Every word from United's pre-match press conference
Ralf Rangnick's first Champions League press conference as Manchester United's interim manager took place on Tuesday afternoon and he was joined on the top table by experienced midfielder Nemanja Matic. Here's everything the pair had to say...
Obviously you're already through and have won the group, but you've got a new manager to impress. What’s the feeling among the players for this game?
“I think that you have already given the answer to that, we have to try to impress the manager, to try to show that we deserve to play. It's a great opportunity for everyone. Yeah, we are through and top of the group, but we want to finish in the best possible way with the three points in front of our supporters at Old Trafford. It's a great opportunity for us to show our qualities and to show the manager that we have quality to play and that we deserve to play of course.”
What is the biggest impact that the man sat to your left [Ralf Rangnick] has had since he walked through the door?
“Every manager has his ideas, of course, and we always try to adapt and to understand as soon as possible his ideas. I think that everyone saw a bit of his idea in the last game against Crystal Palace. Of high pressing, of that organisation, when we defend, and when we attack, of course. Obviously, we were training with him only a couple of days and we didn't have time to understand more of this but we could see in the last couple of days the way we want to play and I'm sure in the future the team will play more in his way and as I said, after a couple of days it’s very difficult but I'm sure step by step, everyone will see his ideas on the pitch because we still have to understand everything that he wants from us.”
Nemanja, do you feel like the confidence is back among the squad again after putting together four important results after a challenging period before that?
“Of course, when you win games, it's easier, the confidence is back of course. Yeah, I think that the momentum is very important, we have to carry on, we have to go game by game. The next is the most important, so tomorrow is another final. Yeah, we have to carry on, we have to know what we did well in the last couple of games, where we made mistakes to improve that and to perform in the best possible way [during] the next one.”
Can I ask you about Fred and Scott McTominay, two players who play in a similar position to you? I know that they have looked up to you and have benefited from your experience – how do you see them as players and how they’re doing?
“First and foremost, they are great people, great for the changing room and very important players in our team. They improve a lot game by game. They don't get enough praise because always people who are scoring goals get praise after the games but sooner or later, they will get what they deserve, and I think game by game they're better and better. They give us stability, so they have to continue to work in this way and I'm sure they will have a bright future.”
Hi Ralf, can we expect a lot changes tomorrow - perhaps all eleven? And if you can provide us with some injury updates, we saw [Edinson] Cavani, [Raphael] Varane, [Luke] Shaw and [Jesse] Lingard training today...
“I haven't finally decided to be honest, but I think it definitely makes sense that we rest a few players due to the crowded fixture list over the next few weeks and months. We need to make sure that we have as much recovered players as possible, also for the Premier League, but on the other hand of course, we need to keep the positive momentum. Our ethos is to win games even if we maybe play with a few new players, fresh players, it's still important that we win the game. By the way, in the first game in this group, we lost at Young Boys and so we still need to make up for that, and it's clear that no matter which players we start with tomorrow, we definitely want to win the game.”
On Sunday I think you said that it was impossible to stay at the level that the players started the game. Is it fair to say then that the players, despite being fit and top-class athletes, have to find an extra level of fitness to play at the level that you demand in terms of that high-intensity game?
“If I look back to the game against Crystal Palace, I don't think we lacked energy in the second half. Obviously, the first half-hour was almost perfect I would say, it was impressive the way that we pressed all over the pitch. Actually, I didn't expect the team to do that on this kind of level. In the second half, it was not that same high-tempo intensity that we played in the first half but still we controlled the game. So, there was not much that we allowed them. We didn't give away any opportunities to Crystal Palace. So, I don't see any physical issues, but of course, in order to play like that, it's important that you make sure [you are fully prepared] for every game that we are playing, and there are no easy games, not in the Premier League, not in the FA Cup, not in the Champions League, so we need to make sure we're as fresh as possible.”
Your old friend Thomas Tuchel won this trophy last year after four months at Chelsea, in a similar situation to [Roberto] Di Matteo in 2012. Were those seasons unique in their own way or is something like that feasible with the squad that you have now?
