Watching Rangnick post-Manchester United: Power cut, pressing plan, narrow defeat

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When Ralf Rangnick sat back and pondered what his first game on home soil as Austria’s national team manager may look like, it would have been the total opposite of what happened inside the Ernst Happel Stadium last night.

A power cut in Vienna’s District Two led to kick-off being delayed for over 45 minutes. The lights momentarily came back on after a small wait but then flickered back off again, much to the crowd’s disappointment.

Players from both sides emerged from the tunnel to witness the stadium’s MC doing his best to keep the crowd entertained as time dragged on. At one point he had them using the torches on their mobile phones to create a twinkling Mexican Wave in the gloom.

Neil Diamond’s Sweet Caroline, Coldplay’s aptly-titled Sky Full of Stars and Sir Paul McCartney’s Hey Jude were also played to try to improve the atmosphere before the soundtrack culminated with Europe’s appropriate The Final Countdown.

So, no, there was next to no chance Rangnick thought his first home game with Austria – against Denmark in the Nations League – would begin in such a manner.


The stadium during the power cut

At 9.35pm local time, 50 minutes after the match was scheduled to begin, the floodlights beamed into life and confirmation soon followed that the game would finally kick off at 10.15pm, giving the teams the chance to complete another warm-up.

“We were all worried the game could not be played tonight,” Rangnick said after his side’s eventual 2-1 defeat.

Despite all of the unexpected drama, you would think it was a smoother ride for Rangnick than anything he experienced during his ill-fated six month tenure last season as Manchester United’s interim manager.


Even though the 50,000-capacity Ernst Happel is considerably smaller than Old Trafford, and was nowhere near full, Rangnick was given a rousing reception when introduced to the crowd moments before kick-off.

Despite making nine changes to the side that beat 2018 World Cup finalists Croatia 3-0 in his debut game in charge on Friday, Rangnick’s new team started well, showing intent from the off and pressing Denmark high. Austria turned the ball over twice in the opening exchanges and laid down a marker of how they were going to play.


Rangnick, left, with assistant coaches Lars Kornetka, middle, and Robert Almer (Photo: Michael Molzar / SEPA.Media / Getty Images)

The irony of an organized, well-drilled Rangnick team with each player carrying out their designated task can’t have been lost on the Manchester United scout who was in attendance.

They would also have noticed their former colleague working with his chosen assistants, something he was unable to do in Manchester.

Sat next to him in the dugout was Lars Kornetka, previously his assistant at Lokomotiv Moscow, who used to provide live analysis for him during United games via telephone. Kornetka’s thoughts had to be transmitted through coaches Ewan Sharp and Chris Armas to Rangnick at half-time while he was managing the Old Trafford side for the second half of last season.

When Rangnick was not patrolling his technical area last night, he would often be in conversation with trusted lieutenant Kornetka. He also counts on Peter Pechtold and Onur Cindel.

Despite the home side’s good start, it was Denmark who took the lead. Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg of Tottenham passed wide to Leeds target Rasmus Kristensen, continued his run into the box and then converted his team-mate’s cross.

David Alaba nearly equalized directly from a corner on the verge of half-time, forcing Kasper Schmeichel of Leicester City into a scrambling save.

Rangnick made three changes at the break, with Marcel Sabitzer, Marko Arnautovic and Michael Gregoritsch all coming on.

Two of the replacements – Arnautovic and Sabitzer – played a crucial role in Xaver Schlager’s 67th-minute equalizer.

Schmeichel was closed down by Sabitzer, forcing a botched clearance towards Arnautovic, who created space and switched a quick pass to set Schlager up to score.

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The substitutions proved to be inspired, and without a coordinated Austrian press, their goal would not have been possible.

“It (pressing) is what any team in modern football should do,” Rangnick claimed. “Most of the players have been developed and educated in that kind of football. It does not make sense for us to be passive and reactive, it only makes sense for us to be proactive and aggressive. ”

After the home team missed several chances to take the lead, Jens Larsen ruined Rangnick’s night with an exquisite top-corner finish for the winner in the final 10 minutes, with his effort coming not long after Arnautovic had hit the post.

Despite losing, which should be viewed as a missed opportunity as France failed to beat Croatia in the night’s other Group A1 game, Rangnick seemsingly has his team organized in a manner that he was unable to replicate at Old Trafford.


On the touchline, the 63-year-old appeared notably more relaxed in his new surroundings; no longer is he having to worry about the glare and pressure that comes with being Manchester United manager, even if he was only appointed last November on an interim basis as a bridge between the reigns of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and new arrival Erik ten Hag.

Sources close to the dressing room point out that the Austria players have completely bought what Rangnick is selling them. There is thought to be no issue among the group concerning what a disaster United tenure turned out to be, with them finishing only sixth, 35 points behind champions and neighbors Manchester City and on the club’s lowest points total for a season, 58, since 1989 -90.

He has only taken five training sessions since taking the Austria role, four of those came before the Croatia win, and his squad have been impressed.

“He has been really good,” Real Madrid defender Alaba told The Athletic. “You can see we have a really good plan and you can see it works for us on the pitch. He does not want us to let the opponents breathe air. It’s good for us. “

But was any credence given to how it unravelled at United?

“I have known Ralf since I was 18 years old, and he is a world-class coach,” added Alaba. “What he did in the past is something special and now I’m seeing it close up. He showed what he can do at Leipzig, Salzburg and Hoffenheim.

“He did not have a lot of time in Manchester. He has a really good plan and knows a lot about football. ”

Behind the scenes, Rangnick is already trying to make his mark – putting forward suggestions on how to improve a team currently 34th in FIFA’s world rankings who missed out on World Cup qualification by losing 2-1 away to Wales in their play-off semi- final in March – and is being backed up by senior players.


You get the sense that in Austria, Rangnick holds almost something akin to messianic status. Supporters outside the Ernst Happel Stadium view the German as a victim of Manchester United’s mess rather than a guilty party.

“He is better known for his job at the Red Bull clubs than he is for what happened at Manchester,” claims fan Markus Wohry, 24, “I’m excited to see how he develops the team’s game. I like his style of play. ”

Wohry was not the only pro-Rangnick supporter basking in Vienna’s early-summer heat ahead of kick-off.

“He is a very good coach and we appreciate him a lot in Austria,” adds Werner Kanyak, 46. “He is going to do a very good job.

“We know what happened at Manchester United and it does not matter that he did not do well. We are happy he is now with us. We appreciate the experience he gained in Manchester. ”

Rangnick may have left Manchester under a cloud and with his planned consultancy role at United tossed in the bin, but he has been welcomed with open arms by the Austrian national team.

And it is hard not to conclude he will be their gain and United’s loss.

(Top photo: Christian Hofer / Getty Images)

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