Bruno Fernandes believes Manchester United have “more identity” under interim boss Ralf Rangick and insists stories of dressing-room unrest are nonsense.
Interim boss Rangnick replaced the sacked Ole Gunnar Solskjaer in December and has overseen a recovery in the Premier League, picking up 25 points from 12 games to take United from sixth to fourth. In that same period, only Manchester City leaders have collected more points.
Despite United’s improvement in the league, rumors of discontent in the dressing room have continued to circulate, leading to several players including Marcus Rashford and Harry Maguire to speak out.
Last month, Sky Sports News was told of cliques within the first team and players struggling to adapt to Rangnick’s methods, but Fernandes dismissed the reports and highlighted the side’s unity in Sunday’s 4-2 win over Leeds.
“We have to follow what the manager and staff think is the best way for us and here at this club I never heard anyone complain about the tactics and I hope no one would do,” Fernandes told reporters ahead of United’s trip to Atletico Madrid in the first leg of their Champions League last-16 tie.
“That does not respect the coach’s ideas because I think we have been doing so well since he arrived. We have more identity as a team.”
He added: “I do not know what people mean by [these stories] honestly. I saw the goal of [Maguire] and I’m seeing Paul (Pogba) behind him sliding on his knees.
“I was slapping [Maguire’s] head and saying ‘how can you score with that big head?’. So, I honestly think it’s just people trying to complain and make stories about this club, because we know when someone talks about us they go around the world with their voice and that’s something they want.
“For us, it means nothing. We stick to the plan and we stick together. That’s the main thing – sticking together and winning together.”
Rangnick: CL never a distraction | We’ll be ready for ‘hostile’ Atletico
Speaking at the same press conference, Rangnick insists the Champions League is “never a distraction” as he prepares his side for Wednesday’s “hostile” trip to Atletico Madrid.
In the Premier League, seven points separate fourth-placed United and eighth-placed Tottenham, but Spurs – as well as Wolves and Arsenal above them – are not involved in European competition.
Asked if the Champions League could derail his side’s efforts to qualify for next season’s competition, Rangnick said: “The Champions League is never a distraction. That’s why every team qualified and we’s desperate to qualify for next season’s Champions League.
“If we want to qualify for the Champions League next season, how can it be a distraction? This is why we are playing here and why we are all here working for this club. We want to play in the Champions League and we’re playing tomorrow against one of the best teams in Europe and of course we want to show everybody that we are able to beat this team.
“Also, maybe it’s not the biggest chance but it’s still a chance if you win the Champions League, you can also qualify for the Champions League, but in order to do that we have to first make sure we play two top games against Atletico and hopefully at the end of those two games we will be able to proceed into the next round.
Atletico Madrid fact file
Having led Atletico to La Liga glory for the second time last season, Diego Simeone has endured a frustrating campaign to date.
Simeone’s men currently lie in fifth place in Spain, 15 points behind arch-rivals Real Madrid at the top of the table – they have lost seven league games to date this season, three more than in the whole of the last campaign – and had their domestic cup hopes shattered by Copa del Rey and Spanish Super Cup exits inside a week last month.
They emerged from Group B as runners-up behind Liverpool despite losing 3-2 at home to the Reds and 2-0 at Anfield, and went out of the competition at this stage last season to eventual winners Chelsea following a 1-0 defeat at the Metropolitano and a 2-0 reverse at Stamford Bridge.
However, they did beat United over two legs the last time the clubs met, in the second round of the European Cup Winners’ Cup in 1991-92. Evergreen striker Luis Suarez will hope to renew his rivalry with the men from Old Trafford, but Antoine Griezmann is yet to figure since his return from a thigh injury.
Rangnick added: “We had a game on Sunday, a very physical one. Atletico played away at Osasuna on Saturday, so there might be a slight advantage in regards to recovery on their side. We obviously made sure the players could recover the last two days.
“We need to play tactically and physically on a high level, and mentally we will need to be prepared for a very emotional, hostile atmosphere, especially in their stage.
“This is what we are all aware of, but I think we have enough experience in the team. It’s about getting the best possible result. I do not think the fixture will be decided tomorrow. It will be decided in the second leg at Old Trafford. “
Opta stats …
- Atletico Madrid and Manchester United have only appeared in the same European campaign once before – the 1991-92 Cup Winners’ Cup – when the Spanish side knocked out their English counterparts 4-1 on aggregate in the Last 16.
- United’s only previous visit to Atlético Madrid was in the first leg of their 1991-92 Cup Winners’ Cup tie at the Vicente Calderón, when a starting XI that contained Peter Schmeichel, Denis Irwin, Steve Bruce, Paul Ince, Bryan Robson and Mark Hughes (amongst others) were beaten 3-0 by Luis Aragonés’ men.
- Atletico have lost each of their last four Champions League matches against English teams, double the number of defeats they suffered across their first 12 such matches in the competition.
Neville: The next month will define Man Utd’s season
Sky Sports pundit Gary Neville gives his reaction to Manchester United’s 4-2 win over Leeds and says next month will define the season for Ralf Rangnick’s side.
United took a 2-0 lead into half-time at Elland Road on Super Sunday, but were pegged back by two goals within a minute from Rodrigo and Raphinha. They did, however, rally to survive a scare and extend their unbeaten run to seven games.
Neville spoke about how United need to cut out those “mad moments; those five-minute periods where they concede two goals” and how the next month is crucial for hopes of finishing in the top four and progressing in the Champions League.
He also spoke about his belief that interim boss Ralf Rangnick will not get the job at Old Trafford on a permanent basis in the summer, but that he is in the strongest position to help make the decision as to who will replace him at the helm.
Follow this link to read the former Manchester United defender’s verdict or listen to the podcast below …
Man Utd’s upcoming fixtures
Atletico Madrid (away) – February 23, Champions League last-16 first leg
Watford (home) – February 26 – Premier League
Man City (away) – March 6 – Premier League, live on Sky Sports
Tottenham (home) – March 12 – Premier League, live on Sky Sports
Atletico Madrid (home) – March 15 – Champions League last-16 second leg
Liverpool (away) – March 20 – Premier League, live on Sky Sports
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