Ralf Rangnick is the ex-football manager of Schalke 04 and currently a football advisor for Manchester United. He came up with tactics that led to success in European competitions, but they couldn’t win against Barcelona’s Lionel Messi or Real Madrid’s Cristiano Ronaldo. Now he has been appointed as Manchester United’s new sporting director, which means his unique style of play might be implemented into Old Trafford next season
5:39 p.m. Eastern
Dawson, Rob Correspondent
MANCHESTER, United Kingdom — Ralf Rangnick used Manchester United’s Champions League match against Young Boys as an audition for his new-look club, and although some of the players on display should anticipate a call back from the German, others will be worried about being left behind.
Rangnick made 11 changes to make the game into a glorified fact-finding expedition, despite the fact that they were already in first position in Group F. On a chilly, rainy December night in Manchester, Cristiano Ronaldo, Harry Maguire, David De Gea, and the others were left at home, but after a 1-1 tie with the Swiss champions, Dean Henderson, Juan Mata, and Mason Greenwood showed Rangnick that they can be willing accomplices in his Old Trafford revolution.
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Aaron Wan-Bissaka, on the other hand, has cause to be concerned that his time as a regular in the squad is coming to an end.
Rangnick later said, “It was an experiment.” “I intended to keep a few players fit for Norwich, but we’ve picked up a few more injuries.”
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“I knew going into the game that this squad had never played together before. We fared well during the first half hour, although there were a couple unforced mistakes. We should have been ahead 2-0 or 3-0, but we were careless and didn’t score.
“We didn’t defend high enough after conceding the equalizer, and it might have ended up 3-3.”
Players like Mason Greenwood and Juan Mata were among those who saw their stock rise. Getty Images/Gareth Copley
His pre-game words appeared to be directed as much at his players as they were at the fans, with the 63-year-old emphasizing that no one’s selection would be “guaranteed” during his tenure on the bench.
“I’m still learning about the guys in the group, and just because I maintained the same lineup that defeated Arsenal doesn’t mean anything is assured,” he added.
“With so many games this time of year, there will be opportunities for everyone to make a claim. What I want to see is every player working hard to make the most of every opportunity.”
Greenwood was the first to seize the initiative, scoring from Luke Shaw’s cross after only ten minutes. The 20-year-old managed to snag a ball that was destined to drift away behind him into the corner of the goal for the first time in more than a month following a struggle with the coronavirus. It was a goal so spectacular that it left Young Boys goalie Guillaume Faivre perplexed and Rangnick pounding his arms in delight.
Henderson, on the other hand, was in a fantastic starting position both times to dash out of his area and sweep up behind United’s new high defensive line. He made a superb save from Fabian Rieder in just his second start of the season before being substituted halfway through the second half by Tom Heaton, who made his debut 19 years after joining the club.
Mata was assigned a deep berth in midfield with Donny van de Beek. The Spaniard, who had been neglected for most of the season, took advantage of the additional time to show off his technical prowess. It took him only three minutes to receive the ball in the centre circle and unleash a beautiful 40-yard pass to set up Amad Diallo’s opening opportunity.
Rangnick has said that he expects his players to “manage” games, and although Mata was adamant about following those instructions, Wan-evening Bissaka’s was significantly more chaotic. He was throwing the ball away in dangerous positions when he wasn’t squandering golden crossing possibilities down the right flank. He won’t want to watch a video of Young Boys’ equalizer, however; the right-back seemed to turn off as Van de Beek curled a ball in his way, enabling Rieder to slip in and score with a curling effort into the top corner just before halftime.
With a late injury, Aaron Wan-Bissaka battled and was stretchered off. Getty Images/Clive Brunskill
There can only be one starting for Saturday’s trip to Norwich City after Diogo Dalot’s outstanding displays against Arsenal and Crystal Palace. Wan-Bissaka spent the night on a stretcher after crashing with the advertising boards during the game’s last assault, so it may be out of Rangnick’s hands anyhow.
Rangnick’s eagerness to explore all of his alternatives led to the 18-year-old debuts of Charlie Savage, the son of former Wales international Robbie, and Zidane Iqbal, the club’s first British player of South Asian origin.
That was a look into United’s future, but Rangnick’s goals are far more immediate. In the new year, he has a Champions League last-16 encounter against one of Paris Saint-Germain, Atletico Madrid, Internazionale, FC Salzburg, Sporting CP, and Benfica to look forward to, as well as a winnable run of Premier League matchups to look forward to as he attempts to put pressure on the top clubs.
He can prepare for those games with a stronger notion of the players who can help him make the most of his six months in the United hot seat after taking a deeper look at his team against Young Boys.