News, Culture & Society

Manchester United: Cristiano Ronaldo looks in trouble under pressing fanatic Ralf Rangnick

There is a video currently circulating on social media which reveals everything about Ralf Rangnick, the godfather of pressing and the man idolised by many managers in the modern game. Manchester United are in for a shock.

Filmed inside the RB Leipzig dressing room during one of his spells in charge of the club, Rangnick is seen calmly but firmly instructing his players at half-time. Bizarrely, he then appears to switch the lights off and yells at them to ‘get out’.

After that, he hands his squad a final dressing down to motivate them and sends them on their way. In a nutshell, this is Rangnick. Forceful, fair and immensely driven, he looks the perfect man to breathe new life into United’s drifting season.

Veteran Ralf Rangnick is set to take charge of Manchester United until the end of the season

But Cristiano Ronaldo may struggle with Rangnick's press-centred, high-energy style of play

But Cristiano Ronaldo may struggle with Rangnick’s press-centred, high-energy style of play

And quite simply, it is his way or the highway. He is warmly labelled as the genius behind gegenpressing, the heavy metal style of play which has helped haul Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool out of mediocrity and back into the big time. 

He has a clear blueprint for how his sides must perform, and demands energy from all of his players to make it work. Klopp and Julian Nagelsmann may look at him all starry-eyed, but several players at United will be dreading what lies ahead.

Extraordinarily, the looming appointment looks set to affect Cristiano Ronaldo. The superstar has single-handedly dragged his team-mates into the Champions League knockout stages, but he has been criticised for his lack of desire to press.

Rangnick is known as the 'godfather of the gegenpress' and will turn United into a pressing unit

Rangnick is known as the ‘godfather of the gegenpress’ and will turn United into a pressing unit

Under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, he got off lightly. It is a myth that he does not press at all, but United’s previous boss was undoubtedly more lenient and willing to instruct his other nine players outfield to raise their levels to cover up Ronaldo’s weakness.

There will be no forgiveness with Rangnick, though. That much is evident in light of comments from the veteran tactician in 2016. According to him, Ronaldo was too old to be considered for a surprise move to Leipzig – and that was five years ago.

Asked by AFP if he would want Ronaldo or Lionel Messi, Rangnick said: ‘It would be absurd to think that it could work with them here.

‘They are both too old and too expensive.’

Ronaldo has been criticised this season for his unwillingness to track back or push defenders

Ronaldo has been criticised this season for his unwillingness to track back or push defenders

In his opinion, Ronaldo and his aging body would not have been able to follow his instructions. Rangnick builds his sides around the same fundamentals – quick patterns of play and good pressing – and prefers to use young players for them.

Therefore, the likes of Mason Greenwood, Marcus Rashford, Donny van de Beek and Jadon Sancho are in for an invaluable lesson – and plenty of hard work – but it is Ronaldo who appears to stand out like a sore thumb. Compromise is needed. 

A fanatic for scrutinising over statistics and burning the candle at both ends, Rangnick will surely be alarmed by Ronaldo’s numbers.

According to fbref.com, the forward has made just 39 ‘pressures’ in the Premier League this season. In comparison, Bruno Fernandes has made 205, Fred has 224 and even Harry Maguire and Raphael Varane have more than Ronaldo.

According to fbref.com, Ronaldo has made just 39 'pressures' in the Premier League this year

According to fbref.com, Ronaldo has made just 39 ‘pressures’ in the Premier League this year

In comparison, playmaker Bruno Fernandes (right) has made 205 and will be a Rangnick staple

In comparison, playmaker Bruno Fernandes (right) has made 205 and will be a Rangnick staple

Breaking down how and when Ronaldo presses, United have been successful in winning back the ball within five seconds of him closing down an opponent on only seven occasions – resulting in a measly 17.9 per cent.

17 of these pressures have come in the final third, with 20 in midfield and two in and around United’s penalty area. Damningly, Mason Greenwood – who has been accused of lacking in work rate this term – has closed down 90 times.

Of course, Ronaldo is now 36 years of age and his lack of effort in trying to steal back possession is understandable. There is also the added complication of him being unlikely to change the play style of a lifetime to help Rangnick out.

If there is one tactic not suited to Ronaldo, it is gegenpressing. Rangnick has described the concept as being ‘simple’, but for those players reluctant to burst a lung to help their team-mates, it is well and truly anything but.

