comment | 

Ralf Rangnick’s team remind me of Liverpool under Roy Hodgson - no passion, no emotion, no enjoyment

Signing Cristiano Ronaldo might expose more problems at Old Trafford than it solved. Photo: Reuters

Signing Cristiano Ronaldo might expose more problems at Old Trafford than it solved. Photo: Reuters

Manchester United German Interim head coach Ralf Rangnick (L) speaks with Manchester United's English striker Marcus Rashford

Manchester United German Interim head coach Ralf Rangnick (L) speaks with Manchester United's English striker Marcus Rashford

Jamie CarragherTelegraph Media Group Limited

There were times during Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s reign when Manchester United reminded me of Liverpool under Roy Evans.

The United team had promise, exciting young talents, and enough goals in the team to maintain the hope that flaws and inconsistencies could eventually be eradicated. Ultimately, they did not have enough to challenge for the Premier League title.

What might worry United supporters now is when watching their side over the last few weeks, they remind me of Liverpool under Roy Hodgson.

There is nothing about them; no passion, no emotion; every game seems flat; they lack energy and fluidity; the players are visibly not enjoying their football.

There is a highly respected football figure in charge, but it has taken a matter of weeks to make it obvious Ralf Rangnick is not the right fit for that squad and will not be on the touchline at the start of next season.

It should be said from the outset that it was always dangerous to imagine Rangnick would go into Old Trafford and immediately mirror the impact of Jürgen Klopp at Liverpool and Thomas Tuchel at Chelsea.

Leadership takes many forms. Some have that aura to enforce their vision. For others that is lacking and they cannot hold the attention of a dressing room. That is part of what separates the elite from the rest.

Klopp had the charisma and force of personality to instantly bend the Liverpool squad he inherited to his will, even if the personnel needed changing over time.

Tuchel was likewise effective at making an underperforming Chelsea squad immediately absorb his methods.

It felt a big ask for Rangnick – whose management experience in the last decade was limited to short-term stints at RB Leipzig – to replicate their work.

Already, the contrast at Old Trafford could not look more extreme, but as the reports filter through about United players feeling underwhelmed about working with Rangnick, it is hard to disagree with Gary Neville’s assessment that they are a “bunch of whinge-bags”. There is not a lot to like about them at the moment and Cristiano Ronaldo’s interview has blown open the divisions within the dressing room, highlighting the mentality issues.

I said from the outset that signing Ronaldo might expose more problems than it solved.

That is proving correct, no matter what some of his ex-United team-mates might say. That squad does not have the unity and discipline required to challenge City, Liverpool and Chelsea.

Everyone in football knows how Rangnick wants to play given he was dubbed ‘the Godfather of gegenpressing’. So why isn’t it happening?

It can only be because the players are either incapable or unwilling to follow his instructions. That damns them as much as the coach who cannot see a way in which to put his plan A into action.

Rangnick has already used four formations, as if compelled to flick through every page in the UEFA coaching manual to find a way to get a tune out of his players. His results have been good. Performances, however, have been abysmal. If United play as they have been against the best teams in England and Europe, it will be a repeat of the games against Liverpool and City earlier this season, when they were outclassed. A lot of the players look like they have completely switched off, biding their time to see who the next manager will be.

Those who you would have imagined to embrace a high energy game – such as Marcus Rashford and Mason Greenwood – are doing nowhere near enough. They are young lads who should be leaving everything on the pitch, vibrant with the ball and relentless in their running off it. Compare their work rate with Sadio Mané, Mohamed Salah, Bernardo Silva, Phil Foden or Mason Mount and it is embarrassing. They have to look at themselves.

Instead, I am getting fed up with the excuses made on Rashford’s behalf by his PR team, especially, spinning a version of events to get sympathy. How about just playing better instead?

It is staggering that, at 34, Edinson Cavani is doing so much more than his younger, attacking team-mates, averaging 11.7 km per game. That’s second only to Liverpool’s Roberto Firmino as the hardest working forward in the Premier League. Rashford (9.9km) and Greenwood (9.8km) are 44th and 46th on that list. The numbers are damning in demonstrating the underlying issue Rangnick is dealing with at United.

“Cavani came into my office and we spoke for almost half an hour,” Rangnick said earlier this week. I bet the ears of some of his team-mates were burning!

Since Alex Ferguson retired, how many academy players or signings have improved since they broke into the team?

Every team playing United looks better than they are, often giving their best performance of the season. Watford, Norwich and Newcastle have been poor against most sides. Watch their games against United and you can convince yourself they will definitely stay up. Wolves ought to have won by three or four at Old Trafford, and I doubt Aston Villa fans can recall the last time they dominated an opponent and lost as they did in the FA Cup third round.

This criticism is deserved because when you look at the talent available in the United squad, they should be playing a more entertaining and energetic brand of football.

They were never going to win the biggest trophies under Solskjaer, but I would be the first to admit – as a Liverpool supporter – I had a fear that when a superior coach took over, United would get their act together and start to challenge. There was enough there during Solskjaer’s spell to suggest a foundation was in place for his successor, especially the many comeback victories, emergence of Bruno Fernandes and the prolonged unbeaten away run.

Now? It looks like a mess again. Whoever takes over will have to spend the first few months shifting out the big egos, and delivering home truths to younger players about the minimum requirements in a modern team trying to win the Premier League and Champions League.

Many fans will sympathise with the idea that Solskjaer and Rangnick were never going to be the right coach. But a banner unveiled at Old Trafford on Monday felt especially timely.

“Standards,” it read, with a silhouetted image of Eric Cantona, Bryan Robson and Roy Keane.

The Stretford End will not be conned by attempts to pin the blame on Rangnick. The message to the players could not be clearer: the biggest problem is not him. It is them.

Today's Headlines

More Soccer

Download the Sunday World app

Now download the free app for all the latest Sunday World News, Crime, Irish Showbiz and Sport. Available on Apple and Android devices