Ralf Rangnick has been known throughout his career for his directness, without ever being a firebrand type of coach, and the Manchester United interim manager played true to form even if his team fell well short of expectation at St James' Park.
“I didn’t like the performance at all,” he said bluntly after a fortuitous 1-1 draw at Newcastle on Monday night, salvaged by the substitute Edinson Cavani’s second-half equaliser. “We had too many unforced errors when we had the ball.” Rangnick lamented a first-half display in which United teetered on the brink of total ruin, punctuated by Allan Saint-Maximin’s opener.
“It was better in the second half,” he added. “But still not on the sort of level we need to control games.”
Fans may have welcomed the arrival of a coach with a discernible philosophy, but there are few hints that anything other than a transitional season is in prospect, with no strides made to match those of Antonio Conte at Tottenham.
“We didn’t play as aggressively as we needed to against the ball in terms of counterpressing,” Rangnick said with an apparent degree of frustration. “It was not a problem of formation, but of energy and of intensity. This is something we need to get better at.”
A half-time reshuffle from his 4-2-2-2 earned a point, at least. “We had two wingers [in the second half], and this is how we prepared our equaliser. But we were still too open and allowed them two or three good counterattack situations, when David de Gea was outstanding again. We won a point – we didn’t lose two.”
The German frequently used the word “physicality” to express where United had been lacking, and it is clear in which domain he is hoping for improvement before Burnley’s visit on Thursday.
"Burnley will be a physical game," he said, "and we have to be more physical." Rangnick's opposite number Eddie Howe, meanwhile, declared himself "desperately disappointed not to win" after a refreshing performance which continued his charm offensive on the local public.
Yet, like Rangnick, the former Bournemouth manager is pressed by time and circumstance, with a trip to Everton on Thursday looming into view, Covid creeping into the squad and injuries to Callum Wilson and goalscorer Saint-Maximin. Wilson, who went down holding his ankle without contact, appears the bigger worry.
“It’s too early to move my thought processes in that way,” Howe replied when asked if his No 9’s latest fitness issue would alter his January transfer plans, but he did have another fine performance from the repurposed Joelinton to lift his spirits.
“First and foremost he’s given me everything,” enthused Howe. ”He’s bought into what we’re trying to do. He’s delivered a high level of performance based on a high level of understanding. He’s playing with real confidence. Hopefully that can continue and he can contribute even more.”
Howe may have to rely on the Brazilian even more than anticipated. – Guardian