Man United players back at Carrington after Covid outbreak
Manchester United players returned to training on Tuesday following a coronavirus outbreak at the club last week.
Man United’s senior squad have resumed work at Carrington after the training complex was shut down last Tuesday, in response to an undisclosed number of Covid-19 positive cases amongst United’s first-team players and staff.
Man United have two games in hand over select teams after a total ten Premier League matches (including two of United’s) were called off in seven days starting 12 December, in the wake of a rapid coronavirus surge in Britain.
There have been growing calls from top-flight clubs for the campaign to be suspended until after the FA Cup 3rd Round (7-10 January). On Monday the Premier League Board opted against a circuit breaker during a most congested period approaching Boxing Day and New Year’s.
United were informed of the postponement of their game at Brentford, less than 24 hours before scheduled kick-off last Tuesday evening. Two days later United’s home tie against Brighton and Hove Albion was also scrapped with the Reds unable to field a team for either league meeting.
Nine players were available for the trip to Brentford Community Stadium on 14 December and just seven United players were deemed available ahead of Brighton’s intended visit past Saturday.
United are 17 points off league leaders Manchester City albeit the Red Devils have played two games fewer than all of the current top four.
On Tuesday training resumed on a staggered basis and Marcus Rashford, Bruno Fernandes, David De Gea, Edinson Cavani, and Raphael Varane were all involved in training, with up to 20 players present at the club‘s training ground.
The following day Cristiano Ronaldo, Harry Maguire, Alex Telles and Luke Shaw were pictured at Carrington, while Paul Pogba and Dean Henderson were seen at the training ground on Thursday morning.
United prepare to travel to Newcastle Utd on Monday – 16 days after Rangnick’s men last ran out at Norwich.
The pendulum has swung amongst United’s squad, especially in defence as Rangnick has so far preferred Telles and Diogo Dalot at full-back over the overused pair of Shaw and Aaron Wan-Bissaka – both of whom ought to have been dropped long before Solskjaer lost his job.
At his first press conference as Man United boss, Rangnick stressed his priority is to get United controlling games better, citing the team’s inconsistencies over two halves. Rangnick also hinted that he would bring in additional backroom staff following the departure of caretaker Michael Carrick in the immediate aftermath to the win over Arsenal on 2 December.
In Rangnick’s first Premier League game Crystal Palace paid a visit to Old Trafford. The German fielded a 4-2-2-2 formation with Rashford and Ronaldo up front, and Sancho and Fernandes occupying the wide half-spaces.
Despite creating few goal-scoring chances, United dominated possession in the first half and also showed signs of improvement off the ball with a greater intensity and urgency to regain possession.
On two occasions were United close to taking the lead, both through the newly-promoted full-back pairing. Dalot sent his curling effort just wide of the goal on the brink of half-time, then early in the second half Telles’ free-kick ricocheted off the top of the bar.
Palace nearly snatched the lead with 15 minutes left but Jordan Ayew’s attempt from point-blank range whizzed across the face of goal. Three minutes later the Stretford End was buzzing as Fred‘s curled shot from the edge of the penalty area dipped over Vicente Guaita and into the back of the net.
In Rangnick’s first assignment at the helm, United won possession in the final third 12 times against Palace – the most turnovers they have won in a PL match post-Sir Alex Ferguson.
United held on for victory which brought about their first home clean sheet since April – after which they would concede in 15 consecutive home games across all competitions.
It was also a first win in this fixture for United since September 2017, thereafter the Reds went three seasons without beating the Eagles at Old Trafford.
F/T Man Utd 1 - 0 Crystal Palace
Less than 24 hours after the Palace game it was reported that Rangnick was set to add two members to his backroom staff in Chris Armas (assistant coach) and sports psychologist Sascha Lense.
Rangnick has previously worked with both men: Lense at Schalke and Leipzig in Germany, meanwhile Armas was a colleague of Rangnick’s under the Red Bull umbrella.
At the presser prior to United’s final Champions League group game, Rangnick confirmed Armas and Lense would begin working with the team once visas and work permits were obtained.
Rangnick stated that it is “absolutely logical” to have a sports psychologist amongst the coaching staff and described the role as being just as essential as a fitness or goalkeeping coach.
With United already confirmed winners of Group F in the Champions League, and with a heavy fixture schedule on the horizon, Rangnick mass shuffled his pack but retained the 4-2-2-2 formation for a rendezvous with Swiss side Young Boys.
Rangnick had confirmed Henderson and Donny Van de Beek were named in the XI, along with Nemanja Matić who captained the side on the night. Shaw, Wan-Bissaka, Eric Bailly and Juan Mata also started in addition to Mason Greenwood, Amad Diallo, Anthony Elanga, and Jesse Lingard.
The rotated starting XI had an average age of 25 years & 8 months, while United’s bench (excluding Tom Heaton) boasted an average age of 19 years & 2 months. An extremely youthful yet attacking team selected by Rangnick, with just three natural defenders amongst the starters.
United had a bright start and were in the lead inside 9 minutes, courtesy of Greenwood’s acrobatic efforts to convert Shaw’s teasing cross from the by-line. Lingard and Elanga combined down the left channels in the build-up.
