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Man Utd miles behind Man City, Liverpool and Chelsea: Rangnick's side lack intensity and unity

11:23 GMT+3 04/01/2022
Bruno Fernandes Manchester United Wolves Premier League 2021-22
Man Utd fell to their first defeat under Rangnick against Wolves and the German is more aware than ever before of the size of the task ahead of him

When the full-time whistle went at Stamford Bridge on Sunday, and Chelsea had fought back to earn a point against Liverpool, there was a tiny glint of optimism on the part of some Manchester United fans. 

If their side could win their three Premier League games in hand, then they would end up two points behind Liverpool and three behind Chelsea in the race for a Champions League place. 

But that was always going to be a big ‘if’. United have been an enigma for the last few seasons. Nobody is really sure what version of the team is going to turn up. 

The one that turned up as Wolves beat United at Old Trafford in the league for the first time since February 1980 was one of the worst. There was no pace, no urgency and no direction; instead, there were misplaced passes, poor decision-making and a lack of structure. 

Ralf Rangnick knew it would take time to stamp his authority on this United squad but, a month into his tenure, there is no suggestion his work has had any impact on this team at all. 

His renowned intense pressing system was visible for the first 25 minutes of his first match in charge, against Crystal Palace, but has not been seen since, and the system he has opted to play with doesn’t get the best out of the players he has got at his disposal. 

His unbeaten run as United manager came to an end on Monday night but, in reality, he was lucky it hadn’t ended earlier. They have flattered to deceive in all of their performances since the German took over. 

They are miles behind the sides that battled out an entertaining 2-2 draw in south-west London on Sunday and that’s without evening touching on Manchester City, who are strolling their way towards another title. 

So, where does Rangnick take this team from here? 

“I knew it would be a difficult job, that was the reason they contacted me, so I knew from the start it wouldn’t be an easy job to find the best possible balance offensively and defensively,” the interim boss said. 

“We showed against a good team that we’re still struggling and have quite a few steps to take.”

So, what are the next steps? 

A return to basics would be a start, given the number of stray passes in the last few games. A return of the infamous hairdryer treatment might not go amiss either in light of the admissions made by Luke Shaw at full-time

“Us players, we have been here a long time, maybe tonight we struggled," the full-back said. "I didn't think we were all there together.

"You look at the players we have, we have unbelievable quality but sometimes quality is not enough. We need to bring the intensity, we need to be more aggressive and we need to bring more motivation.

"Inside the dressing room, we know what we want but I think when we step out on the pitch we need to give everything we’ve got. 

“I’m not saying not everyone did, but to win these types of games, we all need to be 100 per cent committed because we know it’s always close games whoever they play. It is tough and disappointing. 

“We’ve got a long training week and maybe the manager can bring some more ideas about what he wants on the pitch.”

That was a damning assessment; a player admitting to a problem with intensity and motivation but even more alarming was the England international also suggesting a lack of unity. 

A number of first-team players want to leave the club this month. Anthony Martial has not been included in the squad since he made it clear he wanted to depart and, of those who don’t want to leave, there are a number that are not good enough to get Manchester United back to where they should be.

The midfield pairing of Nemanja Matic and Scott McTominay were outclassed by Joao Moutinho and Ruben Neves. It has been clear for a long time that United need upgrades in central midfield and until they do so, they will struggle to control games. 

Former manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was scapegoated by some in the dressing room for not getting the best out of the players and, while his replacement hasn’t had long, it is clear that some of the problems still linger.

Rangnick and his coaching staff need to work on the mentality and attitude of the group before they even start looking at the technical and tactical reasons behind their sub-standard showings. 

Bruno Lage’s Wolves were well-drilled, aggressive, tactically superior and tenacious. They fought for each other as a team; something United seem incapable of doing. 

It has been apparent for a long time that this is a squad of talented individuals relying on individual moments of brilliance to win a game. They seem incapable of performing as a unit. 

They threw their arms up in disgust at the final whistle but they should look at themselves first and foremost as to why things aren’t going right. 

Rangnick admitted he needs to see the right "mentality and physicality" before his gegenpressing can be implemented. 

Based on the evidence on Monday night, we’ll be waiting a while before we see it in full flow. Until the fundamental problems are solved, the gap to their so-called rivals will get bigger.