“If you analyse the situation, it is not difficult,” Ralf Rangnick started, before delivering a heavy dose of reality that Manchester United ultimately need a near-blank canvas this summer.
“There will be six, seven, eight, maybe 10 new players,” he said after the latest undressing by Liverpool.
In a period where there will be major adjustment to a new manager, United – with a gross transfer spend of £1.4billion in the last decade – have to also construct a fresh squad amid very little confidence in the intelligence of their operational structure while the anti-Glazer sentiment grows.
Defeat at Anfield not only underlined that Liverpool operate on a different planet to United on the pitch, but off it as well.
Erik ten Hag will walk into alien surroundings – new country, new league, new level of scrutiny, pressure and expectation – and face an almighty task.
Not only are United not equipped to play his football, they are incapable of being a counter-attacking side, one that is comfortable in possession, one that be defensively obstructive or function with surety for a full game.
That is the result of muddled recruitment featuring 21 players signed by five different managers with no underpinning stylistic or age profile. As Rangnick told Sky Sports News: “At Liverpool, the profile for each position has been clear and that’s why they are where they are.
“At Manchester United, this hasn’t been the case with every change of manager. New players came in, but it was not under that pre-condition of how do we want to play.”
During the oft-talked about “cultural reset” of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s charge, phase one saw Daniel James (£16m), Aaron Wan-Bissaka (£49.5m), Harry Maguire (£78.3m), Alex Telles (£13.5m), Donny van de Beek (£35.10m), Edinson Cavani and Bruno Fernandes (£49.5m) arrive to immediately bolster the first-team.
The only name on the list guaranteed of a United future is the last one, courtesy of a new contract to June 2026.
James was sold to Leeds, Cavani joins Paul Pogba, Jesse Lingard, Nemanja Matic and Juan Mata in exiting this summer, while Ten Hag could rejuvenate his former player and Everton loanee Van de Beek’s career.
Wan-Bissaka is severely limited offensively and his recovery pace is required so often as he is poor positionally. Telles is excellent at aiding the attack, but needs greater cover or structure in defensive solidity.
Maguire’s lack of pace is horrendously exposed without the double protective pivot he enjoys while on England duty, and there is growing internal sentiment that he cannot be the leader of the backline.
Under the next phase, United opted for a ‘win-now’ approach to recruitment, signing Jadon Sancho (£76m), Raphael Varane (£36m) and Cristiano Ronaldo (£13m).
There will be no silverware this season, with the only glimmer being an outside shot of finishing fourth if Tottenham and Arsenal self-sabotage.
Ronaldo has been United’s only guarantee of goals, but their greatest tactical conundrum.
There have been glimpses of Sancho’s gifts and Ten Hag will be minded to build around the ex-Borussia Dortmund ace.
Varane’s pedigree is unquestioned, but his availability is awful.
Now, this has been a snapshot of United’s recruitment with longer-term thought and the “cultural reset” blueprint which is why there is minimal credence that a rebuild can be done in an effective way.
The club need an elite anchor, a dynamic central midfielder, a high-quality forward, a commanding and aerially dominant centre-back that is comfortable defending large spaces, new full-backs and another attacker as a foil for Sancho.
That is a considerable rebuild without factoring into the mix that while being an excellent shot-stopper, David de Gea is not the kind of distributor Ten Hag wants to build play.
Who else could be on the way out?
United have not just been terrible at incomings, but outgoings too. They are not skilled in generating a profit on sales – only four instances in 10 years – and that trend doesn’t show signs of changing soon.
Dean Henderson, Anthony Martial, Eric Bailly and Brandon Williams are expected to depart for more minutes elsewhere. Phil Jones and Diogo Dalot could go too.
Marcus Rashford, who is suffering a crisis of confidence and a miserable run of form after having his injuries mis-managed, will consider his future.
The scale of work that needs to be undertaken is frightening. Consider too United’s poor hit-rate of successful transfers and the wisdom that so many new players needing to settle at the same time does not spell cohesion.
There is so little margin for error because United – as Tuesday’s hammering illuminated again – have never been so adrift from Liverpool and Manchester City.
Rangnick says everything at the club should stem from asking “how do we want to play?”
Perhaps though, the problem is the credentials of the people posing the question and finding the answers.
United’s chief scout, Jim Lawlor, and Marcel Bout, the head of global scouting, have exited Old Trafford.
Gary Neville says “this won’t shift the dial.” Until the club provides evidence of surgical, assured methodology, we can’t argue.