United became sloppy towards the interval and Young Boys drew level on the cusp of half-time. Van de Beek played a loose pass to Wan-Bissaka which was intercepted by Fabian Rieder, and the Swiss midfielder launched a brilliant curling effort from outside the 18-yard area into Henderson’s top-left corner.
With nothing separating the sides Young Boys looked the likelier to score for most of the second period. United seemed unconvincing and lacked the energy seen in the opening half hour of the contest. Young defender Teden Mengi came on for Shaw after an hour while veteran ’keeper Heaton replaced Henderson to make his senior United debut – 24 years after first joining the club at 11 years-old.
Shola Shoretire, Zidane Iqbal and Charlie Savage all made cameos but neither had a lasting impact on the result. The match ended with seven players in red produced by the club’s famed Academy – a total nine graduates making an appearance under the Old Trafford lights.
F/T Man Utd 1 - 1 Young Boys
United then travelled to a somewhat resurgent Norwich City, who had two wins and two draws in five matches prior to welcoming United to Carrow Road.
Despite the opposition fighting a relegation scrap, the task at hand was not as straightforward as United would have anticipated. Telles struck the crossbar from a free-kick 20 yards out, with ‘keeper Tim Krul getting fingertips to the ball.
United became increasingly frustrated with poor decision-making in the attacking third. Ronaldo had a clear-cut chance ten minutes before half-time but was kept out by the Norwich goalkeeper. Maguire also tested Krul before the break but his looping header was nudged over the bar by the Dutch goalie.
Norwich created a few chances of their own but the deadlock was yet to be broken at the break. The hosts came out firing in the second stanza and almost took the lead through Teemu Pukki but for an astonishing save by De Gea.
United were awarded a penalty on 75 minutes when Max Aarons brought down Ronaldo in front of goal, and the Portuguese icon calmly dispatched the spot-kick to put United in front.
Ronaldo had the chance to double his side’s advantage but fluffed his lines six yards out, while at the other end De Gea made two more sensational stops to deny the Canaries.
Man United kept a clean sheet in successive league games for the first time since March.
F/T Norwich 0 - 1 Man Utd
12 days and counting, Norwich remains United's most recent taste of action but the Red Devils are set to play thrice in the space of eight days beginning on Monday. United conclude 2021 with two more games, their penultimate league outing of the year away at Newcastle before they host Burnley three days later.
United’s first fixture of the new year is at home to Wolves.
Man Utd upcoming fixtures:
27 Dec - Newcastle (A)
30 Dec - Burnley (H)
3 Jan - Wolves (H)
Ralf Rangnick is scheduled to address the media at 1530 GMT on Thursday ahead of United’s trip to St. James‘ Park at the start of next week.
It is believed that Rangnick will be backed in the upcoming January transfer market, with the club actively seeking a new midfielder. As per usual United have been linked with a flurry of potential candidates including the likes of Frenkie De Jong, Amadou Haidara, and Jude Bellingham.
Anthony Martial is reportedly looking for a move away from Manchester, with the French international effectively United's fifth-choice forward behind the quartet of Ronaldo, Cavani, Rashford and Greenwood. There was considerable noise coming from Martial’s camp following his 26th birthday, suggesting the player is open to leaving the club after 6 years in the M16.
On top of that Pogba, Cavani, Lingard and Mata are all about to enter the final six months of their contracts at Old Trafford and may officially begin talks with other clubs as at the new year.
On the staff front, former first-team coach Kieran McKenna left United last Thursday after more than five years at the club, upon being named new manager of League One outfit Ipswich Town.
Days after McKenna's exit United appointed Ewan Sharp to the coaching staff. Sharp recently worked with Rangnick at Lokomotiv Moscow, and the two previously collaborated under the Red Bull group.
Sharp also coached under Chris Armas at Toronto FC earlier this year, and United confirmed via a statement on Wednesday that Sharp had joined the club as an assistant coach and analyst.
In other recent changes to club personnel, it was reported on Monday that United have finalised the appointment of Richard Arnold as its new CEO, with executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward entering the final week before relinquishing his position at the turn of the year.
Similarly to Woodward, Arnold is an accountant by profession and is set to become United’s first CEO following David Gill’s departure eight-and-a-half years ago. Arnold held the position of managing director at the club since 2013 after promotion from commercial director.
Woodward has served as the club’s chief decision-maker since former Gill stepped down from his role in 2013 but Woodward does not appear to be heading for the exit doors just yet, with the 50-year-old investment banker believed to be in line for a new consultancy role at Old Trafford.
Last Monday, United were drawn against Spanish champions Atlético Madrid in the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 draw which had to be held twice after a human error which saw United’s ball excluded from the pot for Atlético’s opposition in the initial draw.
Atlético had been paired with Bayern Munich and United were with Paris St-Germain. The draw was declared void for a supposed technical problem and the ceremony was redone three hours later. United drew Diego Simeone’s men, while PSG were matched with Real Madrid for a mouth-watering clash.
United visit the Wanda Metropolitano on Wednesday, 23 February before Atlético travel to Old Trafford for the return leg on Tuesday, 15 March.