Ralf Rangnick admits finishing fourth in the Premier League is the best Manchester United can now hope for this season as he said his players have made it “too easy” for their opponents in recent weeks.
nited have led 1-0 at half-time in their past three fixtures only to be pegged back after the interval, something Rangnick has looked to address with the help of club psychologist Sascha Lense.
The second-half setbacks have seen the Red Devils knocked out of the FA Cup on penalties by Middlesbrough and drop Premier League points with 1-1 draws against Burnley and Southampton.
Rangnick admits his side have been unable to keep up their intensity for 90 minutes and now the interim boss wants to see improvement.
“The situation is pretty clear. In 11 out of 13 games since I arrived we scored the first goal and we were 1-0 up – but we didn’t win all of them,” he said.
“Especially in the last three games it was very sad that we didn’t win those games. This cost us four points in the league and the next round in the cup.
“The players understand and feel how and why we are doing a good job and now it’s about doing that sustainably for an entire game and this is exactly what our next step is that we have to take.
“The first halves in the last couple of weeks have been really good, very good. I’m more than happy with the performance that we had in the first half.
“We didn’t concede a single goal the last weeks in the first half, but the next step is to raise our level and to stay focused physically, mentally, tactically, we just gave away those goals too easily.
“Look at all those goals that we conceded in the second half, it was just too easy and it was also our own mistakes that we made to allow the other teams to score.”
Rangnick brought in Lense as part of his backroom staff when he was placed in interim charge following the sacking of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer – and he is already utilising the expertise of the former Germany youth international.
“Obviously when you’re 1-0 up and in three consecutive games concede an equaliser…this also affects the mind of the players,” he said.
“That it affects also the mindset of players is obvious, they are still human beings. They are not robots. This is what I mean by taking the next step.
“Obviously if you concede that goal when you shouldn’t be – like at Burnley or against Middlesbrough or even now against Southampton, you could have been 2-0, 3-0 up against Southampton but we weren’t.
“If you then concede early on into the second half, everybody can understand this affects also the confidence of the players and yes, of course I spoke with Sasha about that and we regularly speak about that.”
United now go into their rearranged home clash with Brighton on Tuesday night needing a victory to move back into the top four.
According to Rangnick, that has to be the target for United this season before they appoint a permanent manager in the summer.
“Right now this is exactly what Manchester United needs to want, to finish fourth in the league,” he said.
“I think this is the highest possible achievement that we can get with no other things.
“Yes, the Champions League, hopefully to proceed into the next round in the Champions League, which is also not an easy one. But in the league currently it’s number four, that’s our ambition.”
While results have been disappointing, one bright spark in recent games has been Jadon Sancho.
The England forward has struggled for form since joining from Borussia Dortmund in the summer but has scored two goals in three games and Rangnick, who revealed he has had one-to-one conversations with Sancho, is a long-term admirer of the player.
“I’ve known Jadon since he was 17, when he still played in England,” he added. “I contacted him and his agent when he was 17, some four years ago, and tried to convince him to join Leipzig.
“In the end he decided to go to Dortmund and he had a great time. He became one of the best wingers in the whole league, if not in Europe and yes, the step to a club like Manchester United was a big one.
“For anyone for at that time, 20 years old, that was a massive step that takes time.
“I think the way, the style of football that we play, that we want to play, fits perfectly into his assets, into his strengths – coming from the left side.”