They didn’t need one, but Man Utd were administered another painful reality check on Tuesday night. The manner of their defeat to Liverpool at Anfield left little debate about the amount of change required this summer, nor did it hide away from the fact that their current issues go far beyond a rotten spell of form.
After the match, interim manager Ralf Rannick admitted that as many as 10 new players might be needed to implement the type of change required. You could make a case that the number needs to be even higher.
It’s hard to envisage a time when United fans felt so disillusioned by the direction of the club and the fanbase felt quite so detached from those who don the shirts on a weekly basis. This team is anything but united.
Rangnick arrived as a breath of fresh air and although his hard-hitting truths have been a welcome arrival at Old Trafford, he appears to have lost hope of ever actually being able to solve the problems he’s identified.
United have been guilty of making hollow promises in the last few years, and Rangnick’s role as an advisor going forward might be another, with the belief he will only have limited duties and no guarantee his recommendations will actually be taken on board.
When the club do eventually announce Erik ten Hag as their next manager, the Dutchman needs to ensure he has an honest and open discussion with Rangnick about what exactly to expect and a chance to gather intel on the players he will be tasked with trying to orchestrate. He, like the interim boss, might well agree on the number of players he needed this summer. They both might also agree on the players integral to rebuilding the shattered dreams next season.
As soon as the team news dropped on Tuesday night, United’s slim hopes of avoiding defeat had all but disappeared. They have not won any of the four league games Cristiano Ronaldo has missed this season, and without him in attack, their blunt again became even softer around the edges.
It is a similar story with Raphael Varane, too. United have only lost two league matches in which he has started this season and have not lost once in any competition when he and Harry Maguire have played the entirety of a game. This is a little skewed by the fact that the club captain was withdrawn when they chased an equalizer against Atletico Madrid in the Champions League second-leg. The scores were level when Maguire was withdrawn from the home defeat to Aston Villa in the Premier League, and Varane taken off when the tie was level in the FA Cup penalty shootout defeat to Middlesbrough.
Ahead of the match, Rangnick warned about the issues faced when Fred and Scott McTominay were sidelined, and once again they were sorely missed.
Earlier in the season, Fred admitted he was not the most technical player, but used a beautiful Brazilian analogy to describe his priceless role in the side. “I carry the piano for the artists to play,” he said. Without him, United so often fail to get a tune out of their attackers.
Fred and McTominay have been done a disservice in the past few years and perhaps deserve more credit for what they do. They are both useful squad players who were given amplified roles in the side due to the lack of investment in midfield. United shouldn’t have been so overly reliant on the pair when they should have been utilized as effective utility men in the mold of Nicky Butt, Darren Fletcher and Park Ji-Sung in bygone years.
The fact that McTominay made himself available for a bench role against Liverpool despite not being fully fit was another testament to his commitment to the cause. Despite having shortcomings as a player, he has the right mentality to play a squad role in the years ahead too.
Rangnick might recommend that United try and sign as many as 10 new players this summer, but he should also recommend rebuilding around those four as well.