Manchester United manager Ralf Rangnick takes charge of his first Premier League game this weekend, and fans are extremely excited to see what the German does with this team.
Much has been made of Rangnick's nickname 'the godfather of gegenpressing', with many wondering how easily his philosophy can be implemented at a Manchester United side which lack any clear identity.
"What we actually want to play is extremely pronounced pressing," the coach said of his tactical blueprint early on in his career. "We want to try to always attack and outnumber the opposing ball owner with at least one man. It is simply important that the players also have a basic structure where they know that every player really has his back covered."
Essentially, Rangnick will want his midfield and attackers hunting in packs, with the closest man to the ball putting pressure on the player in possession, while his teammates look to block off passing lanes as quickly as possible. When this system works, it is used as a form of attack, with the ball won high up the field and as close to the opposition goal as possible. Jurgen Klopp's Liverpool are the most famous modern example of how to do this in the Premier League.
Will gegenpressing work at Manchester United?
Gegenpressing is intense and requires players with great stamina and tenacity – as well as players who can make decisive decisions when the ball is won back (Roberto Firmino is the best example of this). Jadon Sancho and Donny van de Beek will be the two players who most easily adapt to this blueprint, given they spent their formative years at Borussia Dortmund and Ajax respectively; clubs built on this philosophy.
Marcus Rashford, Bruno Fernandes, Mason Greenwood, Jesse Lingard and Edinson Cavani are all dynamic forward players, with excellent stamina. They would be natural fits for the forward roles. Behind them, Fred and Scott McTominay are scrappy players with good endurance and Rangnick will back himself to teach the pair how to thrive in a gegenpressing system.
The players that will most likely struggle to adapt to this are Nemanja Matic, Paul Pogba and Cristiano Ronaldo. While all three possess the physical capabilities to gegenpress, none of them consistently show the workrate or dynamism required. You can expect Rangnick to use these players less frequently than those mentioned above.
What formation will Manchester United player under Rangnick?
The 63-year-old has used a wide array of formations during his career, but is most commonly associated with the 4-2-2-2 system he implemented across the teams owned by Red Bull during his time as director of football.
In this system, two versatile, box to box midfielders sit behind two fluid attacking midfielders – but note, these are not wingers. While the further forward pair of midfielders do have license to pull wide, their job is to press the centre of the pitch out of possession and drive forward with the ball when they win it back.
All four midfielders need to be dynamic and tactically intelligent. The system would be best suited to Fred and van de Beek behind Fernandes and Sancho. However, Rangnick may decide this is too alien for the players at his disposal. The formation also requires fullbacks with good attacking instincts to provide the team's width and United have been poor in that regard this season.
If Rangnick reaches that conclusion, a 4-2-3-1 seems the safest bet, and appears to suit the players in the squad. McFred would most likely keep their places at the base of midfield, with Fernandes given license to roam ahead of them.
Rashford and Sancho will likely play on the wings, while Mason Greenwood may get opportunities in attack. The Englishman is talented and the perfect age for Rangnick to mould into his ideal striker. Unless a 4-2-2-2 is used, Ronaldo is unlikely to play much in Rangnick's team.
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Ed McCambridge is a staff writer at FourFourTwo, working for the magazine and website. Ed has been living in Berlin since 2015 and worked as a Bundesliga reporter before joining FFT. Formerly a season ticket holder at AFC Wimbledon, he's now most commonly spotted at local side Union Berlin.
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