Ten Hag’s biggest Man Utd challenge clear after Rangnick’s “aggressive” comments

Manchester United beat Norwich to move within touching distance of the Premier League’s top four on Saturday and yet the weekend still had more than just a tinge of negativity about it

Ralf Rangnick was not happy with his side’s performance against Norwich

Manchester United had a brilliant weekend with perfect results going their way in the Premier League – and yet they still came out of it shrouded in negativity.

United’s 3-2 win over Norwich City was made all the more important by Tottenham’s 1-0 defeat by Brighton and Arsenal’s 1-0 loss against Southampton. Those results combined to create a glimmer of hope in the race for a Champions League place next season.

Ralf Rangnick’s side are fifth, three points behind Spurs, with six games left to play, despite all the ups and downs of their rollercoaster season. Qualification for the Champions League should be seen as the bare minimum at United, but considering the Red Devils are about to end a fifth straight season without any silverware, that really ideal isn’t the reality.

The reality, as Rangnick made very clear in his post-match comments, is that United are a dysfunctional side. Cristiano Ronaldo’s hat-trick was all well and good – and earned a hugely valuable three points – but his manager couldn’t help but focus on the negatives.

“If you look at the two goals we conceded, especially the first one, we had the ball on the sideline but we were just not physical enough,” Rangnick explained. “As soon as there is body contact we have to be more physical, more aggressive, but we weren’t. It was, for me, too easy, and that’s why we are probably the only team in the league who concedes goals like this.”

He added: “We should have defended in a smarter way and not allowed them to have two or three transitional moments with playing three versus two or four versus two. To be honest, Norwich could have scored earlier than we did concede the first goal. We could have conceded a goal earlier than that and that’s why I’m not really happy with our performance when we were not in possession of the ball.”

Manchester United defended disastrously against Norwich


Robbie Jay Barratt/Getty Images)

HAVE YOUR SAY! What is the biggest problem that Erik ten Hag needs to fix at Manchester United? Comment below.

Rangnick’s criticism is general and does not point the finger at anyone in particular – and that is reflective of the problem. It is a structural one, indicative of a club in a complete mess. Yes, Harry Maguire has endured his worst season in a United shirt, and yes he was all over the place for Kieran Dowell’s goal on Saturday, but he is far from alone.

“If you want to defend properly in this league, you just have to be physical, you shouldn’t just allow them to go past ourselves and through our lines like that,” Rangnick added. “That’s what this team doesn’t do well enough, and that’s why we’re still mathematically in the race but we should have easily had eight points more.”

United’s prospective new manager, Erik ten Hag, is a student of Total Football. He is a football obsessive who has earned his stripes in the Netherlands. The Ajax boss is a student of the game and has pictures of Rinus Michels, the mastermind of Total Football at Ajax, Dutch legend and tactical innovator Johan Cruyff and veteran manager Louis van Gaal on the wall of his Ajax office, according to the New York Times.

Those ideals are what have got him hired by United. He will be backed to build from the ground up at Old Trafford. He will use the transfer market to refresh the squad. He will implement his philosophy on the squad.

But, as Rangnick has made clear, he will also have to go back to basics if he is to be successful at his new club. Being “more physical, more aggressive” and defending in a “smarter way”, as Rangnick demands, is just one of the bullet points on Ten Hag’s long list of to-dos at United.

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