If at the beginning of last week Ralf Rangnick held a flicker of hope he would be Manchester United manager next season, then defeat to Atletico Madrid in the Champions League second round has surely extinguished it.
Man Utd enter the international break on a run of one win in five matches in all competitions and closer to West Ham in seventh than Arsenal in fourth.
They are also on track to win 66 points, which, strangely enough, would be the fourth time they’ve hit that total in the last seven years.
in the post-Sir Alex Ferguson years.
It goes without saying they need to get the next appointment right but, .
By the end of next season, it will be 10 years since the club’s last league title, a significant milestone that will cause more soul-searching at Old Trafford.
By then, they need to have in place a long-term vision; a structure that has a league title in its sights but with an understanding that, realistically, it will take several years to get to the level that Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool and Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City are at.
As Liverpool supporters can attest to, the first 10 years without a title are rough, but not as rough as the next 10.
It gets tougher with every year that passes, and Man Utd must ready themselves for a long process that demands patience. There is no quick fix and no time to waste.
Broadly speaking, there are two directions United can go. One route is towards hard pressing and verticality, the other a more patient possession approach: the Klopp way or the Guardiola way.
GOAL sources say that Mauricio Pochettino and Erik ten Hag are level-pegging in the eyes of the decision-makers at United, with Julen Lopetegui, Thomas Tuchel and Luis Enrique the others being considered.
Luis Enrique is surely out of the question as he is determined to lead Spain into the World Cup this winter. The other four neatly reflect that choice between the two dominant tactical systems in European football.
Pochettino or Tuchel represent Kloppites
The Argentine has been tracked by United for a very long time now and it is believed he would love the job.
Pochettino has struggled to handle the egotism that drives Paris Saint-Germain, finding player power too great for his tactical beliefs to take hold.
But rather than see Pochettino’s time in Paris as a sign he is not capable of managing a difficult group, we should view him as someone with the lived experience to handle it.
and, right now, United are hovering alarmingly close to the same approach.
From the leaks to broadsheet newspapers about Rangnick’s methods to the whinging we see on the pitch, Man Utd could do with a manager who has seen this kind of behaviour at its worst and will work to stamp it out before things spiral out of control.
From a tactical perspective, he is the ideal fit. Pochettino’s desire to play hard-pressing football that focuses on verticality in the transition is in keeping with the Premier League’s tactical shift towards the Germanic way of playing.
He is not hugely dissimilar from Thomas Tuchel – another manager GOAL understands United are assessing – although Pochettino teams press higher.
Pochettino’s focus on using overlapping full-backs to provide penetration from out wide means but, elsewhere, there are the foundations for a move towards direct football that makes use of the transitions.
Fred would be an ideal box-to-box midfielder for Pochettino or Tuchel, while Jadon Sancho, Marcus Rashford and Anthony Elanga have the explosive pace that would suit the attacking attitudes of the two managers.
However, neither would be keen on Harry Maguire, requiring a more agile defender to cope with holding a high line, while more press-resistant and creative players are needed in central midfield.
Then there is the Cristiano Ronaldo problem, as the Portuguese’s presence may inform which path United choose.
His unwillingness to press as part of a collective system and sacrifice himself makes the Kloppite option less appealing than the Guardiola style of suffocation and control, which, in theory, allows for a penalty-box poacher.
Ten Hag or Lopetegui represent Guardiola approach
Man Utd may wish to see themselves more as over-dogs, as football royalty who want to completely dominate matches as Manchester City do.
If that’s the case, then Ten Hag or Julen Lopetegui – the latter lower further down the list – make more sense due to their greater focus on possession.
Ten Hag has been credited with reviving the classic Ajax teams of the past with his slower style of football, which requires constant circulation of possession; opponents are gradually worn down after being camped in their own third for long periods.
Lopetegui’s Sevilla are less successful – owing to their relative size compared with the superclubs in Spain- but they hold 60.8 per cent possession on average in La Liga.
Their primary ambition is to keep the ball high up the pitch for long periods and while this works from a defensive standpoint – they have the best record in Spain – it does mean Sevilla struggle to break opponents down. They have drawn 12 times domestically this season.
Perhaps Lopetegui would have greater success with a more powerful team like Man Utd.
Certainly, with Ronaldo, Bruno Fernandes, and (possibly) Paul Pogba in the starting XI, the territorial advantages of being managed by Lopetegui or Ten Hag should mean more meaningful possession in creative areas of the pitch for United’s stars.
Aside from the forward areas, there would be few differences in the transfer policies of the respective candidates. Lopetegui and Ten Hag also consider attacking full-backs to be crucial, and would want a right-back.
United are crying out for a defensive midfield destroyer who can play progressive forward passes, so no matter who comes in, Declan Rice ought to be a target.
Pochettino ticks all the non-tactical boxes
In choosing Guardiola or Klopp, possession or verticality, it is initially tempting to assume the slower and more dominant system is a better fit.
It is closer to the club’s self-image of global domination and more accommodating to the individualists in their rank.
But the main reason United are in this mess is their nostalgia, inability to move with the times, and indulgence of superstars. For that reason, and , Pochettino is the answer.
Many United fans are concerned about the lack of silverware in Pochettino’s history but, of all the available candidates, he possesses the best mix of attributes to build a long-term project with the support of the dressing room and supporters.
That is the most important trait of all, far more so than pre-existing ideas of the candidates’ tactical philosophies.
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Because while crude distinctions can be made between the four names here, in reality, all are very talented coaches capable of some adaptation to the unique demands of the Premier League and the idiosyncrasies of the current squad.
The advantage of Pochettino is a hardened appreciation of what to expect from an egotistical dressing room; a tactical ideology built on self-sacrifice that has been proven to work in the Premier League; and a track record of nurturing young players.
United are forever trapped in a media circus, but with a known and likeable figure like Pochettino in charge, there would at least be space – emotionally as well as tactically – for the project to take baby steps over the first two years.