Manchester United caretaker manager Michael Carrick insisted his team’s set-up in Sunday’s 1-1 draw at Chelsea was not influenced by Ralf Rangnick, the man expected to be appointed until the end of the season.
Carrick was put in charge after Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s sacking last weekend and has overseen a win and a draw in his two matches at the helm.
The tussle with Chelsea at Stamford Bridge came amid reports suggesting United have agreed a deal to appoint Rangnick as interim manager until the end of the season, at which point he will move into a consultancy role.
Rangnick has a fine reputation both as a coach and director, with the likes of Jurgen Klopp and Thomas Tuchel considering him an inspiration, while he helped transform German clubs Hoffenheim and RB Leipzig.
While no announcement has been made yet by United, it was widely speculated that Rangnick’s famed style of play – based on aggressive pressing and attacking – was being looked to by Carrick at Stamford Bridge.
Cristiano Ronaldo, criticised in some quarters for his off-the-ball work ethic, was dropped to the bench and United appeared to press with much greater purpose than they generally did under Solskjaer, though Carrick seemed to suggest it was a mere coincidence rather than a plan hatched by Rangnick.
Asked by BBC Sport if Rangnick had influenced their set-up, Carrick said: “No, that’s not the case.”
Instead, the approach was based on an acceptance that United would have to graft for any form of positive result.
“To come away disappointed and to feel like you have left something out there is a positive,” Carrick said. “That intent and that hunger summed us up today. We knew it wasn’t going to be free-flowing football at times, but we were prepared to dig in.”
United took the lead early in the second half with one of just three shots they had over the match – Jadon Sancho seized on a Jorginho error before beating Edouard Mendy, though the Italy midfielder later made amends from the penalty spot.
“I don’t think it was a penalty at all,” Carrick said. “They have had a lot of shots, David [De Gea] had [some] saves, which we knew before the game he would have to make one or two.
“Other than that, I have felt quite comfortable in the game. Of course, we want to be better. I’m not getting carried away, but I thought we defended well. I cannot fault the boys one bit.”
While Carrick might have felt Chelsea did not offer much, expected goals (xG) data suggests the Blues would have been worthy winners, creating chances worth 2.54 xG to United’s 0.82.
This was not lost on De Gea, who made four of his five saves in the first half, though the in-form Spanish goalkeeper considered the bigger picture.
“On the pitch, in the goal, I was feeling danger for nearly the whole game,” De Gea told Sky Sports. “We defended well, they missed big chances as well, and then once they gave us a chance and we score.
“It is not enough to draw but, at the moment, with the way we are, it is a big point. The last games before, we were conceding three or four goals.
“Now we concede one from a penalty, and a clean sheet against Villarreal. We are improving, but this is just two games. We need to show it in the games that are coming.
“We were playing very poor. At least now we are defending well. We are fighting for every ball. I think that’s good. Like I say, I’m proud of the team, we are fighting for every ball, but that’s the minimum for Manchester United players.”