Premier League English

Cristiano Ronaldo and Paul Pogba are the opportunities for Ralf Rangnick to prove his value to Man United

The Father of Gegen-pressing, Ralf Rangnick, was brought in to replace Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and make some tough at Manchester United without even flinching.

The German tactician with a reputation that preceded him was supposed to be of a totally different mettle and his appointment was anticipated to boldly herald a new era. Unfortunately so far at Manchester United under his helm, not much appears to have changed since the termination of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. The former RB Leipzig coach has struggled to exert his influence on performances and United’s tactical displays are noticeably still lagging far behind their top League rivals and oddly there hasn’t even been a January arrival to even attempt to add some sense of excitement or hope to the prevailing gloom at the camp.

And even Solskjaer’s 4-2-3-1 formation has suddenly made a comeback.

Things certainly don’t look like they have been working as has been clearly proven by Saturday evening’s 2-2 limp draw at Aston Villa. United ought to be severely castigated for allowing a 2-0  advantage slip through their fingers, even if the performance was marginally better than in recent weeks.

Now the positive news this week looks to be Paul Pogba’s return to training alongside Cristiano Ronaldo and the prospect of the pair linking up in Rangnick’s team.

Ronaldo was out of both games against Villa in the past week due to a slight hip problem, while Pogba has still to play under Rangnick due to a recurring thigh problem. Rangnick was quizzed about both players in his most recent press conference before Wednesday night’s clash with Brentford.

As for Ronaldo, he was posed the same question all three United managers, including caretaker Michael Carrick, have been asked – do United need to build the squad around Ronaldo?

“One does not exclude the other, of course,” said Rangnick. “What he has done in his career so far is amazing. 800 goals in competitive games, no one has achieved that before in the last 80 or 100 years and this shows what kind of player he is — what kind of exceptional player he is.

“He was not available in the last two games, he trained yesterday and will probably train today again and then we will have to see whether he’s an option for Brentford. Even with an outstanding Ronaldo, we are talking about a team sport in one of the most competitive leagues in the world and he can’t do things on his own. We can only improve and get better as a team and he’s one important member of the team.”

More important was the second part of Rangnick’s answer. United had appeared to be playing more like a team in the first half at Villa on Saturday in the absence of Ronaldo, and played far better in those two Villa games with Edinson Cavani as the sole No.9 than they had with Ronaldo in the side against Newcastle and Wolves either side of New Year.

It is obviously pointless to keep mentioning Ronaldo’s goal record these days although it is very brand-savvy for United to be leaning back on historical achievements to up the market value appraisal, despite the bulk of Ronaldo’s goals not even scored donning United colors.

Which is actually also about as relevant as mentioning Pogba’s supposed ability and pretending the French midfielder still has a viable future at Old Trafford, as Rangnick also alluded to in his press conference.

When pressed on Pogba’s return to training, ahead of a possible early February return, Rangnick said: “What you could see from the very first day in training yesterday, he’s present, he’s physically present, he’s mentally present, what I saw in training yesterday was very promising for the future and I’m looking very much looking forward to having him available in two weeks’ time after the international break.”

Ronaldo and Pogba in the short-term could possibly combine to fire United to better results. Or they could even propel them to a much-needed top four finish, which is at present the best dream outcome to a fairly disastrous season. Although in truth this looks highly unlikely if the German tactician is still unable to turn things around quickly at Old Trafford.

Rangnick was unquestionably brought in as interim manager to bring about rapid-fire change at Old Trafford and relying on the individual brilliance that Ronaldo and Pogba could hopefully produce doesn’t quite gel with Rangnick’s no-nonsense philosophy.

The man has clearly proven with his record that he’s got serious tactical acumen, is a wizard in the transfer market, and with a sterling reputation for rebuilding clubs from top to bottom. Now it is all up to Rangnick to prove to United that he can bring about the kind of revolutionary change that is so badly needed at the club, even if it means a departure from marquee name individuals like Ronaldo and Pogba.

Liverpool and Manchester City have taken English football by storm in recent years by putting the team, and the club, at the top of the priorities list. It’s high time for United to do the same.