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Manchester United

Sixteen days without a game: Inside Man Utd's Covid-19 enforced lay-off

10:00 SAST 2021/12/27
Ralf Rangnick Manchester United 2021-22
The Red Devils head to face Newcastle on Monday hoping that after two weeks of disruption, Ralf Rangnick's revolution at Old Trafford can be restarted

Back at the start of December, Ralf Rangnick sat behind the desk in the Old Trafford press room and admitted it would not be easy to impose his footballing ideology on the current Manchester United team.

The basis of Rangnick's argument was that, due to United's hectic fixture schedule, he would have very little time to implement his high-pressing style onto his new players on the training ground.

On first glance against Crystal Palace, however, it did not seem that would be a problem. Despite the German coach having had just one training session with his squad, United looked to have taken to his methods in their high-energy win over the Eagles.

Six days later, though, they reverted to type against Norwich City as they limped to a 1-0 win at Carrow Road, and it was obvious work still needed to be done.

If you had offered Rangnick a 16-day break between matches at that point, then - in normal circumstances - he likely would have taken it so as to drill his tactical instructions into some of the most talented footballers in the world.

The last two-and-a-bit weeks have, however, been anything but normal for United.

The Red Devils will return to action on Monday against Newcastle having spent the past fortnight dealing with a Covid-19 outbreak within the squad that saw two matches postponed and the club's Carrington training base shut down for a number of days.

Everything changed for United at 11:50pm on Monday, December 13 - less than 24 hours before their trip to take on Brentford in the Premier League.

Though from United's perspective it had become a case of when, not if the match would be called off by then, it was only when a text message arrived 10 minutes before midnight was it confirmed that they would not be taking on Thomas Frank's side the following night.

In the immediate aftermath of the win over Norwich, a number of first-team players and staff returned positive lateral flows tests. Those individuals were then required to take the more reliable PCR tests, with the results sent to the Premier League.

Despite there being a clear outbreak within the first-team group, United were left frustrated that the announcement regarding the Brentford game being off came so late in the day. Other sources, however, have told GOAL that the club did not submit their positive PCR test results to the Premier League until late on December 13, which in turn led to a late board meeting, and an even later decision and announcement.

Such a late call left everyone in the dark. It is understood that United's players expected the game to be postponed, yet members of staff had no idea whether they were going to be asked to make a last-minute journey to west London.

In the meantime, first-team training facilities were shut down at Carrington, and after a near perfect start to Rangnick’s reign as interim manager, this was not the next step the 63-year-old would have been hoping for.

Those players who had tested negative for Covid following the Norwich game were tested again on Tuesday, December 14, in a special hut which had been set up at the end of the lane that leads to the training ground.

Those who remained negative then trained together the following day, though the number of positive cases combined with unvaccinated players who were forced to self-isolate due to being close contacts meant that only nine players were involved in that session.

By Thursday, December 16, the first-team training facilities had been closed down once more, with the home match against Brighton scheduled for December 18 soon called off too.

Rangnick and his staff worked quickly to produce video analysis packages for each player in order for them to continue their training away from Carrington. Each individual was given ‘homework’ and a specialised plan to complete, while Rangnick kept in touch with each player whether they were fully fit, recovering from injury or recovering from Covid.

It is understood that some players used the five days away from the training ground to spend some downtime with their families, but Rangnick and his staff maintained a close eye on the whole squad so as to ensure they were sticking to their programmes.

And the ex-RB Leipzig boss was pleased with what he saw upon their return to training on Wednesday, December 22, as the majority of the squad returned to training.

“Physically they look good, they had a very intense training session yesterday," Rangnick told reporters in a press conference on Thursday. "The energy level was high, all the players were fully engaged and everybody was on board.

"It was a very intense training session, so I'm not worried about the physical state the team is in, they seem to be extremely fit. But it’s also important for each game to have all the players not only available, but in the best possible physical state.

"It could also happen that we rotate from one game to next, especially when you play every three days, but right now everyone is available apart from Paul Pogba. It will not be so easy to decide not only on the first XI, but also the eight players on the bench.”

And so United travel to St James’ Park for what will be Rangnick’s fourth game in charge, with the coach looking for more intensity, more aggression, the ability to win more duels and for his team to click going forward.;

It has felt like a long time coming, but Manchester United are ready to return to action. Now the Rangnick revolution can truly begin.