Those inside Old Trafford for Ralf Rangnick’s first match as Manchester United’s new interim manager were treated to a number of novel sights. For starters, United played in a 4-2-2-2 shape. They pressed from the front and saw a different side to Fred, the much-maligned chaos merchant who scored the winner in a 1-0 victory over Crystal Palace.
Among the novelties was the sight of an attack-minded full back marauding up the right wing. This, after all, was not a feature of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s team, with the Norwegian favouring the more defensive Aaron Wan-Bissaka in the position. Against Palace, Rangnick opted for Diogo Dalot instead.
Dalot was central to the way Manchester United played in Rangnick’s first match. Primarily, his role was to offer width and an outlet in a system that is otherwise narrow forces play through the middle of the pitch. The Portuguese international was given a lot of space to stride into with Marcus Rashford and Jadon Sancho tucked inside.
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On top of this, Dalot was a good supply line, passing the ball into the opposition penalty box five times, more than any other player on the pitch. He also made nine successful long passes, six ball recoveries and two successful crosses, putting in the sort of performance Rangnick looks for from his full backs.
“There’s no secret that he’s a very good manager with very good ideas to play football,” Dalot explained afterwards. “I think it was a complete performance after what we did today. We got a clean sheet, got three points and scored a late goal, so it was a good afternoon for everyone.”
Indeed, Manchester United’s performance had Rangnick’s fingerprints all over it. The German has been hired to impose a new style of play on the team and the full back position is where the greatest changes between the Solskjaer-era and the new regime could be witnessed.
This is likely bad news for Wan-Bissaka. While there is no doubting the 24-year-old’s ability as one of the best one-on-one defenders in the Premier League, he is limited in his attacking output. Wan-Bissaka has tried to adapt his natural game, but it’s clear that anything beyond the halfway line pushes him outside of his comfort zone.
Under Solskjaer, Wan-Bissaka’s limitations were masked somewhat due to the presence of a wide attacker, whether that be Mason Greenwood, Jadon Sancho or someone else, ahead of him on the right side. Simply stopping opponents from getting in behind was often enough for the former Crystal Palace man.
With Rangnick at the helm, though, Manchester United need more dynamism from their full backs on both wings. For Luke Shaw and Alex Telles, this isn’t much of a problem. In fact, they might flourish now that they have more freedom to get forward, as may Dalot whose natural game is to attack.
Even before Rangnick’s arrival, it was suggested that United might look to find a more attack-minded right back. Kieran Trippier was linked with a return to the Premier League with the England international soon to be out of contract at Atletico Madrid. He would be a shrewd addition.
However, Rangnick has already shown he isn’t willing to wait for the transfer window to open to change Manchester United’s approach. Besides, Dalot proved himself as a reliable option on loan at AC Milan last season and even forced his way into Portugal’s squad for Euro 2020. He isn’t out of his depth at this level.
Wan-Bissaka will almost certainly be given a chance to prove himself to Rangnick between now and the end of the season, but the pressure is on. If the 24-year-old doesn’t adapt, if he doesn’t absorb the ideas and methods of his new manager, he will find his United career at risk.
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