Ralf Rangnick does not believe his brand of football is beyond Manchester United’s physical capacity despite concerns over their inability to perform to a certain standard over an entire game.
United were held to a 1-1 draw at home by Southampton on Saturday, making it three successive matches with that scoreline – the first of which was in the FA Cup against Championship side Middlesbrough, who won on penalties.
A recurring theme in those games, and several others during Rangnick’s reign, is that United have looked impressive in spells but appeared incapable of maintaining their level throughout.
As a result, some have suggested United simply are not fit enough yet to carry out Rangnick’s pressing-based style of play effectively – even Southampton coach Ralph Hasenhuttl alluded to this belief after Saturday’s game, saying: “It’s not a big secret that when they lose the ball the reverse gears are not the best from everyone.”
There is also little evidence that United have made any improvement in terms of their pressing under Rangnick – since his first game, they average 6.9 high turnovers per game, down slightly from 7.1 with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer this season.
Similarly, the rate at which they turn such situations into shots remains practically identical at 14.5 per cent (up from 14.1 per cent), but Rangnick is not convinced fitness is the problem.
He told reporters: “To be honest, I don’t know if we are not fit enough in order to play that way because, as you said, I came in the middle of the season, we had no pre-season [focusing on that system], and, in essence, only maybe two weeks in total in between where we could train in a normal way.
“If I watched the team in training, the way that it’s being prepared for games, I wouldn’t allow myself to say we are not fit enough to play like that.
“I don’t think that this is the case, because then we would also struggle in the last 20 minutes of a game, and both against Burnley and [Southampton] I think we showed that we were physically able to again play forward.
“We didn’t always take the right decisions. We were not as composed and not structured enough. In the way that we played in the first half compared to the last half hour, we were a bit erratic in those moments.
“I would have wished us to stay a little bit calmer and cooler, but we had the chances though. I don’t think that it is a question of physicality with regard to fitness.
“But yes, it might well be as I said. The players that we have are technical players, they like to play technical football, but in the Premier League, no matter against which team – even more so against teams like Southampton – you cannot win games only in a technical way. You also have to show some physicality.”
United have the opportunity to make amends on Tuesday when they face Brighton and Hove Albion, but Rangnick is acutely aware of the tricky situation they find themselves in.
All three of the teams directly below United in the Premier League have at least a game in hand on them, and Rangnick has warned his team they need to start holding on to leads if they want to finish in the top four.
Asked if he is concerned about missing out on the top four, Rangnick said: “I mean, it has always been a concern since Ole left the club, that was one of the reasons probably why he had to leave the club.
“And, of course, results like [Southampton] doesn’t make things any easier. As I said in the games against Aston Villa and Burnley, and [on Saturday] in all those games we were 1-0 or 2-0 up and gave away two points.
“This can happen once but it shouldn’t happen three times, and with four more points now the situation would be different.
“But it’s not. This is what we have to face and realise the truth, and obviously with results like [Southampton] it doesn’t make it any easier to finish fourth at the end.”