“I think it's too early now, having been here for only a week with the team, having played one game, I think it's too early. But obviously, with a club like Manchester United, we're ambitious to be as successful as we can be in all competitions, no matter in which one. For me, it's important we develop the team, that we continue the application of the defensive processes and fine tune our collective defending. Right now, playing every three days, it has to happen in-game and obviously also in talking to the players in video footage sessions. We did that before the Crystal Palace game, and we will also do that before the game tomorrow against Young Boys and also our next fixture at Norwich.”
Is managing in the Champions League one of the reasons why you took this job? It's such a prestigious competition, is it a good chance for you to test yourself again against the other best managers in the world?
“As you know, as a young student, I studied English at university and I also spoke about that in the first press conference. Since then, there has always been a special relationship and a special interest on my part, regarding England and English football. When the offer, or the proposal or the invitation came from Manchester United, for me it was a no brainer, I had to do that and I had to accept that because as I said, it's one of the biggest clubs in the world. There's a lot of good players already here and being able to work with them for six months, it was something I couldn't possibly turn down.”
I know success is a concept that is very hard to define, especially in football, it depends on many contexts, but what would be a success for you this season at Manchester United?
“For me, success can only be achieved with development, developing the team, this is the result of development. If we can develop the team in the next six months in the way that I can see them play [I think that will be a success]. I think quite a few things, you could already see last Sunday knowing it was only one game and the first game. It showed how the team could defend if they worked together as a team. And obviously, there is still space for improvement. Not everything has been perfect in that game, we can still improve, in possession of the ball we can create more chances, we can be more flexible on the ball, we can play more vertical on the ball. We spoke about that in the first press conference, if you look at the amount of goals we conceded until last Sunday and I heard today it was the first clean sheet at Old Trafford since April. Six months, no clean sheet in your own stadium, for me it was clear where the priorities should be and how we should develop the team in the next couple of weeks. I'm also aware that in the end to be successful, it hopefully means playing in the Champions League next season, and being successful in the Champions League and the FA Cup. We didn't get the easiest draw in the FA Cup to be honest against Aston Villa, we now play them two times in one week. It's one of three direct Premier League duels in the FA Cup, so there were a few easier draws possible but in the end it's like another Premier League game and this is exactly how we will approach this game.”
Could you bring us up to date on your coaching team and tell us your thinking behind any personnel that you are currently in the process of bringing in?
“It won't be that many. So far, I'm very happy to work with the staff I have met last week, and they gave me a lot of help in the last couple of days of preparation for the Crystal Palace game. We have decided to bring in a sports psychologist, Sascha Lense. He's from Germany, he's a former Second Division player. I worked with him for three years at Leipzig, in the year we won promotion from the Second to the First Division myself and the following two years when Ralph Hasenhuttl was head coach and Zsolt Low – the current assistant coach of Thomas Tuchel – was assistant coach. So, we know each other since then and he will be introduced to the team as soon as he's got his visa and work permit. I will also have one other assistant coach with Chris Armas, he used to be the assistant coach at New York Red Bulls under Jesse Marsch, that was five years ago since I first met him. Since then, we have met quite frequently as well in my role as Head of Global. In the last three, three-and-a-half years, he was also head coach for the New York Red Bulls and for Toronto in the MLS. Hopefully, he will also be able to join us in our team in the next two days.”
Dean Henderson and Donny van de Beek are two prominent international players who have fallen out of their international squads due to a lack of playing time at this club. What are your plans for those players and would you be willing to let either of them go out on loan in January?
“Well, to start, both of them will play tomorrow in the first XI. As you saw, Donny came on as a sub last Sunday and I know that Dean is a very, very good, ambitious goalkeeper. We definitely need two goalkeepers, we have even three with Tom [Heaton] and with [Lee] Grant we have a fourth one, so we have four goalkeepers. But I would say the three goalkeepers that really come into recognition for the first team. As I said, I have to get to know the players first in the next couple of weeks in order to finally assess them. Right now, I am more than happy to have all of them on board and I will try to give them as much game time as possible.”
