Pressing problems a real headache for Ralf Rangnick at Manchester United | Ralf Rangnick

Six matches into a stewardship may seem premature for an inquest unless the club is Manchester United and the manager was brought in to administer a quick fix before a permanent No 1 is hired in the close season. Yet when Aston Villa arrive for Monday’s FA Cup third‑round tie a long week will have passed since the 1-0 capitulation to Wolves at Old Trafford that greatly increased scrutiny of Ralf Rangnick’s interim tenure.

Such is the reality for the 63-year-old, who arrived on a much-trumpeted ticket of being a coach whose use of a vaunted high press would whip a listing squad into shape. Except the intense closing‑down game seen during his opening match – a win over Crystal Palace – has since vanished, causing some to venture that Rangnick’s “godfather of gegenpress” tag may be one of football’s great misnomers.

If this is confusing so, too, is the picture offered by those at United about the German’s nascent regime and the squad’s reaction to it. Rangnick, according to one international, knows precisely what he is doing and is admired for a structured tactical approach.

Other senior players, having experienced Chris Armas’s coaching, are unimpressed by the former New York Red Bulls and Toronto FC manager appointed as his assistant by Rangnick, whose thinking and decision making are consequently being questioned. But while there are strong claims that the German’s training methods are causing some discontent, a few are hardly enamoured of Cristiano Ronaldo.

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Since his arrival in the summer, Ronaldo’s presence can be seen as a boon for United’s emerging talent due to positive interactions with junior squad members. Others, despite his 14 goals, see him as an aloof signing who illuminates the executive’s muddled thinking. If there are grumbles about Ronaldo’s static play, there is also confidence that Rangnick possesses the backbone to drop United’s superstar forward if he decides that is required.

This swirl of contrasting opinions would not matter if United were sailing serenely along, giving Manchester City the run for their petrodollar Liverpool and Chelsea are currently unable to do and challenging for a 21st championship. But they have not really been in position to do so in the nine years since Sir Alex Ferguson retired and it is certain to reach a decade, at least, before another title is secured.

Instead, before Thursday’s announcement that Ed Woodward’s troubled time as United’s most powerful executive will end on 1 February, the man he signed to be a mid-season Mr Fixit has already reached a juncture where he is conceding his players “didn’t at all” employ the press against Wolves because they were unable to occupy the positions to do so.

Rangnick’s admission is particularly mystifying given it casts a coach five decades into the high press as being unable to drill it into a talented group.

Ronaldo’s ageing legs suggest he might be a fall guy in the efforts to make United an energised, harrying side, but Mason Greenwood, whose five goals make him United’s joint-second highest scorer with Bruno Fernandes, is among those now considered expendable instead.

Against Wolves, Greenwood was the sole outfield player who performed to the Rangnick blueprint. Yet the 20-year-old was substituted on the hour, a jarring moment that provoked further questions regarding the manager’s reputation for being a clear-eyed watcher of players.

Greenwood’s whirring feet, menacing passes and ability to close down fast appeared an ideal fit for Rangnick. When asked why Greenwood had lasted barely an hour he replied: “His effort and performance was not outstanding but he was one of the better players today.”

Rangnick chose not to replace the faltering Jadon Sancho, the other “No 10” in his 4-2-2-2.

That formation had, before the Wolves game, enabled his side to go five matches unbeaten – which is good – but has not allowed his proposed style to prosper – which is not so good.

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Rangnick has demanded more consistency from Greenwood and said the youngster still needs to develop physically. If the latter part is a job for the club’s sports science department, the former is tricky if you are being substituted when performing close to your best.

Defeat Villa and the noise around United may well quieten but elimination from the one competition United can still realistically claim and the volume will be turned up.

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