29 Nov 2021 | 09:49 | Football
LONDON — Michael Carrick says incoming head coach Ralf Rangnick had no input on his Manchester United side after a much changed XI earned a draw away to Premier League leaders Chelsea on Sunday.
Cristiano Ronaldo was the most notable absentee of a side bearing four changes from that which beat Villarreal in midweek with goalscorer Jadon Sancho and Marcus Rashford leading the line with Bruno Fernandes in behind. Though Chelsea’s domination of possession soon forced United backward there was a notable commitment from the visitors to pressurise the Blues high up the pitch.
With Rangnick’s appointment until the end of the season all but complete — the club hierarchy are still working to secure a work permit for the German — it was only natural that some would see his hand in this change of approach from Carrick. Indeed former Manchester United defender Gary Neville suggested on Twitter that Rangnick may even have picked the team.
It was a suggestion that was emphatically rejected by Carrick. “That’s not the case,” was his swift reposte to reporters postgame.
United face Arsenal in the Premier League on Thursday and it remains to be seen if there will be enough time for Rangnick to work with his charges or even complete the formalities of his move. “As of now I haven’t got any more news for you,” said Carrick.
“I was purely focused on the game. There was enough in my head to prepare the boys. I’m sure I’ll be updated.”
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Even if Rangnick did not make the call to drop Ronaldo it was easy to see why the veteran striker was among the substitute from the outset; he is not the most energetic of pressers and that is what United wanted at the outset. Whether their approach was effective is open to debate, they allowed 21 shots on their goal and might have slipped to a 2-1 defeat had Antonio Rudiger not blazed over late on.
That was one of a host of presentable opportunities that came Chelsea’s way as the game wore on but at least at the outset there was evidence of Carrick having set his side up in a way that he thought might bring success without the ball. That has not always been evident at Old Trafford in recent years.
“We came here with a plan, we kind of knew how Chelsea would play,” the caretaker manager said. “We were hoping to stop the little passes that they thread through to Jorginho and [Ruben] Loftus-Cheek through the middle of the pitch.
“We were conscious of that. A little freshness in the team, two or three changes and a couple of little tweaks and changes in tactics. It was just what we decided to go with today and we nearly pulled it off.”
Sancho had United dreaming of a shock win when he pounced on a rare error by Jorginho in the 50th minute of what had been a one-sided match in Chelsea’s favor beforehand. However the Italian made amends soon after, stroking home the equalizing penalty after Thiago Silva was felled by Aaron Wan-Bissaka.
“It’s very unusual, a mistake like this, and to concede a goal like this for us in general, especially with Jorgy,” said Chelsea boss Thomas Tuchel. “I think he was heavily disturbed from the lights so he did not see the ball in the end.
“It happens. It takes a lot of courage and personality to not be affected in the match and to take the penalty.”
Two dropped points by Chelsea — as this will surely feel like after such a weight of opportunities — set the stage for an intriguing title race. Manchester City are just one point off the league leaders with Liverpool a further point back, the top three streaking ahead of the rest of the Premier League. Considering the emphatic nature of the underlying statistics this felt like two points dropped for Tuchel, who was still keen to praise his charges.
“This match, it’s hard to imagine you can lose it or drop points from here because we were the better team,” he said. “We’re disappointed but we have no regrets. This can happen in football, we know it. It’s like this. I told the team I’m happy with our team and the way we played.”