Manchester United have improved under Ralf Rangnick but are still taking time to adapt to the German’s methods.
A run of so-called ‘easier’ fixtures have allowed Rangnick to experiment with his system a little at Old Trafford, with his trademark 4-2-2-2 formation ditched in favor of a 4-3-3.
Still, the results have not been great, with a disappointing FA Cup exit against Middlebrough and a draw against Burnley meaning any momentum that had been built has now been lost.
With United set to face the likes of Manchester City, Liverpool and Tottenham in March, Rangnick’s men cannot afford to drop any more points in February, especially as fellow top-four hopefuls Spurs and Arsenal hold games in hand.
Saturday’s home clash with Southampton may look like a very winnable game on paper, but the prospect of Rangnick coming up against his former apprentice Ralph Hasenhuttl means it could be a trick afternoon.
Hasenhuttl took over from Rangnick at RB Leipzig in 2016 after the team were promoted to the Bundesliga, and he guided them to an incredible second-place finishing in their first season in the German top flight.
This showed his managerial nous and also his understanding of the style of play that Rangnick had brought to the team, something that doesn’t bode well for United ahead of their clash with the Saints as Hasenhuttl will know better than anyone how to stifle Rangnick’s side’s game.
However, this also works in reverse and, as his former mentor, Rangnick will have a good understanding of Hasenhuttl’s tactics, especially as he still deploys the 4-2-2-2 formation that he used at Leipzig.
Southampton have blown hot and cold under Hasenhuttl. They always seem to threaten to have a really strong season before hurtling down the table and eventually securing a comfortable league finish.
Their 3-2 win over Spurs in midweek was a perfect example of when they’re at their best, twice coming from behind to win 3-2 thanks to goals from Armando Broja, Mohamed Elyounoussi and Che Adams.
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But the lows they’ve experienced have been as bad as any, having twice been on the receiving end of a 9-0 hammering, one of which came against United.
The Burnley draw on Tuesday was very disappointing but if United can solve their second-half problems and be more clinical in front of goal they should have no problems securing a result against Southampton.
That’s unless the apprentice manages to get one over on the master.
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