Could you just go back to my colleague's question right at the start... Cavani and Varane, in particular, are they able to play yet? They're obviously players of huge experience, how much do you think they can add to your squad when they are available?
“They both cannot play tomorrow but they were part of the training session today, Edi even yesterday, for Rapha it was the first time he was on the pitch together with the team. If everything goes well I expect both of them back in full training next week, hopefully Monday next week they will be participating in all training sessions. Obviously, they're both top players, we would be happy to have them on board as soon as possible but especially with Rapha and his injury record in the past, we need to make sure that we will have him until the end of the season so it's also about sustainability and not only getting him fit as soon as possible. It would be great to have both players available as soon as possible but as I said, if possible, for the rest of the season.”
Jesse Lingard is a player who's had an impact in the past and when he comes on a substitute. Do you see him as someone who can have a future under you?
“As I said, everybody has the chance to perform and present himself, that's why I'm happy to give game time to quite a few of those players tomorrow, to see them under pressure in a Champions League game in front of hopefully 70 or 75,000 in a sold-out stadium. So, this is a perfect opportunity to get to know the players, like I did last Sunday against Palace with the others. We've only had a week of training so far and with every impression, with every training session, with every opportunity to see them play in competitive games, I will get to know them better.”
Can you give us an update on Anthony Martial's condition - he didn't seem to be training?
“Yeah, Anthony trained with us on Saturday in the final training session before the Crystal Palace game and half-an-hour after training the doctor and medical department informed me that he had some pain in his knee, and we had a meeting together with the doctor, with the medical department and Anthony, and we agreed that he should try to recover from that. It's not a fresh injury, it's symptoms he had in the past already, so we need to make sure that he is reducing the amount of the pain in the next couple of days and hopefully, [we'll] have him back in training next week.”
You've talked about pressing and you're bringing in a psychologist. How surprised are you that you have to bring this to a club of Manchester United's status because surely both of these elements are the very basics you need to have any chance of winning trophies?
“Actually, I don't know what the situation is like in England, in other clubs, but in Germany in the last couple of years, most clubs have employed a sports psychologist or mental coach, whatever you would like to call them. For me, it is absolutely logical. I didn't have somebody like this [until] Hans-Dieter Hermann, the current sports psychologist of the German national team, back in 1998. Korb were probably the first club in Germany who had ever employed a sports psychologist, in him. For me, it's only a question of logic, if you have special coaches for goalkeeping, for physical and education, even for strikers, for fitness, you also should have an expert for the brain. Not so much to put the players on the red sofa and hold hands with them because most of them won't do that anyway, but for me, it's about helping the players [know] that the brain should assist the body and not work against it. So, this is what it's about for the players and even the coaching staff, everybody in our team should think in the right way, we all know what it's about. When we speak about football, we know the major part is up here [in the brain], so, 'what do you think? How do you analyse this situation?' And therefore, I'm very happy to have Sascha on board, as I said, he's a former Second Division player, he's hands on, he's not too much working with the theory, he's hands on. He's part of every training session. Having worked together with him in Leipzig, I know we could benefit a lot from him. It's also as I said with the coaching and the coaches, of course, the coaches have to allow that. And for me, it's vital that on top level, you should have the best possible person on this job.”
How have you found the confidence levels of the players since you've been in, because it's obviously been a difficult start to season. Have you found that it's something you've had to repair since you came in or have you found they have embraced the fresh start under you?
“As Nemanja said, if you win games, it's the best way and the best tool to regain and gain confidence again. In the last four games, the team won three and had one draw, so we just need to keep going with the momentum. It's about gaining confidence, believing in the way we're playing, the players have to buy in. I can tell them what I want [but] I need to convince them, I have to get into their hearts, their brains, their blood or whatever, so they make my idea of football their own. The first step has been taken, it's about the next steps now tomorrow, Saturday at Norwich, Tuesday at Brentford and then in the final game before Christmas at home to Brighton.”