Manchester United’s unexpected 16 day run without a game will have given Ralf Rangnick the chance for some breathing space and an opportunity to take stock.
There aren’t normally many chances to take a step back and look at the bigger picture in December but the Covid-19 enforced postponements of games against Brentford and Brighton have given Rangnick that freedom.
With Carrington closed down for four days over the weekend the German has been unable to work at the training ground, drilling his players in the demands he has for them, so instead he would have been assessing his first three games in charge.
The Premier League wins against Crystal Palace and Norwich City and the Champions League draw with Young Boys have offered some encouragement.
United looked good against Palace, were much-changed in Europe but were then shaky against Norwich. Most encouragingly, the back-to-back clean sheets they kept in the league enabled them to grind out victories.
But the three games have produced just three goals and there hasn’t really been a pattern to them. Rangnick wants his teams to win the ball back high up the pitch and play quickly and vertically, catching the opposition out of position. So far they’ve scored via Fred’s right foot from 18-yards, a Mason Greenwood scissor-kick and a Cristiano Ronaldo penalty.
Rangnick will know creating chances and scoring goals is an area for improvement and United will expect to score more than three times in three games against opposition of the standard of Palace, Young Boys and Norwich, especially when a goalscorer of the quality of Ronaldo is leading the line in two of those games.
The ability to create chances through pressing and winning the ball in the opposition third will improve as the United players get used to Rangnick’s style, but there are other issues at play.
A change in who plays next to Ronaldo could add more firepower into the side, with Marcus Rashford below par at the moment. Edinson Cavani can improve the United press and has the finishing ability to take opportunities.
But the lack of goalscoring prowess has also come at a dip when there’s been a dip in the form of Bruno Fernandes. The Portuguese playmaker has had an up and down season, even more so than usual for someone who always tries to make something happen when he’s in possession of the ball.
Until this season the 27-year-old was the beating heart of the United team, but the arrival of Cristiano Ronaldo has altered that slightly. Now he’s gone from the sole No. 10 and creator-in-chief under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, to splitting that position with Jadon Sancho and having to cover wide areas as well as play centrally.
Fernandes has 35 goals and 45 assists in 102 games for United, but there has been just one assist and one goal in his last seven appearances now. While the burden for goals should be shared more equally, United still need the creativity of Fernandes.
He could be crucial once this Rangnick has managed to get this team to gel, turning them into the “pressing monsters” he called for in his first week in the job. If United win the ball in the opposition half and have an unstructured team to attack, then there are few better players than Fernandes at exploiting that.
For now, however, his performances remain hit and miss and he struggled to influence the game at Norwich, although he also found Rashford failing to make the right run for him at times.
Fernandes thrived under the responsibility that Solskjaer gave him and Rangnick needs to do the same. There have been some calls for the Portuguese to be dropped, but at his best he clearly still enhances this United team. The challenge for Rangnick is to get him back to his best.