Ralf Rangnick’s Man Utd blueprint – heavy metal football and Cristiano Ronaldo challenge

Rangnick's style of play is based on pressing and high-energy
(Image: Alex Grimm/Bongarts/Getty Images)

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Rangnick has been described as ‘the godfather of gegenpressing’ and the innovator of a proactive style of play that has influenced coaches such as Jurgen Klopp and Julian Nagelsmann.

Rangnick previously explained this to ESPN as a “very simple” concept.

He said: “[ Gegenpressing is] a very proactive style of football, similar to the way in which Borussia Dortmund and Liverpool have been playing under Klopp.

“We like to press high, with a very intense counter-pressure. When we have the ball, we do not like any square or back passes.

“The goalkeeper also should not be the one with the most contact on the ball. In almost every league and every country, the goalkeeper is technically the most limited football player on the pitch and therefore we have to make sure that he has the lowest contact with the feet.

“It is a fast, proactive, attacking, counter-attacking, counter-pressing, exciting and entertaining [style of] football.”

There is little doubt that he will try to implement his methods in his short stint at Old Trafford – a marked change in direction from the previous managers in the hotseat.

Tactical flexibility

Rangnick has been out of management for the past two seasons
(Image: Maja Hitij)

While Rangnick has a very clear style of play, he is much more versatile and adaptable with actual formations – basing these on the strengths of his players.

He instilled a 4-3-3 system at Hoffenheim which was later adapted to a 4-4-2 diamond, while at RB Leipzig he came up with the innovative – and initially hugely successful – 4-2-2-2 setup.

Describing the latter formation to Coaches Voice, he explained: “We decided on a formation that, in Germany and Austria, no other team has played – 4-2-2-2.

“A back four, two number sixes – one was more like an eight – two number 10s, and two strikers.

“We were fantastic, and very difficult for the other team to attack.”

Instead of defined tactics, Rangnick is more focused on the pressing and prioritisation of quick attacks.

Future role

Rangnick will have a two-year 'consultancy role' at United after his interim spell expires

Rangnick will be in the Old Trafford dugout until the end of the campaign but has agreed a two-year ‘consultancy role’ with United after that date.

During his off-field role with Red Bull, his data-driven football strategy saw signings such as Sadio Mané, Naby Keïta, Dayot Upamecano, Joshua Kimmich and Erling Haaland added from relative obscurity.

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United’s biggest failing in recent years has arguably been their lack of football direction off the pitch, as Rangnick highlighted in a 2019 interview.

Rangnick told The Times : “Since Sir Alex [Ferguson] left they were underperforming. They haven’t won the title since he left.

“At any club, if you cannot get the right players, then you should at least not sign the wrong ones.

“You are in trouble if you do that in one or two or three consecutive transfer windows.

“Club building is about building the right squad by transferring the right players away and having more than 50 per cent success rate of bringing in the right players.

“Then you must have the best possible coaches to develop these players.”

His future role looks set to be as important, if not more so, than his brief stint in the dugout.

Fred importance

Fred is likely to be a good fit for Rangnick's style of play

Rangnick’s playing style is based almost entirely on the principles of pressing and energy – attributes that are lacking at United in comparison to their rivals.

As per analysis from fbref.com, there are two players who stand out as being impressive pressers in United’s team: Fred and Bruno Fernandes.

Fred has made 224 ‘pressures’ for United in the Premier League this season, with Fernandes second on 205.

There is a significant drop off to third-placed Paul Pogba, who ranks on 135 pressures.

Fred and Fernandes are notably the two players who would most fit into Rangnick’s ideas.

Cristiano Ronaldo challenge

Cristiano Ronaldo will present Rangnick's biggest challenge at United
(Image: Getty Images)

Conversely, Ronaldo has made just 39 ‘pressures’ this season in the Premier League – fewer than United’s central defenders Harry Maguire and Raphael Varane.

The Portuguese superstar simply does not press, which is unsurprising given his age – 36 – and style of play, which is often decisive but does leave his side somewhat short in attacking intensity.

Of course, it is possible that Rangnick devises a system that can account for one player’s lack of pressing if the unit around him does so – after all, Ronaldo’s goal output is an incredibly persuasive reason to overlook other shortcomings in his performance.

Yet this is a clear challenge for Rangnick to overcome.