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The true test of Ralf Rangnick’s coaching mettle will come against Atlético Madrid

Man Utd’s fragility could eventually be exposed as the Ralf Rangnick-era progresses in the Champions League against Atlético Madrid.

Manchester United ralf rangnick

With each passing week it’s proving increasingly difficult to pinpoint Manchester United’s identity since Ralf Rangnick’s arrival. Capitulation seemed inevitable under Ole Gunnar Solskjær, with some players clearly not fit for purpose, and interim manager Rangnick has done well to turn the tides of a ship destined for a grim demise. However, scraping through games 1-0 can only paper over the cracks for so long, and their fragility will eventually be exposed as the Rangnick-era progresses — with one of his big tests coming in the Champions League against Atlético Madrid.

The Spanish side captured their first La Liga title since 2014 last season under Diego Simeone, and while their hopes of retaining the title have been plagued by inconsistent results, they still managed to edge past Porto and AC Milan to secure second place in their Champions League group. Initially, the two sides weren’t meant to meet, with United drawing Paris Saint-Germain and Atléti facing German champions Bayern Munich. Both sides would preferably play each other than their original fixtures as a technical error on UEFA’s part of the draw for the round of 16 drastically altered the Sky Bet football odds as well as predictions for the quarter final.

As far as United are concerned, this is a more than winnable tie. Despite Rangnick not making any of his own signings so far this January, the squad was heavily invested in over the summer, with marquee signings including Jadon Sancho, Raphaël Varane and Cristiano Ronaldo arriving for a surplus of £150 million. The season has been all too familiar though in terms of fan’s expectations, with the delirium of thrashing Leeds United on the opening day and Ronaldo’s homecoming against Newcastle United quashed by frustrating defeats to Norwich and a 5-0 hammering at the hands of Liverpool an antithesis of a title pursuit that never really got off the ground.

It begs the question — what does a successful season look like for United? Indeed, much was talked about of Rangnick’s credibility when he came to Old Trafford, and we have no doubt his influence will outlast many others in the North West when he starts his executive role, but on the pitch, the Red Devils have looked one dimensional.

A coach that is renowned for being tactically astute has thus far looked rigid in his approach, sticking to his 4-2-2-2 system, which essentially renders wingers redundant — a big part of why Anthony Martial has joined Sevilla on loan until the end of the season. And while results have steadily inclined since his arrival, the draw to Aston Villa and defeat to Wolves will be a concerning red flag, and faced against a side as strong as Atlético.

The Spaniards are known for their defensive stability, something which makes the first leg at the Wanda Metropolitano increasingly difficult for United. The Rojiblancos have conceded just nine times at their new home in Europe since it’s opening, and Diego Simeone will be keen to keep that record intact as they look to make it all the way to Russia come May.

United will have a tough time breaking them down and must be cautious of their threat on the break, but the Ronaldo factor could be influential in deciding the tie. Having come up with so many big goals in the group stages, including late winners against Villarreal and Atalanta, the Portuguese superstar will want another Champions League night to lord over his former derby rivals, with his hat-trick against them for Juventus one of his career highlights.

The tie could prove decisive in terms of Rangnick’s future at the club. If United are to qualify and build a surge of momentum they could well halt their pursuit for a permanent manager, but if things continue to go wrong domestically and Atlético squeeze past the Red Devils in Europe, we could see another face in the dugout sooner than expected.

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