Rangnick is notoriously demanding and his lung-bursting sides of the past were built on youth

Rangnick is notoriously demanding and his lung-bursting sides of the past were built on youth

Outlining exactly how he expects his sides to play, Rangnick previously told ESPN: ‘[Gegenpressing is] a very proactive style of football, similar to the way in which Borussia Dortmund and Liverpool have been playing under Klopp.

‘We like to press high, with a very intense counter-pressure. When we have the ball, we do not like any square or back passes. The goalkeeper also should not be the one with the most contact on the ball.

‘In almost every league and every country, the goalkeeper is technically the most limited football player on the pitch and therefore we have to make sure that he has the lowest contact with the feet.

‘It is a fast, proactive, attacking, counter-attacking, counter-pressing, exciting and entertaining [style of] football.’

Jurgen Klopp (right) is just one of the countless managers influenced by Rangnick's teachings

Jurgen Klopp (right) is just one of the countless managers influenced by Rangnick’s teachings

All of these buzzwords may send Ronaldo into a spin. It is a clash of the big minds, Rangnick versus his new club’s talisman. On one hand, there is one of the greatest players ever seen in any sport, and on the other there is a relentless professor.

It will take time, but United supporters can expect to eventually see their players harrying across every blade of grass in a fashion not seen at Old Trafford for many years. Under Solskjaer, they became fitter, and are ready for their new challenge. 

A staple under Rangnick is his forwards bullying defenders constantly, affording them next to no time to build up attacks from deep. But as seen several times under Solskjaer, just one outfielder not pushing on can render the whole press useless.

There is a big decision to be made, therefore. The fact that Rangnick has signed a six-month contract affords him freedom, and enough time to stamp his authority on the club. It is likely he will be ruthless with the end goal of improving United.

United met Rangnick's Schalke side in 2011, and will now slowly adopt his high-octane tactics

 United met Rangnick’s Schalke side in 2011, and will now slowly adopt his high-octane tactics

Speaking to BBC Sport, journalist Raphael Honigstein said he believes that the Ronaldo-shaped dilemma is a ‘fascinating’ one.

‘He won’t have as much authority as a guy who comes in on a three-year deal, but at the same time you can do whatever you want because you are going to be gone anyway,’ Honigstein explained. ‘He can be more ruthless in a way.

‘It is going to be difficult if Ronaldo is a no for him, for example. That could be one not-so-easy thing to work out – how does Ronaldo fit into Rangnick’s kind of football?

‘Maybe he can. Maybe the idea can change, maybe Ronaldo can change? It is going to be one of the most fascinating part of this story.

One of the biggest issues facing Rangnick is how he fits Ronaldo into his hallowed blueprint

One of the biggest issues facing Rangnick is how he fits Ronaldo into his hallowed blueprint

‘But Ralf has learned to deal with people even if they are not on the same wavelength. The journey, the excitement of six months at United, with top four, Champions League and FA Cup still to play for, will take on its own dimension.’

Forcing turnovers and pressing in an aggressive yet co-ordinated style does not scream Ronaldo’s name, does it? United sit in 17th for attempted pressures in the final third this season largely because of their No 7’s desire to stay on the last man.

Intriguingly, talks between Rangnick and AC Milan broke down last January, with the club’s signing of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, 38, believed to be one of the reasons. Ronaldo is just two years younger, but will force his new boss into a slight re-think.

There is a happy middle ground, though. Provided Ronaldo shuttles across enough to shut down channels, the rest of his team-mates can muck in and carry out the dirty work. That would allow their striker to focus on what he does best: scoring. 

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer (right) may have been lenient with Ronaldo, but Rangnick won't be

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer (right) may have been lenient with Ronaldo, but Rangnick won’t be

Despite claims to the contrary, Ronaldo is energetic in his own way. His pace across the final year is searing and, as shown in the closing stages of United’s hard-fought win against Atalanta, he is able to track back and work hard when needed.

Provided Rangnick can convince him to continue doing this, their partnership looks destined to be a fruitful one. He may sit in 293rd for the most pressures applied to an opposition player in the top-flight, but he is still United’s most potent threat.

And despite his decades of experience and unflinching nature, Rangnick would do well to remember this. Both of them are arguably the best in their chosen professions and by working together, they can help rescue United’s season. 

Read more at DailyMail.co.uk