New Manchester United manager Ralf Rangnick made an instant impact at Old Trafford on Sunday, as his new-look side saw off Crystal Palace 1-0 in a tie dominated by the hosts.
The German tactician, whose teams are renowned for playing high tempo, gegenpressing football, left his role as heads of sports and development at Russian side Lokomotiv Moscow to join the Red Devils, and has been appointed on an interim basis until the end of the season, before continuing in a consultancy role.
The game against the Eagles kickstarted a hectic, but appealing, festive schedule for United, with a run of six Premier League games, plus a UEFA Champions League tie, before the FA Cup third round break in January:
Inconsistent performances, which ultimately cost Ole Gunnar Solskjaer his job, have already put paid to a title challenge, but can Rangnick make Man Utd’s assets more appealing in Fantasy Premier League (FPL)?
In this, our latest Scout Report, we’ll take a closer look.
Ralf Rangnick had a rather modest playing career, which ended early so he could start coaching before the age of 30.
Having worked his way through the regional leagues and German youth football, his first high-profile job was at VfB Stuttgart, before spells at Hannover 96, Schalke 04 – who he took to the UEFA Champions League semi-finals for the first time in the club’s history – and 1899 Hoffenheim. Across those four roles, he won a combined five trophies, including the DFB-Pokal and DFL Super Cup.
However, in addition to management, his ability to develop players caught the eye of the Red Bull group, who appointed him director of football in 2012. Over the course of the following four years, RB Leipzig ascended from Germany’s fourth tier all the way to the Bundesliga in one of the more impressive rises in modern football. The club also secured a Champions League place at the end of their first season in the top flight, having finished as runners-up to Bayern Munich.
During that time, Rangnick had two stints as RB Leipzig manager, in 2015/16 and 2018/19, where he would win promotion and then lead the club to UEFA Europa League qualification and the DFB-Pokal final.
Earlier in the year, he was linked to both Chelsea and AC Milan, but instead joined Russian Premier League side Lokomotiv Moscow as head of sport and development, before now arriving at Old Trafford.
Against Crystal Palace, Rangnick opted for a 4-2-2-2 formation, with a narrow front four and all the width being provided by full-backs Diogo Dalot (£4.4m) and Alex Telles (£5.0m), numbers 20 and 27 below.
Manchester United’s average positions map v Crystal Palace in Gameweek 15
Despite being afforded just a single 45-minute training session with his new players, there were visible signs of improvement from the outset, with a greater emphasis on pressing in the final-third.
In his first press conference, Rangnick discussed the need for ‘control’, something his team largely achieved as they conceded just eight shots and 0.75 expected goals (xG). Notably, it was their first clean sheet at Old Trafford since April, ending a run of 15 games without one there.
In an attacking sense, it was largely encouraging, though they did fail to create clear cut chances, with their 0.93 xG total bettered by 13 other teams in Gameweek 15, despite registering 16 shots.
Manchester United’s xG shot map v Crystal Palace in Gameweek 15
Discussing the formation change, and the fact he stuck with the same XI that had beaten Arsenal under Michael Carrick in Gameweek 14, Rangnick said:
“For me it seemed logical to not make many changes after the win against Arsenal. The question was how do we get possession of the ball? We had enough space with Jadon (Sancho) and Bruno (Fernandes) in those number 10 positions for our full-backs to play forwards and ask for the ball on the wings. That was the reason I decided to play a 4-2-2-2. The most demanding positions in that formation are the 10’s and I think Bruno and Jadon did well in those positions. Defensively they both did well.
Obviously, it was about keeping them away from our goal, keeping them consistently under pressure and chasing balls and winning balls. We decided to go for a slightly different formation but only slightly different. We played with two strikers, Marcus (Rashford) and Cristiano (Ronaldo) up front with Jadon and Bruno on the 10 position and for the rest of the team it was the same position as usual. I just thought it might be better to have control in the centre of the pitch with Cristiano having a partner up front and I think it worked out well.”
On paper, the fixtures for Rangnick’s first couple of months are about as good as it gets, particularly in December, with no matches against the current top six to worry about. That suggests investing early could pay-off ahead of this weekend’s trip to Norwich City.
It’s also worth noting that United have already qualified as winners of their UEFA Champions League group, which should mean that some of their senior players, including Cristiano Ronaldo (£12.3m), are handed the night off tomorrow.
Against Palace, the Portuguese was paired with Marcus Rashford (£9.4m) up front and remained their focal point in attack, taking plenty of shots (five) as usual. Rangnick’s philosophy is underpinned by pressing and there were doubts over what his arrival could mean for Ronaldo, but the early signs were positive as he lasted the full 90 minutes.
“By the way, Cristiano Ronaldo’s work off the ball, chapeau.” – Ralf Rangnick
Elsewhere, Rashford himself could become an option if he remains out-of-position, but he has been a little off the pace so far this season as he slowly regains match fitness.
Behind the front duo, Bruno Fernandes (£11.6m) remains expensive, especially if Ronaldo is on penalties, but Jadon Sancho (£8.9m) could be one to watch, with both players taking up central positions in Gameweek 15.
In terms of their defensive assets, a real positive from Sunday’s win was the performances of full-backs Dalot and Telles, who were positioned high and wide throughout, providing all of United’s width in the attacking third. In fact, the latter’s 66 touches in the opponent’s half was more than any other player on the pitch.
Both players have now started back-to-back games and taken their chance, though it does remain to be seen exactly who will be first-choice moving forward, with Aaron Wan-Bissaka (£5.1m) and Luke Shaw (£5.1m) alternative options for Rangnick. However, Dalot’s prospects are perhaps a little more encouraging, with Wan-Bissaka an unused substitute against Palace. If nailed, he immediately provides a cheap route into the United defence.
Diogo Dalot (left) and Alex Telles’ (right) touch heatmaps v Crystal Palace in Gameweek 15
Clearly, the system is a work in progress, though it’s hard not to be positive about by what we saw from the newly-appointed interim manager on Sunday. They did lose a bit of momentum towards the end, but all in all, this was an exciting start to the Rangnick era, which suddenly promotes Ronaldo as an excellent option for our FPL squads, while the likes of Sancho and the full-backs could provide huge differential potential.
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