Ralf Rangnick says stabilising the Manchester United defence was his priority as interim manager.
United recorded their first clean sheet at Old Trafford in the Premier League since March with their 1-0 win over Crystal Palace on Sunday, having previously kept just three clean sheets in the current campaign.
Thomas Tuchel, a former pupil of Rangnick’s, oversaw 19 clean sheets from his first 30 games as manager of Chelsea en route to lifting their second European Cup triumph in May, and Chelsea have the joint-best defensive record in the league this term.
Rangnick was encouraged by how the United players responded to his demands after a truncated training session prior to the victory against Palace but stressed there was plenty to improve on.
“For me, success can only be achieved with development,” Rangnick said. “Regarding the team, this is the result of development and if we can develop the team in the next six months in a way that I can see them play – and I think quite a few things could already be seen last Sunday – knowing it was only one game, the first game, but it showed how the team could defend if they worked together as a team. And, obviously, there is still space for improvement.
“Not everything has been perfect. We can still improve possession of the ball, we can create more chances, we can be more flexible on the ball, we could play more vertical on the ball. We spoke about that at the first press conference: if you look at the number of goals we conceded until last Sunday – and I heard today it was the first clean sheet at Old Trafford since April – six months, no clean sheet in your own stadium. For me, it was clear where the priority should be and how we should develop the team in the next couple of weeks.”
United are now just three points off the final Champions League qualifying place in the league table after winning back-to-back domestic games for the first time since September. United are seeded for the Champions League round-of-16 knockout draw on Friday and were drawn at home to Aston Villa in the third round of the FA Cup.
Rangnick is aware of the importance of ensuring Old Trafford hosts Champions League football next season and is targeting success in the cups.
“I am fully aware to be successful at the end means hopefully playing Champions League next season, being as successful as we can be in the Champions League and FA Cup,” Rangnick added.
“We didn’t get an easy draw, to be honest, with Aston Villa. We play them two times in one week. It’s one of three direct Premier League duels in the FA Cup, so there were a few easier draws possible but, in the end, it’s like another Premier League game and this is exactly how we will approach this game.”