The summer arrivals of Cristiano Ronaldo, Jadon Sancho and Raphael Varane raised expectations around Old Trafford but this season has been a damp squib, leading to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s exit last month.
Progress has been slow under interim successor Rangnick, thanks in no small part to the impact of Covid-19, and United looked well off the pace in Monday’s 1-1 draw with relegation-threatened Newcastle.
Former Red Devils skipper Gary Neville said the players were “a bunch of whinge-bags” at St James’ Park but Rangnick felt his players showed a more positive mindset in Thursday’s 3-1 win against Burnley.
“In team sports it’s always important that you are convinced about what you are doing,” Rangnick said.
“At Newcastle it was a difficult game for us. We were 1-0 down after seven minutes. They did well, we didn’t play well, especially in the first half. Therefore the reaction to what’s happening on the pitch is the question: how do we react to this?
“Do we fight back? Do we show them that we are still a team, that believes in ourselves? Or do we shake our heads or do this. These kind of things only help the other team and does damage our own team.
“Therefore, for me, it was clear to tell them it is important we work and behave and work as a team and that we don’t show these kinds of side-effects on the pitch.”
United moved sixth with victory in the final Premier League game of 2021, with Scott McTominay the star of the show at Old Trafford.
The Scotland midfielder scored a fine opener from the edge of the box and, after Sancho’s strike went in off Ben Mee, saw a shot tipped onto the post that allowed Cristiano Ronaldo to add a third.
“We only decided this afternoon at two o’clock that he will play,” Rangnick said of man of the match McTominay.
“He had some problems with the ankle contusion that he suffered at Newcastle, so it was good to have him available and in the team. At half-time, our team doctor told me that he will be struggling in the second half. It was very important to have him in the team and in the end he could play the whole 92 or 93 minutes.
— Burnley FC (@BurnleyOfficial) December 30, 2021
“He was a very important player for us today. We played in a 4-4-2 defensively and a 4-2-4 offensively, and I thought it was important to have him and Nemanja (Matic) as the two sixes playing next to each other.”
Burnley were dealing with a number of key absentees through injury and Covid-19, but Sean Dyche was not using that as an excuse after a game in which Aaron Lennon scored a consolation.
“Everyone’s got a challenge at the moment,” the Clarets boss said after a game Nick Pope, Jay Rodriguez, Josh Brownhill and Kevin Long missed after testing positive for Covid-19.
“I don’t want to overegg that. We’ve lost and we’re hopeful a couple of them will come back. When they do that obviously adds to us, we might get Maxwel (Cornet) back around it. We’ll have to see.
“Barnsey [Ashley Barnes] and Connor Roberts are too far away but it’s a challenge what’s happening at the moment. I thought the performance was alright, particularly some of the chances we created.
“It’s not easy to come here and create chances, it’s not easy to come here and keep the ball like we did at times, so a lot of that side of it was alright. But, unfortunately, I’m talking about the details. We’ve got to keep working and keep focusing on the details of both ends of the pitch.”