Ralf Rangnick’s regime is four Premier League games old and everyone has been patiently waiting for it to click.
Three meetings with relegation-threatened sides seemed like the perfect opportunity for the German to stamp his authority on the squad and get things back under control at Old Trafford, after the chaos caused by the sudden slump under previous manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
The performances against Norwich and Newcastle left a lot to be desired and while the display against Burnley was far from perfect, it was an improvement, undeniable step in the right direction.
“Offensively, that was the best performance so far,” Rangnick told reporters. “The whole team performance was a lot better. I was pleased with the performance of our wingers. Jadon [Sancho] did well.”
It wasn't only United's best attacking performance since he took charge last month; it was their best of the season.
They attempted 18 shots and had six on target – significant increases on their 2021-22 averages (13.7 shots; 4.9 on target).
Encouraging numbers for those who started against the Clarets at Old Trafford, but what does that clear improvement mean for those who were left out?
The two most notable absentees were Bruno Fernandes and Marcus Rashford.
The Portugal international was serving a one-game suspension, after he picked up his fifth yellow card of the campaign in the draw at Newcastle, but, in truth, it would have been a fair reflection of his recent displays if he'd been told by his manager to sit out Thursday night’s game anyway.
By his own high standards Fernandes has set for himself since arriving just under two years ago, he has been off the pace this season.
After 18 league games last term, he had already racked up 11 goals and seven assists. At the same stage this year, he is on five league goals and just three assists.
On the whole, though, his performances just haven’t been as good. His pass average per league game is down from 57 last season to 51 in 2021-22.
He also topped the chart for losing possession against Newcastle, with Rashford a close second.
The front four in the 4-2-2-2 formation Rangnick fielded in that game just didn’t click. Is that because Fernandes was asked to play in a position that isn’t his best?
He has thrived as a No.10 for the past two years, deployed as the team's creative hub. He is not a wide player, but that is exactly the role he is asked to fulfil in a 4-2-2-2, and also the 4-2-4 which United played against Burnley.
Fernandes cut a frustrated figure as he aimlessly chased down balls at St James’ Park and he was banned for the Burnley game after being booked for dissent.
Rangnick’s hand was obviously forced when it came to playing without Fernandes but one wonders if the performance against Burnley will make the manager wonder whether he can really accomodate a No.10 in his preferred set-up.
“It was the right players in the right position,” the German pointed out. "For me, it was important to have every player in his best possible position, which is why we decided to play Jadon from the left and Mason from the right, with the two strikers up front.”
Sancho and Greenwood added width to the attack, and the link-up with Edinson Cavani and Cristiano Ronaldo caused problems. So, where does that leave Rashford?
The England international hasn’t been terrible this season but his form since returning from a lengthy injury lay-off has been underwhelming.
He has scored just twice in 10 Premier League appearances, his average passes per game tally is down from 32 to 20 compared, and he has just one assist to his name. There is certainly room for improvement.
The good news for Rashford is that Rangnick has already admitted that he will not be able to persist with his 70-year-old strike force of Cavani and Ronaldo for every game.
So, Rashford's chances will come, in every sense, so it's up to him to take them.
It's a similar story with Fernandes, who will no doubt start against Wolves on Monday evening.
United still need to improve at the back but if Rangnick feels that he has now found the right formula from an attacking perspective, then Rashford and Bruno both need to up their games in order to avoid becoming the first high-profile casualties of the Rangnick regime.
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