Ralf Rangnick drops team news hint for Villa clash
Manchester United will play our ‘best possible team’ in tonight’s Emirates FA Cup third-round tie with Aston Villa, Ralf Rangnick has promised.
The German is looking forward to his first experience as a manager in the world’s oldest cup competition and has clear respect for the FA Cup having attended the 1980 final between West Ham and Arsenal while a student in England.
He told us more about that outing in an exclusive pre-match interview with club media, before informing us about United’s preparation plans and how he was preparing to tackle the clash with the Villans.
You can read everything Ralf said below...
Ralf, this is your first experience of managing in the FA Cup, an historic competition, what’s your view about it?
“When I was a young student at Stuttgart University, I spent the year, as you know, in England, in Brighton, as a guest student at Sussex University. I played at the same time as a player for a small Sunday League team, Southwick, and their farewell gift when I left back for Germany at the end of that year was a ticket for the Cup final at Wembley: West Ham against Arsenal. I think it was 1980 or 1981. I very much relish that experience still if I think about the atmosphere there. There were 30,000 West Ham and 30,000 Arsenal supporters, they had prepared individual songs for each individual player. ‘There’s only one Liam Brady,’ I remember, for example. So, they had a special song for each player; each player, when this song was sung by supporters, was just standing in that corner where the supporters were. It was a very special atmosphere and, as I said, it was obviously the old Wembley stadium and, of course, it would be great for us to experience that atmosphere in May, or whenever the Cup final is being played. But we’re fully aware that it’s still a way to go, quite a long way to go, and we could have had easier draws than Aston Villa. The good thing is we’re playing at home in front of our 75,000 fans and, of course, everyone in the team, the players, the staff, we want to show that the relapse that we showed against Wolves, both tactically and energetically – we were way too passive, not proactive at all, this is exactly the kind of football that I hate, that I don’t want to see – I expect a completely different face of the team, a completely different performance, as I said, proactive, aggressive, putting them under pressure and playing also proactively with the ball.”
And, therefore, has it helped having at least a few more training sessions this week, without a midweek game before the FA Cup tie on Monday?
“Yes, we’ve had two training sessions already, today [Friday] and yesterday, we’ll have another two tomorrow [Saturday] and the day after tomorrow [Sunday] and then hopefully be ready for that kind of football. We must make sure that we play in a way, in a style, in an energetic performance, that we have the fans behind us, that they play as if they were the 12th player on the pitch. In order to achieve that, we have to play that way, we cannot expect from the fans that they do that automatically. They do that automatically at Old Trafford, but to keep that going for 90 to 95 minutes, we have to do our part.”
Some clubs in the Premier League tend to rotate lots of players for the FA Cup ties, what will your approach be?
“We will definitely not play with eight or nine different players, or even 10, as we did against Young Boys in the Champions League. We will try to play with the best possible team, with a strong team. There might be a few changes but I haven't taken the final decisions yet myself but we will definitely try to play this game as if it was a normal Premier League or Champions League game.”
As for the team news, obviously Harry Maguire and Victor were missing, Eric Bailly’s gone off to the AFCON, how are Harry and Victor coming along?
“Victor is back in training, since yesterday, which is very good news for us. Harry hasn't been able to train, as yet, and we have to wait and see how this develops, tomorrow or the day after tomorrow. With Harry, there is still a question mark but Victor will definitely be available for the game on Monday.”
What about Paul Pogba, how close is he to returning to training at least?
“As far as I know, I was told a week ago it would be a minimum of at least another four or five weeks before he is fit for training again. I saw him this morning before the training session, he was in the locker room, and I hope he will be back as soon as possible. Right now, he’s not been part of the training group and even if he was back whenever, two, three or four weeks, it will take some time. It’s one thing to be training fit but, on the other hand, he needs to be fit for the match and competition in either the Premier League or the Champions League and this will still take some time.”
You changed systems at half-time, against Wolves, to a back three, and it worked well. How important is it that the team is flexible when it comes to systems and is that something we might see again at some point?
“Well, I think most teams have their system in England and they stick to it, but there are also teams who switch from a back three to a back four, or from a back four to a back three, or even like Bayern Munich, for example, or Leipzig also did it last season with Julian Nagelsmann, even if they play defensively in a back four, they try to rotate within this system, this formation, to a little bit of an asymmetric back three. I think with our team, we have those two options, in order to play with a back three, we need to have most of our centre-backs available, I think even under Ole [Gunnar Solskjaer], the team did it, for example in games like Tottenham, Atalanta away, or against Manchester City, in the derby. I think we can play in the back three, this could be an option for us, but, as I said, it also depends on the players available, on the current shape and form of the players and also, to a certain extent, to the team against which we are playing.”
Two meetings against Aston Villa in the space of five days. Is that relevant? Does that make any difference that you’re playing twice in quick succession?
“This also happens in other countries, in other leagues, if you play in the cup. In this moment, we’re having exactly that situation that we’re playing them twice but since it’s different competitions, we have to take one game after the other. Now it’s Monday, it’s the FA Cup at home, we will try everything that we can to reach the fourth round of the FA Cup. In order to do that, we need a different energetic level compared to the game against Wolves. We are fully aware of that, that we have to try and put pressure on them, don’t allow them to play their technical football. I mean, things have changed since Steven Gerrard arrived at Aston Villa, the style of play that they prefer since he has arrived is different. They have a lot of technical players in the centre of midfield, they are a little bit focused on the centre of the pitch and we have to be aware of that and making the right decisions in order to be able to be successful.”
David De Gea has been named as the club’s Player of the Month, again, for the last couple of months. You worked with a terrific goalkeeper previously when you were manager at Schalke, with [Manuel] Neuer, do you see any similarities between them?
“Well, I think they are both definitely on the list of the top five goalkeepers in the world, maybe even in the top three. They are both in a fantastic shape, physically and as well as on the line, when it’s about controlling the box, David De Gea is probably one of the best if not the best in the world and we are very happy to have him. But, honestly, as a coach, I would prefer more of those games, for example, against Crystal Palace where we don’t need him as much and in order to achieve that, we just need to make sure we don’t have too many shots on goal. We had too many shots on our goal, also in the first half against Wolves, and the same was true at Newcastle or even at Norwich. But again, on the other hand, it’s good to have someone like David in goal, a fantastic professional, a fantastic player and it’s great to work with a player like him.”