Manchester United have struggled to control matches this season and when Ralf Rangnick took charge of the club on an interim basis in November, he knew all about the problem.
Speaking in his very first press conference, the German stated: “The major target for me is to bring balance into the team. My approach is to bring more balance and more control.”
Despite his words, United haven’t yet mastered the art of control. Instead, United have continued to compete in relatively chaotic matches.
A week later, United faced Aston Villa in the FA Cup. The Old Trafford outfit won the knockout bout thanks to a set-piece goal, nodded home by Scott McTominay, but posted a possession share of just 43 per cent and marginally edged the shot count by mustering seven efforts to four.
They are scheduled to face Steven Gerrard’s side again this weekend. But this time around, United must showcase more of a hold over proceedings and they could achieve that by switching up their formation.
Rangnick has favoured a midfield two since his appointment and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer opted for the same before his dismissal — but that could change moving forward.
Upon reflection of his team’s lacklustre performance against Villa, the German coach praised the impact of Donny van de Beek, stating: “When Donny came on, we controlled the game.”
He also referenced the change to a midfield diamond in the second half as a reason behind the team’s improvement in the latter stages, as that shape allowed United to benefit from more of a presence than usual in the middle of the park.
This weekend, Gerrard is likely to deploy his typical midfield three once again, which allowed Villa to outnumber United’s midfield duo in the centre at Old Trafford on Monday.
If Rangnick wants to establish true control sooner rather than later, he might have to accept that 4-2-2-2 hasn’t yet brought it, before adopting a diamond on a more consistent basis.
As United continue to search for ownership of the pitch, Van De Beek and a diamond formation could be the answer.