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EPL: How Ralf Rangnick is solving Manchester United problem Solskaer failed to

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Ralf Rangnick

The failure to identify an internal solution in midfield was Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s undoing but Ralf Rangnick is in the process of doing so with the same Man United midfielders.

The sea change began inside the first four minutes. Manchester United won two corners and forced the first error on Crystal Palace inside their own third. Then in the sixth minute, Scott McTominay’s committed interception truly turned the tide.

Five United players were in Palace’s third and Marc Guehi kept his distance as McTominay slid in, eliciting a roar to usher in the new era at Old Trafford.

United have been ahead at the interval in five games this season but the goalless first-half against Palace was their most accomplished and sophisticated first 45 minutes of the season. Palace were thrown by the 4-2-2-2 formation and appeared to have prepared for a different United. This was the same team that beat Arsenal three days earlier yet it also so different.

With divots still fresh on the pitch outside, Ralf Rangnick succinctly summarised the win during his introductory press conference on Sir Matt Busby Way on Friday morning, outlining his intention ‘to minimise the coincidence factor and have control and gain control of a game’. Palace were reduced to one standout opportunity when Jordan Ayew may have been offside.

United attained the control Ole Gunnar Solskjaer failed to master in nearly three years. United were never a pressing team under Sir Alex Ferguson but the United AD (after dominance) is the new measure of progression or regression: Palace was their joint-highest for possessions won in the final third since Ferguson retired.

Before he obtained his work permit, Rangnick’s preference for a ‘double six’ formation augured well for McTominay and matchwinner Fred. McTominay and Fred started in all three of Michael Carrick’s games in caretaker charge and a partnership that was often unfairly derided under Solskjaer has already shown more tactical nous in the two weeks since his emotional exit interview.

“If you play the way we played today with regard to intensity, with regard to being on the front foot, playing proactively and having four offensive players ahead of Scotty and Fred, with Jadon, Bruno, Cristiano, and Marcus, it’s highly important you have players who are very disciplined, proactively aggressive against the ball,” Rangnick explained in the spartan flash interview room.

“Scotty and Fred are almost perfect defensively on that. There were one or two or three mistakes, in the first-half, two square passes, one from Scott and one from Fred, I don’t like those kind of balls in midfield from those positions.

“Overall, as I said, the other team in possession of the ball, Fred and Scott are almost perfect.”

One of Solskjaer’s biggest undoings this season was his refusal to reprogramme McTominay as a defensive-minded midfielder. Solskjaer dubbed McTominay ‘an attacking midfielder by nature’ after he scored twice against Leeds last year and it was not a wholly accurate statement.

McTominay began as a forward in the United junior teams yet, during his most prominent season with the Under-21s in 2016-17, tallied just three goals. McTominay hardly played for the Under-18s due to his waifish frame.

Jose Mourinho rightly identified McTominay as a deep-lying midfielder and Solskjaer added strings to the Scot’s bow, developing him into a more rounded player with goal-getting instincts. Only it was not for the betterment of the team.

McTominay’s finest performance for United was as a destroyer against, ironically, Mourinho’s Tottenham two years ago. In the Europa League final, McTominay was more rampaging than Paul Pogba – relocated to central midfield – and you sense Solskjaer intended for it to be the other way round.

Carrick ripped up Solskjaer’s blueprint for McTominay and United switched to a 4-4-2 out of possession at Villarreal two weeks ago. At Chelsea, McTominay shadowed Callum Hudson-Odoi and the winger went cold.

McTominay is still allowed off the leash to supplement United’s pressing and he and Fred recorded the most pressures against Palace. Rangnick appears to have given McTominay, 25 this week, with a remit with and without the ball. Carrick deserves kudos for finessing McTominay’s role and picking him up after a horrendous half at Watford, where he was not fully fit, conceded a penalty, was booked and then hooked at the pause.

Rangnick is likely to stick with 4-2-2-2 against Young Boys on Wednesday to restore continuity and an identity to a team previously mired in an identity crisis. That is where Nemanja Matic, United’s sole specialist defensive midfielder, would logically come in. It is not complicated, rotating one player for another in the same formation. Solskjaer excelled at that as a United player but was hopeless at it as a manager.

United are now turning the tide.

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Austine Eguavoen: Super Eagles coach’s pay structure revealed

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Interim coach Austin Eguavoen will be entitled to only win bonuses as the Super Eagles gaffer at the ongoing Africa Cup of Nations tournament in Cameroon.

Eguavoen was appointed on a short-term deal after the Nigeria Football Federation sacked Gernot Rohr in December.

Rohr was Nigeria’s longest-serving manager after taking charge in August 2016, but had his contract terminated after leading the Eagles to the 2022 World Cup qualifying play-offs and sealing a spot at the Nations Cup in Cameroon.

The Franco-German also led Nigeria to the 2018 World Cup and guided the team to third-place at the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations in Egypt.

“Eguavoen is on the payroll of the NFF and he won’t be entitled to salary for the role he is playing as an interim coach of the team,” President of the NFF Amaju Pinnick stated recently on Arise TV.

“He will be entitled to the winning bonuses as the team progress at the tournament.”

Eguavoen has already won his opening two group games at the tournament which has sealed their place in the round of 16 in the competition

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Cristiano Ronaldo wins The Best FIFA Special Award

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Cristiano Ronaldo has been honoured by FIFA for becoming the all-time leading goalscorer at the international level.

The Manchester United star has now scored 115 goals for Portugal, breaking Ali Daei’s previous record of 109.

Ronaldo received a special in-person award and was also named in the FIFPRO Men’s World11 for 2021, at what was largely a virtual ceremony for FIFA’s The Best ceremony in Zurich on Monday.

“It’s a dream. First of all, I have to say thank you to my teammates, especially in the national team during the last 20 years that I used to play with. I never thought of beating that record,” Ronaldo said.

“I have to say thank you to my family, my wife, my kids – soon I will be a father again! I’m really proud, it’s a great achievement to be the top scorer of all time.”

Asked how he is maintaining his fine goalscoring form at the age of 36,he insisted that he is as motivated as ever to even score goals and win trophies.

“It’s a passion, I still have a passion for the game, not just to score goals but to entertain myself,” Ronaldo added. “I’ve played football since I was five or six years old so when I get to the pitch even in training I still enjoy it and my motivation’s still good.

“I’m 37 soon, I feel good and motivated. I keep working hard since I was 18 and I continue. I have that passion and want to continue.

“People ask sometimes how many more years I’m going to play and I say I hope to play more than four or five years. It’s all about mentally, because physically if you treat your body good, it’ll treat you back.”

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AFCON: Okocha names most important player in Super Eagles

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Former Nigeria captain, Austin Okocha has singled out Kaizer Chiefs goalkeeper, Daniel Akpeyi, for special praise.

Akpeyi is currently part of the Super Eagles’ squad at the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations.

The 35-year-old who has made 19 international appearances, is behind Francis Uzoho and Maduka Okoye in the pecking order after his recent injury concerns.

However, Okocha believes Akpeyi has an important role to play in the team.

“Daniel is a very important player for the squad. He only lost his place through injury. This shows how strong the whole squad is, because once you miss out because of injury, it’s always difficult to get back for a goalkeeper.

“We believe we have a great squad and we have people like Daniel we can rely on if needed.

“I am happy that we have a happy competition in our goalkeeping department and it is a plus for any coach,” Okocha said in an interview with Amakhosi’s media team.

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