Gary Neville and Jamie Carragher both fear Ralf Rangnick’s 4-2-2-2 formation isn’t the best system for his Manchester United side – and were proved immediately right following an atrocious first half performance against Newcastle.
The German interim boss has had three games in charge since replacing Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, recording two 1-0 wins in the Premier League and a 1-1 draw in the Champions League.
United have mustered only three goals in those fixtures, conceding one against Young Boys.
Neville believes the skinny formation doesn’t bring the right balance to the side and will drag the two midfielders behind the attackers – in this case Mason Greenwood and Bruno Fernandes – out of position.
“The problems with this system are two-fold,” Neville explained on Sky Sports. “The thing is you ultimately don’t have the balance at times but when you’re defending you become a 442 and this is what Newcastle will be looking to do tonight, take Greenwood all the way back there in a 442 and more importantly, Fernandes.
“You’ve got to have a partner for Ronaldo.”
Carragher, though, pointed to the attacking concerns regarding the formation, believing a real lack of chances were created against the likes of Crystal Palace and Norwich.
“The big thing that stands out is they struggled to create chances in both games,” Carragher explained. “[They’ve] Been really solid defensively but the interesting thing is that in the game against Crystal Palace, the chances came between minute 15 and 30. So, in that period that’s where Manchester United had their chances. They’ve struggled in the two games in terms of build up, playing through teams.
“There’s very little there until the penalty comes. You actually see throughout the game it’s very even with Norwich in terms of creating very little – almost 0.5 xG up until the 50th minute – so again it shows they had difficulties creating chances.
Carragher added: “Straightaway, we know this system has no real width and the thing for me is the positions of these players: Sancho and Bruno Fernandes. It’s where you take up a position to receive the ball but also what it does to the opposition. So, look how narrow the full-backs are for Norwich. A narrow back four.
“As we run it up, as I say it’s not a normal formation we see too often, now straight away because of that position of Sancho, I think it’s difficult for centre-backs on either side to get the ball to the centre-forward.
“They’re blocking the passing lane with their positions. It goes wide, that’s where the space is. This is my sort of problem with this system when it’s not working great it is you can have your attacking players very close together.
“Now, it’s very difficult to get passes and stretch the opposition. What it’s really good for is winning the ball back. You see Manchester United lose the ball… counter-press! That’s what the manager wants. You’ve got that, five players around the ball to win the ball back quickly and that’s what they do – they force Norwich to get the ball out of play.”
And moments later the concerns laid bare by Neville and Carragher came to the fore.
United conceded to a brilliant Allan Saint-Maximin goal, despite three defenders surrounding the Frenchman.
They also failed to produce any real attacking threat, regularly struggling to get the ball into Ronaldo and struggling in the wide areas.
If the performances continue, Rangnick may be forced to go back to the drawing board.