Ralf Rangnick gives first indication of pressing and controlling style in Man Utd 1-0 Crystal Palace

Manchester United picked up a first three points under the German’s reign and it’s clear he’s already having an influence on the team’s style and playing patterns.

Ralf Rangnick began life at Manchester United with a win. Credit: Getty.

Ralf Rangnick’s first match in charge at Old Trafford may not have resulted in the swashbuckling, all-conquering style Manchester United fans want to see, but there was plenty to be encouraged about after the 63-year-old’s maiden game in the dugout.

The Red Devils were the better side for the majority of Sunday’s 1-0 win and gave Crystal Palace little room to attack into, while it was notable how much more effective United were pressing the opposition and playing in their half of the field.

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For all their dominance, it took until the 77th minute for the hosts to net the only goal of the game, when Fred curled in an uncharacteristically composed finish over the head of Vicente Guaita.

While Rangnick may only have taken one session with his squad on the training ground, there were plenty of early indications as to how United could look under his tenure.

Fred scored the only goal of the game. Credit: Getty.

Pre-match notes

Even before the game, Rangnick gave supporters a taste of his plans and thoughts with an intriguing column in his pre-match programme notes.

"Managing Manchester United, even in an interim capacity, is a massive challenge, but, to me, this feels like I am in the right place at the right time,” he began, before eulogising about the club’s history.

"Right now, I am here because development is what needs to happen again,” he continued. “Nobody at the club is happy to be where we are in the Premier League table. It has been an average season so far, there’s no avoiding that, but this club has players who are much better than the position we currently occupy and it is my job to improve those players and that position.”

Rangnick went on to praise Jadon Sancho, Mason Greenwood and Marcus Rashford, before explaining it would take a while to imprint his plans upon the players, and mentioned the need for control in games.

It’s a winning start for Rangnick at United. Credit: Getty.

Personnel

Sunday was billed as the start of the Rangnick revolution, but his teamsheet couldn’t have been less revolutionary, with the German naming the same XI Michael Carrick selected just three days prior, in the 3-2 win over Arsenal. Although, it does raise questions around how involved Rangnick was in Thursday’s selection.

That means Cristiano Ronaldo was picked from the off, despite suggestions he’ll struggle to hold a place in Rangnick’s team, as were Rashford and Sancho, which suggests the German plans to play with a fast, direct side. He also explained there was little sense in making wholesale changes after a positive performance against Arsenal and while he’s had almost no time to assess the squad.

Therefore, the usually irreplaceable Aaron Wan-Bissaka had to settle for a spot on the bench, while Jesse Lingard and Anthony Martial weren’t involved in the matchday squad, although Rangnick confirmed both are carrying injuries. The German also handed Anthony Elanga some minutes off the bench, the first he’s had in the league this season.

Shape

Rangnick set United up in an unconventional 4-2-2-2 shape, with Diogo Dalot and Alex Telles pushing high from the full-back positions, while Scott McTominay and Fred provided cover in the centre.

Ahead of them, Sancho and Bruno Fernandes operated as what Rangnick referred to post-match as ‘10s’, with Rashford and Cristiano Ronaldo playing as fluid strikers. There was plenty of interchanging from that front four, although Fernandes and Sancho did tend to try and provide passes for the latter pair. It was also notable how the quartet all linked together in the offensive areas.

While the formation didn’t result in a plethora of clear-cut chances, Palace deserve some credit for their compact shape and giving United little room in behind which they could attack. The goal is an example of that, with Fred forced to shoot from outside a packed Palace box.

Pressing

Much has been made of Rangnick’s coaching principles, the central pillar of which seems to be pressing from the front with a high intensity. United managed to achieve that in the first period, with the Eagles passing the ball out of play three times in the first 20 minutes.

Rangnick commented on how surprised he was by United’s pressing levels in his post-match press conference and Statman Dave tweeted after the game that United won possession in the final third on 12 occasions, the most they’ve done in a league game since Sir Alex Ferguson retired.

However, United aren’t coached to press with such intensity, and their levels dropped massively in the second half. Despite that, it’s a positive early sign from the Red Devils.

Rangnick also expressed the need for control in matches and he should take heart from the fact Palace managed to launch few counter-attacks, while the majority of the encounter was played in the visitors’ half. United had conceded in 15 consecutive home games before Sunday, a run which Rangnick will be thrilled to end.

The Red Devils were quicker in possession as well, notably McTominay and Fred rarely dawdled on the ball, something which the former RB Leipzig coach is known to be adamant about.

Ronaldo

The Portuguese superstar was superb on and off the ball in the first period, and he pressed high and effusively, while also linking well with his offensive team-mates, and registering several shots.

At 36, it’s no surprise he couldn’t maintain that level throughout the game, and whether he will be able to in future will be paramount in Rangnick’s thinking. But, that Ronaldo showed the willingness and selflessness to press the opposition defence is a positive early step under Rangnick.

The Red Devils were also happy to go long on occasion, something Ronaldo offers the team, and he flicked the ball back to an on-rushing Fernandes midway through the first half, although he skewed the shot wide.

Rangnick got a tune out of Ronaldo on Sunday. Credit: Getty.

The likes of Diogo Dalot and Alex Telles regularly looked to pick out the former Real Madrid man from crosses into the box in the first period, so for all Rangnick’s principled methods, he doesn’t appear averse to playing more direct when required.

Pitchside manner

The 63-year-old’s unveiling to the Old Trafford faithful lacked the razamataz that his predecessors have received, and Rangnick’s first game in charge began with a low-key arrival. His name wasn’t even announced over the stadium’s speaker system, while there was no wave or applause directed towards the stands pre-game.

Rangnick spent much of the match standing at the sidelines, including all of the first six minutes, but didn’t seem, from the press box, to be delivering too many instructions to his players. Perhaps that will come later, but the new United boss was reserved in his technical area throughout the game.

In fact, most of the on-field directions seemed to be coming from Darren Fletcher rather than Rangnick, with the ex-midfielder shouting instructions on several occasions.