Manchester United

Manchester United

Premier League • England

Gary Neville pinpoints ‘massive’ difference in Man Utd display highlighted by key stat

Ralf Rangnick Crystal Palace December 2021

Gary Neville says Manchester United worked “smarter” in their first game under the tutelage of Ralf Rangnick and believes the win over Crystal Palace will prove to be “a good foundation to build from”.

Speaking on Monday Night Football, Neville believes Rangnick, 63, brought some order to United’s play. Fred scored the goal for United as they recorded their first clean sheet for 16 games with a 1-0 victory at Old Trafford. Not only did they manage a shut-out but they also marked the German’s first game at the helm with some other impressive stats.

They only conceded eight shots against Palace, with just two on target, while their expected goals against dropped from 1.6 per game to just less than one goal per game against Patrick Vieira’ men.

United also won back possession of the ball 12 times in the final third of the pitch. That was a high for not only the club this season, but since Opta records began.

Neville says the tempo United set from the off was very good.

“I really enjoyed the game,” Neville told Sky Sports.

“Was it flamboyant football? Were Manchester United at their absolute best in their last hour? It was a struggle at times. The first half an hour they were absolutely fantastic. The last hour they got the job done.

“I came out immediately after the game thinking what a great 30 minutes that was. That is what we want to see from Ralf Rangnick at Manchester United. That is what the Manchester United players will want to see. In the last hour they just got over the line. They tired a bit.

“But I actually sat down today and I respected the last hour more than the first 30. He had 48 hours to coach his team, 48 hours to be with his players.

“We have all spent the last six or seven weeks saying that Manchester United have been a mess defensively. They had not had a clean sheet in 16 games, conceding goals like you would not believe, getting battered at home by Liverpool and Man City, counter-attacked against Leicester, Villa, Villarreal. All the other teams had cut through them.

“What Ralf Rangnick would have wanted was order. Order in the performance. I think we got that.

“Manchester United had conceded an average of 15 shots per game this season. It was eight against Palace. Five on target conceded this season. Only two against Palace.

“A big one is that on average it looked like teams were going to score 1.6 goals per game against United. You are in big trouble if you end up conceding two goals in a game. Less than one yesterday. They were more competitive, more tackles, more duels.”

Stopping counter-attacks

Meanwhile, Neville believes one of the key factors in the performances was the number of times they won possession high up the pitch.

“Possession won in the final third was a massive one. What they did is they sustained attacks and they stopped teams cutting through them and they stopped counter-attacks. They won the ball back quicker.

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“Everyone assumed it would be Jurgen Klopp-style heavy-metal football. They did not run more but what they did do was work smarter.”

Rangnick altered United’s shape to a 4-2-2-2 formation with Jadon Sancho and Bruno Fernandes as the wider midfielders. Cristiano Ronaldo and Marcus Rashford were the two up front with Fred and Scott McTominay paired in midfield.

But Neville’s says the two midfielders played differently to how they did under Ole Gunnar Solskajer.

“What really struck me was how compact the midfield two and the front two were together. They were almost locked. That was in possession and out of possession.

“Ronaldo was never exposed having to press on his own as we have seen in recent weeks because he had Rashford alongside him.

“Ordinarily, you would say that the central midfield players, when the other team has possession, you would want them close together but when you are on the ball you would split them. Rangnick did not let Fred and McTominay separate at any point in the game.

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“It has been chaotic’

“What it did was give Manchester United a really narrow shape and a good platform to build attacks from but more importantly it nullified the threat of one of the best counter-attacking teams in the Premier League.


“It has been chaotic. A mess to watch in recent weeks. You have to stop teams counter-attacking against you or it eats away at your confidence. This was the difference yesterday. They were tight, they were compact.

“The amount of times that you saw Manchester United in possession but in that very narrow shape was incredible. That is all to stop the counter-attack.”

It led former United defender Neville to conclude that Rangnick delivered a resolute performance.

“So, for me, what did I see? I saw a clean sheet, the first for 16 games. Manchester United not looking like they were going to get counter-attacked against. It looked like there was a bit of order and patience in the game,” added Neville.

“The most important thing that Rangnick did was get that clean sheet, stop that counter-attack and ensure it was not chaotic, a mess. I think that was a really good foundation to build from.”

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