Manchester United had planned to give Michael Carrick until mid-December before making a breakthrough with Ralf Rangnick — ESPN’s Insider Notebook has the latest. PLUS: The Old Trafford outcasts who could yet get a second chance under the interim boss.
Jump to: Man Utd fringe stars put exit plans on hold | Gerrard, AI and a Villa masterplan | Barcelona fear Premier League interest in Araujo | Klopp keen on Juventus’ Ramsey | Chelsea relaxed over Mount exit rumours
United move quickly to secure Rangnick
Manchester United ditched plans to give caretaker Michael Carrick as many as six more games in charge after Ralf Rangnick emerged as the outstanding candidate during interviews to find the club’s interim manager, sources told ESPN.
Carrick was told to prepare for a longer period in charge than expected, with the club setting an original date of Brighton at home on Dec. 18 as the target for an interim to be appointed — only vowing to accelerate plans for an interim if a stellar option emerged. Rangnick has agreed to take over until the end of the season following a breakthrough in discussions with the 63-year-old, who is set to leave his position as sporting director at Lokomotiv Moscow.
– Exclusive interview: Rangnick speaks to ESPN
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Caretaker Carrick, who will oversee United’s trip to Premier League leaders Chelsea on Sunday, had the confidence of the United hierarchy to steer the team during a busy fixture period. The trip to Stamford Bridge marks the first of six games in 16 days following the 2-0 win over Villarreal to seal Champions League knockout qualification on Tuesday. The club wanted to wait longer before they made their appointment of an interim, despite facing criticism — even ridiculue — for the way they had approached matters following Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s dismissal.
Sources said that “market forces” had left United with no option but to pursue the strategy, saying that the club were not in the fortunate position enjoyed by Liverpool and Chelsea when they appointed Jurgen Klopp and Thomas Tuchel respectively, with both coaches out of work and available when changes were made in the managerial department at Anfield and Stamford Bridge.
Football director John Murtough held talks with former Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde and Sevilla manager Julen Lopetegui was also contacted as the club conducted a thorough search for a temporary boss. Sources close to Rangnick said he initially distanced himself from the idea he could be interested in a job at United, but a breakthrough came when a consultancy role was offered as part of the deal. Part of Murtough’s role at United in recent years has been to build a rapport with key figures in football around Europe and he enjoys a good relationship with Rangnick, with the pair also holding talks in 2019 about football development plans.
The club’s initial choice for the permanent position is Mauricio Pochettino, but that decision was made before Rangnick’s arrival. The terms of Rangnick’s advisory role after the interim management job ends have not been made clear but sources added he is expected to play a leading role in choosing a permanent successor to Solskjaer. — Mark Ogden
Martial, Van de Beek’s second chance
Donny van de Beek and Anthony Martial have put their January transfer plans on hold ahead of Rangnick’s imminent arrival, sources told ESPN.
Caretaker manager Carrick had been keen to stress to the squad that every member has a clean slate following Solskjaer’s departure and Van de Beek and Martial were encouraged by their selection for the 2-0 win over Villarreal, and will now re-asses their options ahead of Rangnick taking over. Despite interest from a host of other clubs, their preference is to find regular games at Old Trafford and the pair will see how they fit in over the next six weeks before deciding whether or not to push for a move.
Jesse Lingard’s future remains unclear, with the midfielder free to speak to oversees clubs in January as his contract expires at the end of the season. Rangnick, though, bases his coaching philosophy on high energy and high pressing — he is known as the “Godfather of Gegenpressing” in Germany and Klopp cites him as an influence on his career — a stance that fits in with Lingard’s style of play and could yet hand him a final chance to stake a claim for playing time.
United remain keen to keep the bulk of the squad together, especially after qualifying for the knockout rounds of the Champions League, which is due to begin in the new year. The draw for the round of 16 takes place on Dec. 13.
United’s FA Cup campaign will also start in January, though a poor start to the season under Solskjaer has increased the pressure on the second half of the campaign as the club look to at least finish in the top four and retain their place in the Champions League next season. — Rob Dawson
Julien Laurens explains why Steven Gerrard swapping Rangers for Aston Villa makes a lot of sense.
Gerrard’s new signing at Villa: Artificial intelligence
Steven Gerrard is attempting to make an Artificial Intelligence tool his first signing as Aston Villa manager, sources told ESPN.
Gerrard made an instant impact at Villa Park by guiding the team to a 2-0 win against Brighton in his first game in charge last Saturday after leaving Scottish champions Rangers to launch his Premier League management career with Villa.
The former Liverpool and England captain has made his mark on his new club by taking ketchup, fizzy drinks and hot chocolate off the menu in the players’ canteen at Villa’s Bodymoor Heath training ground.
