Newcastle give Ralf Rangnick’s Manchester United a lesson in pressing as Joelinton dazzles in draw

From Rangnick’s perspective, it was the wrong United who were doing all the right things in a 1-1 stalemate

Melissa Reddy
Senior Football Correspondent
Monday 27 December 2021 23:26
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Ralf Rangnick - Professor of football

Ralf Rangnick would have applauded the intensity, the intention, and the execution. Only, the kind of pressing he advocates and is famed for was being implemented by Newcastle, with Allan Saint-Maximin hounding Diogo Dalot when the clock struck 54.

That was a theme of the night at St James’ Park; the hosts suffocating and stifling their jaded opponents in an encounter that made it difficult to decipher which team had recorded a sole league victory ahead of kick-off amid Operation Avoid Relegation.

Substitute Edinson Cavani carpeted some of the embarrassment by securing an undeserved point for Manchester United; the Uruguayan enforcing his habit of making terrible collective performances more palatable with his tirelessness and intelligence.

Before that equaliser, Rangnick rattled off expletives on the touchline and seemed stunned by his side’s nothingness. Man United had not played since 11 December for Covid-related reasons, but it looked like the group were stitched together having never met each other before.

Raphael Varane, rusty having made a first appearance since October, was alien to Harry Maguire. The pair were awfully vulnerable and toyed with by Saint-Maximin and Callum Wilson, who were wonderfully supplemented by Ryan Fraser while Joelinton bossed matters in the middle of the park.

Fred, stationed in front of the centre-backs, only lasted until half-time much to Newcastle’s dismay. Man United, starting in a 4-2-2-2, were being bullied by Eddie Howe’s men off the ball and outclassed by them on it.

A frustrated Ralf Rangnick at St James’ Park

Their energy, chance creation, structure and solid gameplan – funnelling rapidly and consistently through Saint-Maximin – was apparent. Joelinton was, say it slowly and let it sink in, unplayable in midfield.

“The disrespect he gets is a disgrace – some of the noise from outside is so disrespectful,” Sean Longstaff said. “He’s the best player in training every day. If you get him in your team in training you’re buzzing, because you always win. I’m so, so happy for him.”

Three key passes, four tackles, the same number of interceptions and 11 regains marked out a man-of-the-match display. Joelinton was progressive, a destroyer and nightmarish for Man United to deal with.

The counter from the visitors was to rope in more attackers and hit the desperation button: flipping the middle finger to strategy and defensive organisation.

Joe Murphy hit the post and David de Gea dusted off his cape once again to pull off a blinder to deny Miguel Almiron at the death.

Rangnick was brought in to do surgery on Man United, but a punchline was that he fixed Newcastle, who turned in a display they can certainly extract heaps of hope from.

Time hadn’t reached double digits when a home throw-in was passively defended, with Longstaff dispossessing Varane and supplying Saint-Maximin.

The electric forward so easily skipped away from Maguire, and off balance while three markers swarmed in, applied a wondrous finish.

Saint-Maximin should have really put the clash beyond this wretched Man United’s reach, with two attempts that should have been buried. His unpredictability was a chief weapon for Newcastle, so it will be worrying that both he and Wilson were removed through injury.

Cristiano Ronaldo was supremely fortunate to avoid a red card and not cause a further absentee for Howe after recklessly clattering into Fraser in a show of frustration.

The problem for Newcastle beyond a ravaged squad is knowing just how much stock to assign to this draw. For all their brilliant following of the blueprint, United were woeful. They erred from the opening minute when Maguire’s cumbersomeness allowed Fraser to dash in behind.

They saw out the final minute extremely thankful to exit with a point. Rangnick would have applauded the intensity, the intention, and the execution – only the ‘godfather of Gegenpressing’ was witnessing everything he wants on the pitch from Newcastle, not his United.

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