Interim Manchester United manager Ralf Rangnick is unsure whether a lack of fitness is an issue for his players but accepts they must make sure their physicality matches their technical ability.
After bowing out of the FA Cup at home to Middlesbrough and being held at Burnley in the Premier League the out-of-sorts Red Devils again started well only to draw 1-1 against Southampton on Saturday.
It could have been worse at Old Trafford, where Saints boss – and former RB Leipzig colleague – Ralph Hasenhuttl said: “it’s not a big secret that when they lose the ball their reverse gear is not always the best.”
Rangnick acknowledged it was difficult to become a pressing team mid-season having succeeded Ole Gunnar Solskjaer in November, leading to a question as to whether a lack of fitness was more of an issue than attitude.
“To be honest, I don’t know if we are not fit enough in order to play that way because, as you said, I came in the middle of the season,” the German said ahead of Tuesday’s match against Brighton.
“We had no pre-season (together) and in essence only maybe two weeks in total in between where we could train in a normal way.
“If I watched the team in training and the way that it’s being prepared for games, I wouldn’t allow myself to say we are not fit enough to play like that.
“I don’t think that this is the case because then we would also struggle in the last 20 minutes of the game and both against Burnley and (on Saturday) in the game I think we showed that we were physically able to play forward again .
“We didn’t always make the right decisions, we were not as composed and not structured enough in the way that we played in the first half compared to the last half-hour.
“We were a little bit erratic in those moments. I would have wished us to stay a bit calmer and cooler but we had the chances.
“So, I don’t think that this is a question of physicality with regard to fitness but, yes, it might well be.
“As I said, the players that we have are technical players, they like to play technical football but in the Premier League no matter against which team – even more so against teams like Southampton – you cannot win games only in a technical way. You also have to show some physicality.”
United end the weekend fifth in the Premier League standings knowing Arsenal, Wolves and Tottenham below them have at least one game in hand.
Asked if he was concerned the club might slip out the Champions League race if they do not soon improve their form, Rangnick said: “It has always been a concern since Ole left the club – that was one of the reasons probably why he had to leave the club.
“Of course results like (Saturday’s) doesn’t make things any easier. In the game against Villa, Burnley and (Southampton), we were 1-0 or 2-0 and gave away two points.
“This can happen once but it shouldn’t happen three times and with four points more the situation would be different but it’s not and this is what we have to face.
“We have to face and realize the truth and obviously with results like (Saturday) it doesn’t make it any easier to finish fourth at the end.”