Sources told ESPN he is keen for Villa to adopt the Zone7 AI injury prevention that proved a key factor in last season’s title win with Rangers. In simple terms, clubs send their training and match data to Zone7, who analyse it using an algorithm and send back daily emails with information about players who may be straying close to the so-called “danger zone” in terms of susceptibility to injuries.
ESPN reported in February that clubs in Europe and Major League Soccer had adopted the system and after signing up to the algorithm-based technology on the recommendation of Ibrox head of performance Jordan Milsom at the start of the 2020-21 season, Rangers reported a 52% reduction injuries last season in comparison to the previous campaign. Rangers also reported a 36% reduction in injuries per match on the previous season and a 21% drop in days lost to injury.
– Artificial Intelligence: How clubs are looking to predict injuries
More than 50 clubs across the world now use Zone7’s AI programme. Many wish to remain anonymous, in an effort to protect any competitive advantage that the tool may provide — football clubs are notoriously protective of such proprietary data — while others simply do not wish to discuss any pros or cons they have discovered while using it. Despite repeated attempts by ESPN to speak to Real Salt Lake and Toronto, neither MLS team responded to enquiries.
Sources said that Gerrard is attempting to have the system in place at Villa as soon as possible in an effort to make his team fitter. — Mark Ogden
Following Barcelona’s scoreless draw against Benfica, ESPN FC’s Ale Moreno explains why fans shouldn’t expect drastic improvement just yet.
Barcelona’s Araujo fear as Premier League clubs watch on
Barcelona fear interest from the Premier League’s top clubs in Ronald Araujo as well as the centre-back’s salary demands could complicate their contract renewal negotiations with him, sources told ESPN.
Liverpool and Manchester United have been monitoring Araujo’s development closely and Barcelona want to secure his future as a priority, with the plan to offer him a five-year deal, with his existing contract up in 2023.
However, sources said that during preliminary discussions with the player, there is a concern at Barcelona that they may not be able to meet the terms that he is requesting. Barcelona’s financial crisis has deepened after LaLiga cut another €300 million from their spending limit this season and they recently confirmed losses for the 2020-21 season of €481m, while debt is around £1.3 billion.
Liverpool and Manchester United possess the financial might to beat what Barcelona can afford if they decide to push forward on their interest. Sources added that Liverpool are particularly keen on Araujo and scouts have watched him throughout 2021.
Barca starlets Pedri and Ansu Fati recently renewed their contracts, which included £1bn release clauses, and they want to secure midfielder Gavi as well as Araujo: two players considered key under new coach Xavi Hernandez.
The club want to avoid a similar situation they experienced with Ilaix Moriba in the summer. The Spanish midfielder had one year left on his contract and refused to sign a new deal, leading to his transfer to RB Leipzig for €16m plus add-ons.
Araujo, 22, arrived at the Camp Nou in 2018 from Uruguayan side River Boston in a transfer worth €1.5m plus €3m in add-ons. — Adriana Garcia and Moises Llorens
Juventus hope Klopp builds on Ramsey interest
Juventus are hoping Jurgen Klopp’s admiration for Aaron Ramsey will lead to a bid from Liverpool for the midfielder in January, sources told ESPN.
The 30-year-old is under contract until 2023 but Ramsey could be made available for transfer after struggling to break into the first-team since his arrival.
Sources told ESPN that Klopp has long held Ramsey in high regard and considered formalising that interest when the Wales interational left Arsenal for Juventus in 2019. Liverpool have been short of numbers in midfield after injuries compounded the departure of Georginio Wijnaldum to Paris Saint-Germain in the summer.
Several Premier League clubs have been linked with Ramsey including West Ham, Crystal Palace, Newcastle and Leicester City and Juventus hope Liverpool will add themselves to that list in the coming weeks, as the Serie A club look for competing clubs to drive the fee up to secure the player.
Ramsey has always been determined to make a success of his time in Serie A but he has made five appearances totalling 112 minutes since Massimiliano Allegri took charge in the summer. — James Olley
Craig Burley and Kay Murray discuss the futures of Hakim Ziyech and Timo Werner after both were linked with Barcelona.
Chelsea calm over Mount rumours
Chelsea are yet to open fresh contract talks with Mason Mount but all parties are relaxed about the situation contrary to reports in Spain that Real Madrid were interested in him, sources told ESPN.
It had been suggested that the midfielder was unhappy at Stamford Bridge, specifically over his role within the squad, but sources claim Mount enjoys a healthy relationship with head coach Thomas Tuchel and is focused on further success with the Blues.
Negotiations are yet to begin over a new deal but the 22-year-old has two-and-a-half years left to run on his existing agreement and the club believe there is no rush for the time being.
It is anticipated that conversations will begin later in the season as Chelsea first prioritise talks with several players whose deals expire next summer, chiefly Antonio Rudiger, Andreas Christensen, Cesar Azpilicueta and Thiago Silva. — James Olley