Manchester United star Cristiano Ronaldo was the victim of a brutal jibe from one of Manchester City’s academy players during preparations for March’s Premier League derby clash. United were expectedly thumped by their bitter rivals at the Etihad Stadium in another low of a woeful season, and Pep Guardiola’s training methods in the build-up were telling.
Ralf Rangnick showcased a 4-2-2-2 system without a striker on the pitch, with Ronaldo absent from the matchday squad through injury. And, despite a positive spell in the first half in which Jadon Sancho netted against his former club, United slumped to a 4-1 defeat.
Guardiola would’ve been left surprised by Ronaldo’s late withdrawal, but he knew exactly what to expect from Man City’s opposition, based on a report from The Athletic. He is understood to have used the club’s academy players in first-team training to replicate the roles of United stars.
One particular starlet, assigned the Ronaldo role, was told to press summarily, unlike how they’re taught at City, approaching the defender before stopping once he got there. Afterwards, the report claims he said about mimicking Ronaldo: “It was OK. But I didn’t have to do much.”
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Rangnick’s arrival as interim manager was met with mass excitement and intrigue in line with his nickname, ‘The Godfather of Gegenpressing’. He was expected to drill United’s under-performing stars to become a more energetic and exciting outfit after the dismal collapse of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s tenure.
However, the Red Devils regressed under Rangnick’s watch and utterly capitulated to produce the club’s worst-ever Premier League season, finishing sixth on 58 points. And Guardiola’s instruction to the academy prospect in training was a damning indicator of what managers expected to be up against while on the ball.
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Southampton manager Ralph Hasenhuttl made the headlines after earning a 1-1 draw at Old Trafford in February. He suggested the hosts’ players were known to show a lack of effort to win the ball back after losing it and admitted the Saints took advantage.
He said: “It is not a big secret that when they lose the ball, the reverse gears are not the best from everybody. Then you have the chance to create something, and we did. The pressing for them was good in the beginning, but they aren’t used to doing it for more than 30 or 40 minutes. We came into the game after that.”
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