with a mismatched group of players, capable of squandering a colossal budget and letting points slip through their grasp. An interim manager halfway through a temporary reign that has taken on an underwhelming feel denying he will remove the captaincy from Harry Maguire and reject reports of dressing room divides.
But Ralf Rangnick delivered a staunch defence of his tenure, arguing performances are on an upward graph and that if United continue at their current rate of progress they are likely to qualify for the Champions League, and pointing to the difficulties with his inheritance. Rangnick argued he is more solution than problem; that, incrementally, his methods are working.
They have drawn three of their past four matches, but he has taken encouragement.
We have won six [league] games, drawn four and had one defeat against Wolves; that was one of the worst games we played,” he said.
“Since then it’s obvious that the team has developed, that we control, not for 90 minutes, but for larger parts of the game. We are dominating and controlling games.”
If Brighton were dominant and in control for the opening 45 minutes on Tuesday, United nevertheless won 2-0 and although a 90-minute performance remains their holy grail, Rangnick detects a rise in belief.
“To me, it’s obvious speaking regularly to the players that they feel confident and strong on the pitch as a team. We have shown some improvement in the weeks and months, but there is still space for more in the future.
”If he made his name with a high-pressing blueprint, he believes he has built from the back.
United conceded 21 goals in 12 league games under Ole Gunnar Solskjær – when only Norwich and Newcastle had worse records – and eight in Rangnick’s 11. “
We had to reduce the number of goals conceded, which we did,” he said.
That is in part because David de Gea has made the most saves in the division.
“I would love to be with a team that has allowed the fewest amount of shots on our goal but that is not the case,” Rangnick said.
If De Gea’s season has amounted to a damage-limitation exercise, perhaps Rangnick’s salvage job has certain similarities.
In each case, it may be rendered tougher by the personnel around them. “
The challenge for me was in coming mid-season at a time when the team was lacking confidence and not doing well,” he said. “
And to work with a group that was not put together by me; that’s not alibis or excuses, just a mere fact.”
United’s false start to the season has left them playing catch-up.
Rangnick was a voice of caution. “Everybody wants to play in the Champions League every season, but we have to be realistic,” he said. “
I think when I came we were eighth in the table, trailing by quite a few points.”
They were 10th before the caretaker Michael Carrick’s parting gift, victory over Arsenal, lifted them to seventh.
Rangnick has taken them higher again, procuring 22 points from 11 matches.
“If you win two points [per game] on average in the whole season you are probably finishing in the top four and qualifying for the Champions League,” he said. “
Right now, we have played 11 games, we have another 13 left and if you ask me now if I would be happy with another two points on average in those 13 games, I would probably say yes.”