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Manchester United’s ‘totally flat’ finish: holidays, absences and bad training sessions but McClaren to return 


The mood at Manchester United training has been described as “totally flat” as the club heads into the final week of Ralf Rangnick’s reign.

Sources familiar with Carrington say the performance and result in the 4-0 defeat at Brighton was no surprise considering the build-up to the match consisted of underwhelming sessions laid on by coaches Chris Armas and Ewan Sharp, overseen by Rangnick.

There were small-sided games at modest speed, set-piece drills, and some running, but little specific to Graham Potter’s team. The level of coaching has been the subject of discussion among players for some time, with sources close to the dressing room labelling the standard as “well below” that of predecessors Michael Carrick and Kieran McKenna. Rangnick and United would have preferred Carrick and McKenna to have stayed on.

Sharp, in particular, has struggled to cope in the eyes of some of those receiving instructions. The 30-year-old graduated from North Park University, in Chicago, with a master’s in business administration in 2017, going on to spend three years as a New York Red Bulls analyst, working under Armas, who was head coach. He assisted Armas, 49, at FC Toronto before both were sacked in the wake of a 7-1 loss to DC United last November. Sharp worked for a month at Lokomotiv Moscow with Rangnick before joining United.


Armas (right) with Sharp ahead of the Brentford match (Photo: Mike Egerton/PA Images via Getty Images)

Those backgrounds have been regarded by people connected to United as insufficient for the jump to the demands and calibre of player at United. For all their efforts, that has in turn eroded authority over a squad that is difficult to handle, with players known to have different views among themselves over how to train.

Rangnick has tried to get to grips with the poor performances, holding meetings with senior players about the way forward and simplifying pressing instructions, but his inability to settle on a system and personnel has caused uncertainty in individuals’ performances.

Only one session was spent working on the back-three system at Anfield, against a Liverpool side completely drilled in their 4-3-3, and United were ripped apart.

A source said: “Each player needs to know their job and everyone else’s, so if someone doesn’t perform a task they get called out collectively. United don’t have that. Week by week they don’t understand their roles and responsibilities, so too many excuses can be made.”

Cristiano Ronaldo’s shrugging laugh at Brighton seemed to tell a story.

After that defeat, Rangnick gave his players four days off, with a return to Carrington on Thursday. In the circumstances, with United out of Champions League contention and no fixture this weekend, that can be seen as understandable.

But sources at United are adamant there is jeopardy in the final game at Crystal Palace, with a result needed to avoid the possible ignominy of dropping into the Europa Conference League. West Ham United are three points behind with a game in hand and a vastly superior goal difference. There is also a financial element, as each place is worth £2.2 million.

Some United staff feel time this week could have been spent preparing the side and also guarding against an atmosphere where there is zero consequence to a terrible result, even if plans were made a fortnight ago.

Rangnick has regularly given days off, allowing a spell of nine from 13 after the team’s Champions League exit to Atletico Madrid. He spent time in Barbados during that break and was away from Carrington for one day when the players returned. Those who trained were annoyed that Rangnick was not present, with drills led by Armas and Sharp.

Technical director Darren Fletcher has often assisted coaching, attempting to bridge any issues that arise and, as the campaign has lurched into disaster, Rangnick has taken an approach to explain his feelings with growing candidness in press conferences. This has played well with fans but caused further friction among some in the squad.

Rangnick was John Murtough’s choice as interim when Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was sacked, with Armas and Sharp brought in despite not being first choices, so United’s football director must hope the appointment of Erik ten Hag goes much better. There are some who feel Murtough — who was present at Tottenham’s 3-0 win over Arsenal on Thursday night — could step in and offer more presence over the current dilemmas.

Murtough has his attention on Ten Hag’s arrival at United, flying several times to Amsterdam, with his trip on Thursday being the latest. He then returned to the UK before attending Tottenham’s 3-0 victory over Arsenal.

In the Dutch capital, Murtough met Ten Hag, Mitchell van der Gaag, and Steve McClaren, the latter two of whom are set to join United as assistant coaches. Negotiations with Van der Gaag are at an advanced stage and close to completion, while a deal for McClaren is now in the works.

Ten Hag, McClaren


Ten Hag and McClaren worked together at FC Twente (Photo: Martin Rickett/PA Images via Getty Images)

McClaren’s situation has taken a little longer because United wanted clarity on his exact role, given he has been working as a senior advisor at Derby County. Ten Hag explained McClaren would be used on the grass at United, helping with selections and player development, rather than at executive level.

Ten Hag worked under McClaren at FC Twente and the pair finished second in the Eredivisie together. Ten Hag left and McClaren won the title in 2010, with Alfred Schreuder as his assistant. Schreuder was an integral part of Ten Hag’s staff as Ajax reached the Champions League semi-finals in 2019 and was confirmed as the successor to his former boss in Amsterdam this week.

McClaren, 61, is poised to make a return to United after two decades away. He assisted Sir Alex Ferguson between 1999 and 2001, being part of the treble-winning team 23 years ago.

McClaren and Van der Gaag, would be the two coaches to join Ten Hag, with United’s incoming manager set to make further calls once he is in place. United feel first-team coach Eric Ramsay is very capable of supporting Ten Hag.

In the background, work continues. One of Murtough’s earlier trips out to Amsterdam, a couple of weeks ago, was done alongside sports science staff to go through fitness regimens and pre-season plans with Ten Hag.

This recent meeting was about general strategy rather than recruitment. United are of course looking to sign players in conjunction with Ten Hag, with Frenkie de Jong ticking boxes for both.

It is also hoped that Ten Hag will get more out of the players already at his disposal.

One of those is Marcus Rashford, whose form has tumbled this season. Rashford had considered his club future amid time spent on the bench under Rangnick, but his full focus now is on United.

A bout of bronchitis kept him from attending the FA Youth Cup final at Old Trafford but he recovered to train on Thursday. That evening he was spotted filming a Nike advert at King’s School in Macclesfield evening alongside Ronaldo and Jude Bellingham.

Paul Pogba, meanwhile, was in at Carrington on Tuesday and Wednesday to work on his recovery from a calf strain.

Rangnick’s options have become limited through a series of players suffering injuries, but Ten Hag will be watching the match at Selhurst Park — it is yet to be decided if he’ll be in the stands or watching on TV — so those hoping to make an impact under the new manager have an opportunity to stake a claim.

(Photo: Ash Donelon/Manchester United via Getty Images)





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