United's lack of intensity showcased AGAIN in win over Villa

Man United’s lack of intensity was laid bare in full AGAIN after Red Devils scraped past Aston Villa in the FA Cup… fans are calling for a return to ‘standards’ and Ralf Rangnick has plenty of hard work to do

  • Manchester United’s lack of intensity was highlighted again vs Aston Villa
  • The Red Devils scraped through to the FA Cup fourth round with a 1-0 victory 
  • However, Ralf Rangnick’s side once again lacked the hard work required
  • Fans have demanded a return to ‘standards’ and there is plenty of work to do 

‘There’s absolutely no reason why Man United shouldn’t be the hardest working team in the league. When you play for Man United you can’t just be, “well, I’m talented, I’ll just do my magic when I get the ball”. That is not enough.’ – Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, March 2019.

Very little seems to have changed at Manchester United in close to three years since Solskjaer uttered those words when he was caretaker boss at Old Trafford.

United still aren’t working as hard as their manager would like, let alone being the most industrious team in the Premier League, and that frustration has now been passed on to Ralf Rangnick.

Manchester United’s lack of intensity was laid bare in full against Aston Villa on Monday night

Solskjaer was surprised by lack of fitness among the squad he inherited from Jose Mourinho, and pushed them so hard at the start that three players – Jesse Lingard, Juan Mata and Ander Herrera – suffered hamstring injuries in the first half of a game against Liverpool two months later.

‘It’s survival of the fittest,’ Solskjaer warned ominously, but something went wrong along the way.

Rangnick isn’t satisfied with the work-rate of the group left behind by his predecessor, so did Solskjaer stop demanding or did the players stop responding?

Either way, it’s an indictment of this squad that questions are still being asked of them.

New interim manager Ralf Rangnick wants his team to work harder since taking the job

His predecessor Ole Gunnar Solskjaer also called for the Red Devils to work harder for him

It’s come to something when the fans felt the need to display a banner across the Stretford End on Monday night bearing the images of Eric Cantona, Roy Keane, Bryan Robson and a solitary word: standards.

Rangnick, the so-called godfather of gegenpressing, has made it quite clear that he expects more from a group of players who pressed for the first half of his opening game against Crystal Palace and then reverted to type.

When United had their pants pulled down by Wolves last week, it was said that Bruno Lage had rumbled Rangnick’s 4-2-2-2 tactics, but no game plan will work if the players don’t buy into it.

‘As soon as we begin to look passive, like we did against Wolves, we are struggling,’ Rangnick said shortly before kick-off against Aston Villa on Monday night, having urged his team to show more ‘intensity, physicality and energy’.

He switched to the 4-2-3-1 formation favoured by Solskjaer which is meant to be better suited to these players.

United fans have called for a return to ‘standards’ and there is plenty of work still to do

In theory, it meant that Marcus Rashford and Mason Greenwood could play wider, and Bruno Fernandes could operate in a more natural No.10 role.

Rashford started brightly but faded and looked worryingly flat by the time he was substituted towards the end.

Fernandes struggled too and remains a shadow of the player who grabbed United by the scruff of the neck when he first arrived two years ago.

It’s also a formation that leaves United more exposed defensively, and Ollie Watkins (twice), John McGinn and Jacob Ramsey could all have scored after Scott McTominay headed United in front.

The home side survived again after half-time when Danny Ings and Watkins both had efforts chalked off. Villa were the better team.

In truth, Aston Villa would have been deserving winners and were unlucky to miss out

So did Rangnick’s players give him what he wanted? They certainly attacked with verve. Cavani tracked back more than Ronaldo ever will, often as far as his own penalty box.

Within five minutes, Rangnick was applauding Fred for chasing crossfield to win the ball back from Emiliano Buendia even though it should be a basic requirement for a defensive midfielder.

There was no shortage of effort. Fernandes, Luke Shaw, Rashford and McTominay flew into tackles. So too Diogo Dalot who played on with a bloodied left ankle.

But the intensity is still missing, and that is something else altogether.

This was another game United didn’t come close to controlling, this time against a Villa side lying 13th in the Premier League table despite picking up three points here in September.

Another win last night wouldn’t have flattered them at all. As Rangnick realised some time ago, there is still plenty of hard work required all round.

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