Manchester United’s caretaker manager Michael Carrick dropped Cristiano Ronaldo for yesterday’s trip to Chelsea in the Premier league but rumours abounded that he was following the orders of incoming interim coach, Ralf Rangnick.
United adopted a 4-3-3 system with Bruno Fernandes playing as a false nine and three workhorses – Nemanja Matic, Scott McTominay and Fred operating in the centre of the park.
Carrick’s men also pressed higher up the pitch than had been the case for most of this season, further fuelling rumours that Rangnick, famed godfather of the ‘gegenpress’ method, was pulling the strings.
However, according to The Athletic’s Laurie Whitwell, the selection and tactics was all down to Carrick.
‘The team at Stamford Bridge was not selected with Ralf Rangnick’s input, indeed there has been no contact with United’s coaching staff,’ Whitwell states.
‘But it is easy to see how the mobile front line of Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Fernandes may marry with the style of play that the German is set to implement.’
Technical director Darren Fletcher, who was once again very animated on the touchline, was filmed speaking to someone via an earpiece during the match, giving rise to speculation it was the German. But again, Whitwell denies this.
‘Darren Fletcher’s earpiece drew attention. It was not Rangnick on the other end, however.
‘Some at United thought they may meet Rangnick at the team hotel before the game but with finishing touches still required on a work permit contact has been kept to executive level.’
Fans speculate Man Utd coach Fletcher in contact with Rangnick through earpiece https://t.co/2QKXmqRYQT
— Sun Sport (@SunSport) November 28, 2021
The fact is that despite the hysteria, this side and approach to the game was a natural progression from Carrick’s first match in charge, when he also used a 4-3-3 against Villarreal in the Champions League.
Indeed, in our predicted XI article published on Saturday, we suggested that Ronaldo could be rested and Bruno played as a false nine in order to accommodate the extra man in midfield.
The shape and defensive organisation and level of pressing – despite being improved – also fell well short of Rangnick’s standards.
‘Thomas Tuchel, a Rangnick disciple, said United looked “not at all” like a team coached by the incoming incumbent of the Old Trafford hotseat,’ Whitwell confirms.
‘Pressing was evident but not as cohesive or intense as that seen in signature Rangnick teams.
‘The dominance Rangnick demands felt a long way off.’
Carrick may have been one of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s coaches, but in both games under his command his personality has shone through and he must be given credit for steadying the ship as he has.
The 40-year-old was a calm, tidy and elegant midfielder and his immediate improvement of United’s central area is all to do with his own understanding of how the engine room of a Premier League side should tick and nothing to do with who comes next.