Ralf Rangnick barely had time to get acquainted with his new surroundings before he spotted an obvious weakness in Manchester United.
It was less than 12 hours after the final whistle had been blown at the end of United’s thrilling 3-2 win over Arsenal and Rangnick was given the challenge of presenting his pitch to the world’s media for the first time as caretaker manager.
He said: “Yesterday’s game was exciting for the fans, but for me those are not the kind of games we need every day because football is about minimizing the coincidence factor and having control.
“The main goal for me in the next few weeks is to bring more balance to the team. Even yesterday, we conceded two goals and in the end we needed three goals to win the game.”
“If you look at the total number of goals conceded, it’s almost two, on average, per game, and this is too much.”
It was immediately apparent that the German’s first goal, like that of most managers when hired to stop a sinking ship, would be to beef things up defensively. United had conceded nine goals in the four Premier League games that preceded Rangnick’s opening news conference and it was a run that could not continue.
Armed with their pleas for United to control games and stop leaking goals, the players seemed to be buying into their methods with two clean sheets in their first two Premier League games in charge, preventing Crystal Palace and Norwich from scoring. .
United secured both clean sheets without the help of star centre-back Raphael Varane. The Frenchman was edging closer to a comeback after a spell on the sidelines with a groin injury, which deprived him of even more opportunities to make his mark in a United shirt following his arrival from Real Madrid.
But his comeback against Newcastle the day after Boxing Day, even if United failed to record a third successive clean sheet, gave everyone a boost. Varane is a figure that his peers look up to and look to for inspiration. After all, why wouldn’t you when you’re playing alongside someone who has won just about everything football has to offer?
And the statistics suggest that United players have benefited when Varane has played this season and not been sent to the treatment table. Of the 12 Premier League games the France international has played this season, United have lost just two, those being 1-0 defeats to Aston Villa and Wolves.
By comparison, United have lost four of the eight Premier League games they have missed through injury since joining the club, winning three times.
Varane’s influence cannot be underestimated, even if United have only kept three clean sheets when they have been present in the Premier League this season.
But while his injury problems have hampered his start to life at Old Trafford, the Frenchman has gone quietly – perhaps even under the radar – shoring up United’s defensive woes, with his most recent performances, in particular, at the standard he United supporters would have had. it was expected of him when he stepped onto the hallowed turf of Old Trafford, clutching his number 19 shirt, for the first time before the season opener against Leeds in officially unveiling him.
Furthermore, both Victor Lindelof and Harry Maguire, the latter of whom put in his best performance for a considerable amount of time against West Ham last weekend, have looked more confident and dominant when Varane has been parked alongside one of them.
Injury problems, managerial changes and patchy results have threatened to overshadow Varane’s first season at the club, but his impact, however brief, and United’s decision to sign him, is proving he is worth his weight in gold.
Sign up for our United newsletter so you don’t miss any updates from Old Trafford this season.
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.