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Manchester United's interim manager Ralf Rangnick failed to get the team playing under his pressing style. Image Credit: AP

Ralf Rangnick is one of the most respected coaches and innovators in European football. He inspired both Thomas Tuchel and Jurgen Klopp in their paths to football management. So, when the German was announced as the new interim coach at Manchester United, much was expected from him. After all, he has been credited for creating the now well-known gegenpressing tactics which both Chelsea and Liverpool have successfully employed.

The Old Trafford faithful were ecstatic that Rangnick was taking charge of the team after Ole Gunnar Solksjaer was sacked and they immediately thought their side would play on the front foot, just like Klopp demands of the Reds. They expected to see extremely pronounced pressing from the front, for their attackers to harass and harry opposition defenders and to win the ball back quickly and much further up the pitch and to then more easily create scoring opportunities rather than wait for the defenders to win back possession and then build slowly from the back.

Failed miserably

This style of play has worked a treat at Anfield and Stamford Bridge. It also worked for Rangnick at RB Leipzig where he made a name for himself and for the gegenpress in the Bundesliga. But, he and it failed miserably in the Premier League.

The players could not adapt to the new demands suddenly forced on them and it was clear many of them just did not have the physical fitness to do so either. Strangely, Cristiano Ronaldo – who still managed to be their top scorer in what was an underwhelming season – came in for severe criticism. The 37-year-old has never been a pressing monster, not even when he was 27 or younger than that. But, he is arguably the best player in the world and therefore many expected him to suddenly transform his style of play to suit the manager’s new vision. It didn’t happen. As they say, you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.

Rangnick had to abandon his style of play because he realized that the squad available to him was not capable of carrying it out. In his defence, he had no pre-season with the players to help them better understand what was required of them, and he was unable to physically develop and raise the level of the team during the middle of a busy season.

It took Klopp several years and several forays into the transfer market to get the players he needed in order to implement the pressing style at Liverpool. Rangnick was not awarded this luxury and so while the Reds, Man City and Real Madrid were parading trophies last month, United were announcing the severance of all ties with their coach.

Funny old game

They ended the campaign 35-points adrift of Pep Guardiola’s men and with six successive away defeats. It should not be forgotten that United finished second in the Premier League last year. And they signed Ronaldo, the greatest goalscorer in the world. Things were looking very rosy last summer but the team finished this season with their lowest-ever Premier League points total. Football is a funny old game.

Rangnick will not be working as consultant for the club - as new man Erik ten Hag opts for a clean slate and will have only his own input into team affairs - but he has taken over as Austria’s new coach. It is further evidence that you can’t keep a good man down but the experiment at United has proven to be one of the strangest chapters in the history of the Premier League.