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Issues Piling up for Manchester United as They Lose Ground in the Top Four Race

Manchester United’s recent derby defeat at the hands of their fierce rivals Manchester City has left a sour taste in the mouth of their fans, with the manner of the loss a particular cause for concern. Red Devils fans were especially disappointed in the team’s second-half display, in which they didn’t manage a single shot on goal. The result leaves them struggling to finish in the Premier League top four, with experts like Tom Love on oddschecker now giving them little chance of making it.

Should United fail to qualify for next year’s Champions League, not many fans will point to the derby defeat as the sole reason why. However, the galling loss to the Citizens brought a lot of the club’s long-standing issues to light, from problems with individual players to uncertainty over the manager’s position and suitability for the role.

Derby defeat

Despite Kevin De Bruyne’s 5th minute goal, Manchester United performed quite well in the first 25 minutes of the game. Ralf Rangnick shocked fans with a team selection that saw midfielders Bruno Fernandes and Paul Pogba start the game in a double false 9 position, but it worked surprisingly well with Anthony Elanga and Jadon Sancho threatening from the wide positions. Sancho’s 22nd-minute equaliser was well deserved and momentarily had United fans dreaming of a landmark victory, but Manchester City regained the lead through De Bruyne just 6 minutes later. From that point on City seemed to step up in all aspects of the game to leave United with no chance of mounting a comeback. The final 15 minutes of the game were particularly eye-opening for United fans, who had to endure the embarrassment of watching Guardiola’s side dominate possession while the Ronaldo-less Red Devils had no answers. Images of City’s 92% possession figure in this period have been widely circulated on social media, further increasing the embarrassment to Rangnick’s men.

Ronaldo Absence

Cristiano Ronaldo’s absence from the team in the derby has added another unwanted storyline for Rangnick to contend with in these testing times. While the interim manager stated that the reason for his absence was a hip flexor injury in his pre-match interview, United legend Roy Keane questioned the validity of this story in his post-match analysis, citing the Portugal forward’s near-perfect injury record as a reason for his suspicions.

More fuel was added to the fire after the match as Ronaldo’s sister appeared to “like” a post that claimed he was dropped from the starting XI for tactical reasons. Further reports have surfaced that he flew to Portugal upon hearing the news that he wouldn’t be starting, making him completely unavailable for the fixture.

Fans will probably never find out the truth behind this story, and in some ways it’s irrelevant. This is just one of many recently surfaced stories that undermine the manager’s authority, so it is something he needs to get under control if United are to salvage anything from this season.

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Player problems

Ronaldo isn’t the only player causing Rangnick problems at the moment, there are a number of other issues that have surfaced since the derby defeat. Reports have stated that United’s players are baffled by some of his decisions, both in terms of tactics and personnel, with others suggesting that some players have been mocking the manager and his staff. It is believed some players have taken to referring to assistant coach Chris Armas as “Ted Lasso”, the useless football coach in Apple’s hit sitcom.

As well as reports of disrespectful moments from players, Rangnick is also having to contend with poor form from some of his key players. Harry Maguire continues to fuel questions over his suitability as both a Manchester United captain and player, with performances that threaten to see him lose his place in the England team. Ronaldo’s form is also a concern, with his dwindling goal returns making his lack of contribution in other areas more apparent. If he was dropped for the City game, he can have no complaints. He simply isn’t contributing enough to the team’s overall play and now isn’t scoring enough to make it worth having him in the team.

Manager uncertainty

Although the appointment of Rangnick as the club’s interim manager was supposed to provide temporary solutions to many of the club’s problems, the nature of his role is now being seen as a big cause of some of the issues fans are seeing on the pitch. The fact that he is in the job on an interim basis and will certainly not be continuing beyond the end of the season has led some observers to question whether the players have enough respect for a manager they know is temporary. It’s a difficult situation for any manager to be in, but truthfully it says more about the players and their mentality than it does about the German coach.

Rangnick is set to take up a consultancy role with United once his temporary stint as manager is over, and it is believed he will aid in the search for his permanent replacement with Mauricio Pochettino and Erik ten Hag believed to be the frontrunners. Many pundits have even stated their belief that United missed a trick no hiring Antonio Conte before he went to Tottenham. The Italian former Chelsea manager is a serial winner who some believe would transform United, although others think he would rub people to wrong way if things don’t go to plan, as Jose Mourinho did at the club. Whoever ends up in the position, will have his work cut out, with several players’ futures up in the air.

League run-in

Should United manage to recover in time to still be in the hunt for a top-four place in the final weeks of the season, they’ll have a tricky run-in to tackle. The match with Arsenal scheduled for late April has the potential to be a season-defining clash and will be followed by a home match against Brentford, before a trip to Brighton. Their penultimate game will see Chelsea visit Old Trafford before a final day tie at Selhurst Park against Crystal Palace. Rangnick will be desperately hoping United still have something to play for at that point.

Huynh Nguyen

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