Should Cristiano Ronaldo be worried about his Manchester United place? Could Donny van de Beek finally get his chance? Analysing the potential winners and losers as Ralf Rangnick's reign gets underway at Old Trafford on Sunday...
There's no getting away from it, a Gegenpress and Cristiano Ronaldo mix about as well as oil and water.
Now no one's expecting one of the greatest players in history to be training with the U23s for the rest of the season, but Rangnick, well-known as a hard task-master, will have no qualms in dropping his star player if he thinks the team needs something else without the ball.
At RB Leipzig under what was more often than not a high-intensity 4-3-3, Timo Werner and Yussuf Poulsen were the two most-regularly used frontmen in the forward line. Werner ranked second for winning the ball back in the final third across strikers and wingers across the Bundesliga, while Poulsen was sixth, but also second for the middle third of the pitch.
Compare and contrast with Ronaldo, who this season ranks 46th across strikers and wingers in the Premier League. His pressing game has been discussed at length, and it's just not his style. Whether Rangnick can find a suitable way to work around it consistently will become an interesting spectacle, but it's certainly far from a match made in heaven.
Manchester United are already strongly linked with Amadou Haidara, a defensive midfielder Rangnick worked with at RB Leipzig, in January. Who is he most likely to replace? Nemanja Matic has to be top of the list.
Matic performed well in United's 1-1 draw at Chelsea on Sunday, but the intensity of the new manager's game does not suit him at 33. The Serbian has never been an especially all-action midfielder even in his pomp, and with other more mobile options available to Rangnick even before he strengthens his arsenal, then it could spell danger.
Across Premier League midfielders this season, Fred's pressing has been the second-most intense, and even Scott McTominay, 58th on the list, ranks significantly higher than Nemanja Matic way down in 80th.
Luke Shaw enjoyed such a resurgence under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer last season that he was England's first-choice left-back at Euro 2020 and scored in the ultimately doomed final.
Things haven't gone quite so well since. And Rangnick's arrival could make things worse for the 26-year-old, with Alex Telles an able alternative who has not been utilised to the best of his ability since his arrival from Porto last October.
The new coach famously likes his full-backs to be able to support his forward players, and in Telles he has a much more natural attacking option.
Rangnick even said of Shaw last year: "They could do with a left-back, I know they have Luke Shaw but I'm not so sure if he's still on the same kind of level you need to be for a club like Manchester United."
🗣 "They could do with a left-back, I know they have Luke Shaw but I'm not so sure if he's still on the same kind of level you need for a club like Manchester United."— Football Daily (@footballdaily) November 25, 2021
Ralf Rangnick speaking about Man United's defence in September 2020 pic.twitter.com/40IcBSnm4p
It's difficult to compare Shaw and Telles' output at United given the latter has played only 799 minutes of Premier League football in his entire Manchester United career, but put their numbers side-by-side for Telles' last season at Porto, 2019/20, and the difference is striking.
Donny van de Beek
There is arguably no player better-equipped or -suited to Rangnick's Gegenpress footballing philosophy than the forgotten man at Manchester United, Donny van de Beek.
The Dutchman endured a torrid time frozen out of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's first-team picture but his rise at Ajax, and the occasional glimmer of brilliance at Old Trafford, leave him in pole position to flourish under new direction.
United's success under Rangnick will hinge on their ability to win back possession high up field and registering an attack on the opposition goal immediately, and Van de Beek has attributes which Rangnick would be foolish to ignore if he wants his objectives to be achieved.
Van de Beek's ability to glide while carrying the ball, his eye for a pass, and his ruthless finish ability, make his one of few all-round players in United's squad who are equipped to carry out every facet of Rangnick's brand of football.
With Ole Gunnar Solskjaer in situ, Jesse Lingard's future looked destined to be away from Old Trafford, but the arrival of Rangnick could breathe life into his Manchester United career at the 11th hour.
When it comes to transitions and linking the defence and attack with the ball at feet, Lingard's stands head and shoulders above his team-mates, and these attributes could prove priceless as Rangnick looks to impart his philosophy to the United dressing room.
You need look no further than Lingard's successful loan spell at West Ham, and his vast array of goals which helped the Hammers qualify for Europe, to see how valuable and versatile an asset the 28-year-old remains.
Shackled by his firefighting duties in front on United's porous defence, Scott McTominay's qualities as a finisher and creator simply weren't given the opportunity to flourish throughout Solskjaer's tenure, but particularly in the final months.
Whenever McTominay has been given the license to venture forward, there have been glimpses of the talent which earned the Scotland international a fearsome reputation as a striker as he took his first steps in United's academy.
As Leeds will attest, both this season and last, McTominay has much more in his locker than his mercenary label would suggest. The question is: can Rangnick's philosophy eek those talents out on a more consistent basis than his predecessor.
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