Ralf Rangnick has told his Manchester United players they will not compete unless they up their work rate and start sprinting after admitting the pressure is on to save their season.
United face Aston Villa in the FA Cup third round at Old Trafford on Monday night, with Rangnick leaving nothing to chance by insisting he will be playing his strongest team possible.
Already out of the Carabao Cup and 22 points adrift of Premier League leaders Manchester City, the FA Cup represents United’s most realistic chance of a first trophy for five years with the club outsiders to win the Champions League.
And Rangnick – who has struggled to impose his high intensity pressing game since replacing Ole Gunnar Solskjaer on an interim basis at the end of November – has demanded wholesale improvement.
Asked if United’s players had the work ethic to implement his methods on a consistent basis, the German said: “This is the only way we can compete in this league and at that level.
“Whenever you watch games, even if it’s not the top teams, they play with intensity, they play with physicality, they play with energy and they sprint. This is what we have to do. We have to develop into this kind of team.
“As I said after the first game against Crystal Palace, we showed at least in the first half a lot of those things and it’s about implementing this into the team in a sustainable way. This is our job.
“We have to do it together with the players and we have, obviously, to develop the players, identify for each game, the players who are willing and able to do that and to deliver exactly what we spoke about.
“I think most of the players know what they have to do and we also speak to the players. We did it before the training session [on Friday] – what they have to do in each position and what their jobs are, offensively and defensively.
“I’ve only been here now for five weeks. Yes, the pressure is on at a club like Manchester United. I’m pretty sure that the players are aware of that.”
Rangnick has been battling unrest in the camp but has urged the side to pull together and show more of what they produced in the first half of the 1-0 win over Crystal Palace and the 3-1 victory against Burnley.
“In the end, it’s still about showing up when we play in front of 75,000 and we showed that against Burnley. We also showed it against Crystal Palace,” he said. “The team is able to dominate games, to win games. Both games against Burnley and Palace that was the case and this is exactly what we have to achieve in the next weeks to help the team develop into a dominating team. This can only be done in possession and out of possession if they do things together.”
Victor Lindelof is available again after contracting coronavirus and Harry Maguire is hoping to be available following a rib injury that kept him out of the 1-0 defeat to Wolves but Eric Bailly is away on Africa Cup of Nations duty with Ivory Coast and Paul Pogba is out for a further six weeks. .
Rangnick was given tickets to the 1980 FA Cup final between West Ham and Arsenal as a leaving present by his former team-mates at non-league club Southwick during his time playing in England and is desperate to win the competition. And he expects Villa – who are managed by former Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard – to provide a stiff test.
“I’ve always been a big fan, supporter and admirer of the FA Cup. I remember back in 1980 when I spent my year abroad in Brighton I watched the FA Cup final at Wembley. It was West Ham against Arsenal, it was my farewell present from my team-mates at Southwick.
“For me, it’s a very important competition. We will definitely try to play with our best possible team in that game. We take the game as seriously as we can.
“We know it will not be an easy game because especially since they changed managers they have been doing well. They won four games and lost four games, three of them against the top teams [Manchester City, Liverpool and Chelsea]. It needs a top performance from us to be successful.”
Meanwhile, Rangnick has revealed that he held a 30-minute conversation with Edinson Cavani on Thursday in which the Uruguay striker – whom he believes is a “perfect role model” for his younger players – pledged his full support until the end of the season.
“I had a conversation with him, he came into my office and we spoke for almost half an hour and he told me he will definitely stay … until the end of the season,” Rangnick said. “He told me that I can rely on him to stay until the end of the season and give his very best and be a role model for the young players.
“For me, this is good news because Edi is one of those players, with his vast amount of experience, his mentality and work ethic, who could really be a perfect role model for the other players.”
Steven Gerrard: ‘I don’t listen to people who don’t respect FA Cup’
By John Percy
It was almost 16 years ago when Steven Gerrard produced that superhuman performance to drive Liverpool towards FA Cup glory.
The ‘Gerrard Final’ against West Ham, including that spectacular strike from distance to force extra-time, underlined his legendary status with the club and proved crucial in securing a second trophy.
Gerrard is now writing the next chapter as a manager with Aston Villa and will be urging his players to create some memories of their own at Manchester United on Monday night.
While many other Premier League clubs have chosen to rotate or select under-strength teams, in these times of Covid-19 and a congested fixture list, there is no prospect of that for Villa.
And Gerrard has taken aim at those managers dismissing the FA Cup, insisting he will be bold due to his long association with this “special trophy”.
“We will pick the strongest possible team,” he said. “There is enough time to recover before the next game so it makes no sense to make wholesale changes.
“The cup competitions should be looked at as opportunities to impress ourselves and our supporters. You would be very naive to underestimate this competition. I don’t read or listen to people who don’t show this competition respect. Everyone is entitled to their opinion but the FA Cup will always be a very special trophy to compete in.
“My message to the players is that they can have some of the highlights of their career in this competition. If you’re English you grow up watching the final and you dream of playing in it. You actually create the scene in the street many times if you want to be a professional footballer. I did and I managed to live the dream. A good cup run can give you memories for the rest of your life.”
Gerrard won two FA Cups during his 17-year senior career with Liverpool and is fully aware Villa face a huge task to repeat that success.
Villa secured their first win at Old Trafford in more than a decade earlier this season under Gerrard’s predecessor Dean Smith. Yet after Gerrard’s appointment in November, the competition was quickly identified as one in which to make a statement of intent.
“I understand the financial rewards of the Champions League and how big the Premier League has become, but we have to analyse what is possible,” he said. “The FA Cup is our only chance to win a trophy this season, so we need to respect that and give this game everything we’ve got.
“We need to leave everything out there at Old Trafford and show how important this cup is to us. We’ve got big league games on the horizon but while I’m Aston Villa manager I can guarantee we will approach every cup game with respect.”
Villa are close to tying up a deal for Barcelona playmaker Philippe Coutinho, but he is not expected to play until the league meeting with United this weekend.