Rangnick: Playing nice football isn't enough
Ralf Rangnick has declared Wednesday's Champions League group closer against Young Boys as a great chance to get to know more of his Manchester United players.
The boss made a pleasing start to life as the club's interim manager on Sunday by leading the Reds to a promising 1-0 win over Crystal Palace.
But now he switches his attentions to Europe. And even though the team have already qualified for the knockout stages of the Champions League as Group F winners, our game with the Swiss champions offers a precious opportunity to grant both youngsters and senior players much-needed game time.
Ralf, first of all, there's some news today that you're bringing some new staff into your backroom team. What will they bring to Manchester United?
“Sascha Lense, who we employed as a sports psychologist, or a mental coach – whatever you want to call him – we worked together for three years at Leipzig, in the year I won promotion myself, and, in the two following years, he was working together with Ralph Hassenhuttl and Zsolt Low. So the fact that I know him has been of great help. He's a former Second Division player himself. He's very much working on the field, on-hand, not in theory, not in putting anyone on the red sofa or whatever the cliches with these kind of jobs elsewhere. He should help everybody: the team, the players, even the coaching staff. To help the brain, to assist the body and not to work against it. I couldn't put it probably in any other words than that. It's helping, again, to train the brain, thinking the right things, always stay, in a way, on the bright side of life, if I may say so. That's his job. And Chris Armas will be one of my assistant coaches. Since Michael [Carrick] is no longer there for me, it was clear that we need somebody. The thing about Chris, again, is that we've known each other for six, seven years. He was the assistant coach of Jesse Marsch at the New York Red Bulls. He's then become head coach at the New York Red Bulls, and then at Toronto. So he's well acquainted with the proactive kind of football we want to play also in the future. And, therefore, I'm very happy to have him on board.”
The hard work in this group has been done. Obviously, United have won this group. So will this game give you an opportunity to look at some players who maybe need some minutes?
“Yes. This is one issue: that I want to get to know the other players. The ones who haven't played against Crystal Palace. And it's also wise, at this stage of the season, with the crowded fixture list of the next few weeks and months, to rest a few players. Because, as we saw, the way that we played against Palace was high intensity. It's not so easy to play on that level with the same group of players every three days and therefore, for me, it absolutely makes sense to do some sort of rotation. Even more so in a game that we still want to win – that's our ethos: we want to win games at Manchester United – but it's not that much at stake for us, and therefore it makes sense to give some other players the chance to present themselves.”
At the weekend, young Anthony Elanga came off the bench. Amad's involved in training. Are you keen to look at some of the younger players as well?
“Yes. Both. The younger players, to give them game time. The same with Mason Greenwood, who hasn't played that much in the last couple of weeks, so he will also definitely play. But also a few of the experienced ones who didn't get that much game time in the past. Aaron [Wan-Bissaka], hopefully even Luke [Shaw] will be available for the game. Nemanja [Matic] will be the captain tomorrow. Juan Mata will get game time. Jesse Lingard. So we have quite a few players who will be playing tomorrow, and who definitely and desperately need game time.”
It's great to see a lot of those players training today – some who have been out injured. The depth of the squad is going to be important, isn't it, particularly at this incredibly busy time?
“Exactly, and that's why I'm very much looking forward to hopefully next week having Rapha [Varane] back again, Edi Cavani. My ambition to work with all the players for most of the season, reduce the number of injuries in the next couple of weeks and months, and having them all on board.”
Of course, Young Boys can still qualify for the Europa League, and they already beat us [in Bern]. So it's a big game for them, particularly, on Wednesday night?
“Yes, they are under pressure, more than we are. Result-wise, we are not under pressure, but our ethos is to win games, and we want to play in a way that we still dominate the game. In the end, it's about winning. It's not about just playing nice football or intensive football. It's about winning. So again, the players who will play, they will want to win the game, and maybe then, in a way, also make up for the defeat in the first round [of games].”
And David Wagner is somebody you know, I guess...
“Yes, of course. We know each other well. We worked together in Hoffenheim in 2009/10, I think, when he was the Under-23s coach at Hoffenheim. I brought him to the club when I was the head coach. So, since then, we have always been in contact. We played a friendly game in pre-season some three or four years ago in Austria, when he was head coach at Huddersfield, and, of course, I've followed the development at Young Boys, when he became the new head coach at Young Boys. I know they are struggling with regard to their results. They are fourth in the league, with the worst average points in nine years. So I think he's a little bit under pressure, I can presume, in the league. But on the other hand, it is Champions League and it's a different competition.”
Finally Ralf, the FA Cup draw was made on Monday. United are playing Villa. You went to the final in 1980 – is this a competition that you're targeting?
“Our ambition is to be as successful as we can be, and since we are no longer in the League Cup - we lost against West Ham at home - so it's even more important that we are trying to be as successful as we can be in the FA Cup. There were easier draws than playing Aston Villa at home but, on the other hand, at least we play at home. We don't need to travel. I think we play them within six or seven days twice. A week later, we have the league game in the Premier League. But this is three or four weeks in the future. Now we have important games to come and we can speak about the FA Cup two days before the game against Aston Villa. But obviously this will be probably one of the most interesting games in this round.”