When Chelsea sacked Frank Lampard, it came as a decision that had been mulled over for some time. The fact that Lampard stayed as long as he did implies that the Blues only wanted to pull the plug if A: it was clear the rut was inescapable otherwise and B: a clear plan was in place going forward.
Three names came up consistently: Ralf Rangnick, Julian Nagelsmann, and Thomas Tuchel. Tuchel was ultimately the manager selected, in part because he was available and in part because he was willing to sign a short term deal. Rangnick was allegedly the first choice, but only on an interim basis and surely with an eye towards Nagelsmann coming in the summer. Rangnick didn’t want to be the interim and Nagelsmann wasn’t going anywhere midseason, so all roads led to Tuchel.
If nothing else, targeting these three managers showed that Chelsea had a plan of how they wanted to play. Both Nagelsmann and Tuchel fell from the Rangnick coaching tree, so those three as targets showed a very clear desire for a particular style of football. Things are going fantastically for Tuchel, but should that change, the Blues seemingly know the brand they’ll be looking for in future managerial searches.
Unlike Chelsea, Manchester United was very unclear about what comes after Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. So, they just copied Chelsea’s plan. Ralf Rangnick is set to take over at United on an interim basis unless something changes suddenly (which it has before with Rangnick in fairness).
The first hurdle to get past is why Rangnick would take the interim job at United but not at Chelsea. The simplest answer is Chelsea was never going to give him the control he wants. Marina Granovskaia and Petr Cech, along with a few others, run things. Their positions have never been in threat so there is no real place for someone like Rangnick to come in and have much of a say. United has, historically, been similar. Ed Woodward, however, is supposed to leave at the end of the calendar year. Furthermore, United has been looking for someone of Rangnick’s mold to rebuild their squad in a way that isn’t just for the present, but for the future.
So, Rangnick at United basically comes down to them being more willing to give him the keys to the castle than Chelsea ever would be. His appointment at United would make sense in the same way it made sense for Chelsea to target him. He is a transitional manager that can build teams into something special with his great eye for talent. He may not get the team to the promised land, but he will give them all the pieces they need to get there.
There is one issue for United however. While Chelsea knew the type of manager they wanted, United seemingly doesn’t. United and Rangnick don’t make a lot of sense tactically. Rangnick wants his teams to press more than anyone else and to do so constantly, and United is one of the league’s least aggressive pressing sides. If the goal is to change that, Rangnick is a good hire but they are a ways off from it currently.
And overall, it just feels like United is a bit lost as to what they want to do. They delayed giving up on Solskjaer and lost former Chelsea manager Antonio Conte because of it. No one is really available now, so they more or less stole Chelsea’s idea of how to build the team.
Now the two sides prepare to face off on the weekend with their trajectories as far apart as they have been since Sir Alex Ferguson left.