Work to be done

Tactics Board: Despite Chelsea result, Rangnick faces a massive challenge at Man United

Shane Keegan breaks down Sunday’s 1-1 draw at Stamford Bridge, ahead of the arrival the Red Devils’ newly-appointed interim manager.


Encouraging result but Rangnick faces a massive challenge

If you were to go on Sunday’s result alone, then Ralf Rangnick has a lot to be happy about. A team who has just managed to get a 1-1 draw away to a side as highly rated as Chelsea must have a lot going for them surely?

The story behind the game paints a very different picture though.

london-uk-28th-nov-2021-jorginho-of-chelsea-during-the-premier-league-match-between-chelsea-and-manchester-united-at-stamford-bridge-london-england-on-28-november-2021-photo-by-salvio-calabrese Chelsea midfielder Jorginho with (left) Bruno Fernandes and (right) Marcus Rashford. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

Take a look at some of the key metrics:

Chelsea: 2.55
Man United: 0.20

Attempts from inside box
Chelsea: 12
Man United: 1

Penalty box touches
Chelsea: 31
Man United: 3

Chelsea: 63%
Man United: 37%

So let’s take a look at hat was behind Chelsea’s dominance.

United’s high press improves but the bigger issues are further back

Michael Carrick took the surprising decision to leave Cristiano Ronaldo out of his starting line, instead opting for the energy of Marcus Rashford and Jadon Sancho as his front two in Man United’s 4-4-2 diamond shape.

If looking to prove that this was the right decision, he will point to the fact that United won possession in the final third on six occasions, their second highest tally of the season.

Defensively though, they still look all over the place and Chelsea should have gone one-nil up inside the first three minutes.

Below, we can see Thiago Silva lift his head and play a long forward pass that you would expect United to deal with quite easily as they haven’t been dragged around the pitch yet and thus should be well positioned.

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But somehow they have already ended up completely disjointed, with Alex Telles and Eric Bailly on the left of the defence holding a far higher line than Victor Lindelof and Aaron Wan-Bissaka on the right.

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It is so easy for Callum Hudson-Odoi to run onto Marcos Alonso’s headed ball through. When Lindelof then makes the situation even worse by missing his covering tackle, Hudson-Odi is through on goal and should have put his side one up.

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Chelsea’s use of their outside centre-backs is key to their control of the game

In recent weeks, the impressive displays of wing-backs Reece James and Ben Chilwell has seen the majority of the plaudits for Chelsea aimed in their direction.

While both James and Chilwell’s replacement, Alonso, were again heavily involved, the real impetus behind this performance came from further back.

Trevoh Chalobah has come into this Chelsea side at right centre-back in recent games and looked like he has been playing at this level for years.

Antonio Rudiger, on current form, is the best centre-back in the league. Both men were on top form in this game.

Here, we see Chalobah receive the ball from Thiago Silva and immediately attack the space in front of him. He is already into the final third of the field when he passes outside to James.

Once he plays the pass, he then looks to continue his run forward off the ball, only retreating back to his position after James decides to retain possession rather than attacking.

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The ball ends up back with Thiago Silva, who again has the option of either centre-back either side of him.

We can see in this moment how narrow the United set up is, further emphasising why Chalobah and Rudiger’s willingness to run down the outside of them would be so key to Chelsea’s advancement.

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Silva goes left to Rudiger but has has the intelligence to spot that space to exploit is now on the opposite side of the field and so switches it across to Chalobah, who in turn is able to play the ball into Hakim Ziyech in space.

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Chelsea continue to be patient and come back across the field with Jorginho finding Rudiger, who is now in a very advanced position.

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The German international plays the ball forward to Alonso and then, just as Chalobah did earlier in the move, looks to run in behind to receive a return pass.

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Alonso opts to go left and so Rudiger checks his run to present himself as an option for Hudson-Odoi to come back to. On receiving the pass back, he unleashes a thunderous strike that rattles off the crossbar.

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United starved of possession in the final third

In the 34th minute of the game, a graphic flashed up in the bottom corner of the Sky Sports screen that showed just how dominant Chelsea had been in the opening third of the game. Chelsea had played 54 passes in the final third compared to United’s 3.

At this exact moment, we also saw a prime example of how this dominance was affecting United’s play.

Starved of possession higher up the field, Bruno Fernandes found himself deep in his own third in an effort to get on the ball.

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But in unfamiliar surroundings, his pass selection and execution was poor and handed Hudson-Odoi another great opportunity to get open the scoring but he failed to get any real power behind his effort and David De Gea saved comfortably.

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Rudiger and Chalobah continue to dominate

One of reasons behind the United 4-4-2 diamond formation was that in theory it should have allowed the front two of Rashford and Sancho to match up against Chalobah and Rudiger and put a stop to their forward runs.

In reality though, Chelsea were just too good at sucking one, or both players inside to create the space that the outside centre backs required.

Here, we can see the perfect example.

Thiago Silva pass through to Loftus-Cheek results in Sancho having to come inside to close him down. Loftus-Cheek then takes advantage of this situation by simply bouncing the ball out to his left for Rudiger to step onto.

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It’s also worth noting the shape of United’s ‘diamond’ here.

Because of the influence that Hudson-Odoi had early in the game, Scott McTominay now seems to be almost trying to man-mark him. He is so deep in this instance as to be out of the first picture altogether and we don’t see him until Rudiger is into the final third again and putting in a cross.

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United intercept the cross but as Fred tries to play out to Rashford, we can see just how high Chalobah has also advanced. He continues his pressing run all the way to the edge of box and flicks the ball away from Fred to put Ziyech away inside the box.

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Had Hudson-Odoi been quicker to try and get across the front of Wan-Bissaka, Chelsea could have been rewarded for proactiveness of their centre backs.

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In the second half they did get that reward.

As Jorginho plays the ball forward to Hudson-Odoi, Rashford is in initially in a good position to deal with Rudiger.

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But upon receiving the bounce back pass, Jorginho spots his opportunity to dribble forward and draw Rashford in before popping it outside for Rudiger to make his usual marauding run.

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After an exchange of passes with Alonso, Rudiger holds off McTominay until he fouls him.

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United failed to get the ball out of their own third from that point on as three corner kicks followed before Wan-Biassaka clumsily gave away a penalty kick.

Rudiger almost had his crowning moment, and a match winner, in the final minutes of the game.

At first, it looked as though United may be on for a late goal of their own, creating a 4 v 3 situation as they attacked the Chelsea box. That was until Rudiger’s brilliantly-timed tackle on Jesse Lingard put a stop to that.

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Chelsea then broke on their own counter-attack with Ronaldo forced into a foul on Christian Pulisic to halt their momentum. Chalobah wanted to get on with things though and played a quick free down the line to Mason Mount.

As he does so, take a look at where Rudiger has popped back up!

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By the time Ziyech slips in Pulisic, Rudiger is pretty much in a traditional centre forward’s position, but he does appear to be marked tightly by Wan-Bissaka, who is looking directly at him.

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Yet when the cross arrives, the English right-back has given him an incredible amount of freedom and is blessed to see Rudiger blaze his match-winning opportunity over the bar.

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Thomas Tuchel is, by his own admission, very much a Ralf Rangnick disciple. Many of the concepts he has implemented at Chelsea were picked up from him his time studying the methods of the new Manchester United interim manager.

If Rangnick can have the same effect on the fortunes of his team and players as Tuchel has had then everybody in the red half of Manchester will be very happy.

Despite what this result might say though, United’s performances suggests that he has a much bigger job on his hands.

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