best suited to oversee it.
Either way, Rangnick has done a very good job in the short term and will undoubtedly leave the team in a much better condition than he found it. He certainly cannot be blamed for the club's recent run of results.