Manchester United’s draw against Southampton pretty much summed up where Ralf Rangnick’s team are currently.
For supporters who have been following United for years, they know by now that the problem goes way beyond any manager though.
This specific group of players do not look capable of achieving the bare minimum by winning trophies for the club. There are too many of the current team who hide and fail to take responsibility and look exactly what they are; a bunch of individuals.
Rather than working to a collective plan and having a clear identity, they are operating in patches and lack the kind of structure Rangnick has looked to implement. Everything United aspire to be what Southampton demonstrated themselves at Old Trafford.
And the picture above summed things up neatly.
It shows United set up for an offensive free-kick in the second half as runners head into the box and, as we can see, every single player in a red shirt is in an offside position as the ball was kicked, while Ralph Hassenhuttl has set up his Southampton team to play with a high line. The Saints executed the offside trap to perfection.
But the symmetry of it was telling. While United’s desperation for a scarcely-deserved winner was evident here, Southampton’s calm and composed manner throughout the game was clear to see as they confidently defended the set-piece.
Cristiano Ronaldo netted from a flick-on but looked sheepish as he turned away and barely celebrated as an offside flag was correctly raised. It was a fitting metaphor for another miserable Old Trafford afternoon.
It was yet another terrible display on Saturday at Old Trafford as Jadon Sancho’s goal was canceled out by a brilliant Che Adams equaliser, with the Old Trafford faithful becoming used to the same mistakes that keep on repeating themselves.
Over the last couple of weeks under Rangnick, United have shown a tendency to play well for the opening 45 minutes, before failing to show the same amount of intensity levels in the second half. It’s a strange period for supporters, who perhaps haven’t seen their team stoop as low as they are now.
The last time things felt this bad was in Jose Mourinho’s final few months in charge of the club in 2018. The atmosphere around Carrington was toxic, players weren’t performing for the manager and United continued to drop points. There are few similarities.
You could even argue that Rangnick’s current problems are reminiscent of those that pockmarked Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s spell as interim manager. The 1-1 draw at Huddersfield. The 4-0 defeat to Everton. These were just some of the games that made fans realize a major rebuild was needed at Old Trafford and as each game passes this season, the same thoughts occur once more.
Rangnick isn’t the problem, the players are and the sight of five players lined up in an offside position from a fairly basic free-kick routine sums it all up. All of them were part of the reason why Ole Gunnar Solskjaer lost his job. It just wasn’t always seen that way because the buck always stops at the manager and there were still huge questions marks over the Norwegian’s elite-level ability as a coach.
But now there’s no hiding place for the squad amid a continued inability to execute their stand-in manager’s plan. Every United supporter can clearly see where the problems lie and if there is sympathy with anyone, it lies with Rangnick as the players continue to flounder.
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Currently, it’s difficult to envisage how things get much better from here. Players want to leave the club, there’s a lack of communication from all staff members, Old Trafford still hasn’t seen enough refurbishment and supporters are making their feelings increasingly clear. The conversation around United’s failings is complex and does not stop at the players but they have remained a constant across two managerial regimes that are both failing to deliver on what United fans demand.
Paul Scholes’ comments on Ralph Hasenhuttl being a manager and United having a sporting director were telling but the focus of his and the fans’ ire ought to be targeted as much at the players as the man in the dugout.
Southampton and their manager looked like they had a plan. United did not. A picture paints a thousand words.
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George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.