Ralf Rangnick is not getting carried away over the shakiness displayed by Raphael Varane and Harry Maguire in the draw with Newcastle United, adamant Manchester United are underperforming as a team not just at centre-back.
United’s 1-1 stalemate at Newcastle on Monday was their first game in 16 days after a coronavirus outbreak forced the postponement of matches against Brentford and Brighton and Hove Albion.
As such, perhaps it was not a surprise to see United look rusty at St James’ Park, but for much of the game they were second best against a side with just one Premier League win all season and the joint-worst defence (42 conceded) in the division.
While United did ultimately come out on top in terms of expected goals (xG), their 1.52 slightly better than Newcastle’s 1.25, Rangnick’s side were let off the hook by a bad miss from Allan Saint-Maximin at the start of the second half that would have put the Magpies 2-0 up.
Similarly, eight of Newcastle’s 13 shots were on target, meaning David de Gea had to make seven saves – five more than his counterpart, Martin Dubravka – to keep United in the game.
That has been something of a common theme this season, with United especially poor at the back – only six teams have a worse xG against (25.9) record than them, while De Gea has prevented 3.9 goals, which is the third-best in the Premier League, according to Opta.
Maguire – underwhelming for much of this season – and Varane – at fault in the build-up to Newcastle’s goal – bore much criticism on Monday, but Rangnick is looking beyond just them.
Asked about concerns over the two defenders’ partnership, Rangnick told reporters: “Rapha hasn’t played for the last five, six weeks, and even before the Tottenham game, he was injured.
“So, in total in the last three months, he hasn’t played that many games. Yes, he made a mistake before the first goal that we conceded, but apart from that, I think he was okay.
“I wouldn’t say that he was outstanding, and the same with Harry, but they did okay. Our problem was, again, that we allowed too many transitional moments.
“And this is not only a problem at the centre of the defence, it’s a problem of the whole team and it starts up front, and we can speak also about the role of the number 10s in that kind of formation.
“So, I don’t think it makes sense to speak about the individual performance of players, we need to get better as a team.”
Although United have been defensively poor in recent months, keeping just one clean sheet in their past 13 home league games and conceding 22 goals, that last solitary shutout did come in their last outing at Old Trafford.
That was Rangnick’s first game in charge, the 1-0 win over Crystal Palace, while United’s visitors on Thursday – Burnley – have not scored in three.
Since that defeat of Palace, Rangnick freely admits he has not been happy with the team’s progress, though he feels the lack of training caused by the COVID-19 outbreak has certainly had an impact.
Quizzed on whether he was happy with United’s performances, Rangnick continued: “Of course not.
“Every coach, every ambitious coach, and there’s no difference between other coaches and myself in that area, wants to take faster steps and larger steps forward.
“But in order to do that, you need to be able to train and, as you know, we had to close Carrington for four days. Before that we had eight or nine field players in training, so directly after the Norwich City game, and they only came back in small bits and pieces.
“So, the last three days [before Newcastle], we were almost back to full strength with regards to the size of the squad, but we couldn’t do that much in training.
“On the other hand, in those two-three training sessions, the team looked good, and therefore it was really a bit of a negative surprise [in the Newcastle game] the way that we played with regard to game speed and game tempo and physicality.”
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