Ralf Rangnick believes Nemanja Matic was just as important as goalscorer Anthony Elanga in helping Manchester United recover against Atletico Madrid in midweek.
With an intense week ahead, Elanga scored a second-half equaliser to earn United a draw in their Champions League first leg clash in Madrid. But they will return to domestic matters this weekend against Watford.
Arsenal’s victory over Wolves on Thursday means the Red Devils are only one point ahead of their rivals in fourth place having played two games more.
And Rangnick is aware his side cannot afford to slip up in the race to secure Champions League football, with trips to top two Manchester City and Liverpool looming in March.
“We have to keep the momentum, win tomorrow against Watford and then be ready for the upcoming games afterwards against the top teams,” said Rangnick. “We are fully aware that we have to win the game tomorrow.”
The Watford match comes three days after United’s 1-1 draw with Atletico Madrid in the first leg of their Champions League last-16 tie.
The return leg is at Old Trafford next month, after league games against Manchester City and Tottenham and before facing Liverpool.
Asked if it could be the defining month of their season, Rangnick said: “It could, but for us it only makes sense to take it one game after the other.
“Now the job is to fully recover from the game the day before yesterday and play on the highest possible level at home and hopefully win the game. Then we have a normal week to prepare for the derby at Manchester City.”
Teenage winger Elanga is fast emerging as the brightest spot in United’s season, with the Swede making it goals in back-to-back games by coming off the bench to earn United a draw in Madrid.
Rangnick was quick to label the turnaround a team effort, though, saying: “Yes, I know and of course, everybody could hear them singing that song. Rhythm Is A Dancer, yes, I know that song. It’s nice for the boy and it shows how creative our supporters are.
“But I also must say while all the headlines were quite logically in his favour it was not only him, I think. In the second-half, we changed the momentum, we regrouped the whole team, it was not only him but the other players and other substitutes, including Nemanja Matic, who helped to change the game.
“In the first half we were too cautious in possession, too passive, too static and we made it in those first 45 minutes too easy for Atletico to always try to put pressure on us. This changed in the second half and that was one of the major reasons why we were able to equalise.
Rangnick pinpoints Watford threat
“With another five or 10 minutes to play, we might even have won the game, but in the end it was about the result. The result was good and it gives us all the chances in the world to proceed to the next round without saying that it makes things easier. It will be a tough game to play.”
Watford are staring at relegation having managed just one win in their last 14 games. They have lost 11 of those – a run that started after their stunning 4-1 victory over United in November that led to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s sacking.
And Rangnick is wary of the attacking threat posed by Roy Hodgson’s side.
He said: “They have three fast, physical strikers, always looking for the transitional moments, playing pretty direct.
“This is their biggest threat and we have to be aware of that. We have to avoid any transitional moments for them and be stable in defence and at the same time just create as many chances as we possibly can with our own offensive department.”