If new manager Ralf Rangnick was under any illusions about the scale of his Manchester United reboot, he probably isn’t anymore.
After a promising first match against Crystal Palace, performances have quickly reverted back to unconvincing lows against relegation-threatened Norwich and Newcastle.
Although United took 4 points from those 2 games, the sense of uncertainty and incoherence were reminiscent of the inept tail end of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer‘s reign.
And so, with fingers currently being pointed in every which direction, The Athletic has questioned whether the German’s 4-2-2-2 formation is part of the problem.
It’s first acknowledged that the players didn’t help themselves by squabbling incessantly for much of the 90 minutes. However, it’s also suggested that the new formation might have contributed towards that collective frustration.
The Reds’ inability to get to grips with this new system led to them losing possession a staggering 167 times. That’s even worse than the 160 occasions they ceded control in the debacle at Watford.
In this respect, United’s single biggest offender was Bruno Fernandes. The midfielder typified his recent poor form by giving the ball to a black and white shirt a whopping 26 times.
The fact that the visitors made Newcastle – a side that has conceded a record 80 goals this calendar year – look like a tight defensive unit is seen as further proof of systemic failings.
Rangnick himself blamed the sub-par display on, “a question of physicality; meeting the demands in terms of speed, tempo…” but was concerned enough to switch to a 4-1-3-2 in the second half. The 4-2-2-2 just wasn’t working.
On the subject of that half-time switch, he explained, “The intention was to play on the wing, it was the way we prepared our equaliser. We had another two opportunities from playing the ball behind their back four.”
The 63-year-old’s frustration about his side’s failure to exploit that width was evidenced by his screaming, “No, no f****** hell!” following a poor Jadon Sancho cross. It’s a chorus that was no doubt heartily echoed by the many watching United fans.
It’s also suggested that the visitors’ failure to make hay on the flanks is exacerbated by the quality of full-back currently available to Rangnick.
4-2-2-2 is so narrow in central and attacking areas that it puts greater demands on the likes of Alex Telles and Diogo Dalot to turn provider.
And, while both have been in pretty decent form, neither has quite provided the cutting edge to make up for the absence of traditional wide-men.
So what next for the German visionary? Does he tinker with personnel and stick rigidly to his preferred formation? Maybe he compromises and tries a tweaked version of his ideal set up?