Man United travel to Chelsea for ‘what if? »Moment against the long-term objective Tuchel
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These are sliding door moments that provide context for Sunday’s meeting between two teams heading in opposite directions.
For United, traveling to the home of the European champions and Premier League leaders, it is “what if? “.
They never had time to make an approach for Tuchel, despite Executive Vice President Ed Woodward identifying the German as a future United manager long before he found himself at Stamford Bridge.
United, however, remained committed to the Solskjaer project and by the time Tuchel was sacked by Paris Saint-Germain last Christmas, it was Chelsea who put themselves in a position to recruit him.
But not before Rangnick crossed their radar – as well as a third German candidate for Julian Nagelsmann, who was widely seen as the preferred long-term option.
Rangnick – who will take over interim United after Solskjaer’s sack on Sunday – was tailor-made to do the same at Chelsea when Lampard was removed in January.
Like Avram Grant, Guus Hiddink, and Rafa Benitez before him, he looked like the classic short-term fix that was so crucial during Roman Abramovich’s years.
But Rangnick was put off by the potential to be out of work by the summer, prompting Chelsea to move closer to Tuchel, who was also upset when he only offered an 18-month contract. .
Importantly, Rangnick has negotiated a longer-term deal with United, which will see him take on a consulting role when he steps down to a permanent job at Old Trafford – likely Mauricio Pochettino – this summer.
Chelsea will not regret how events have unfolded over the past 10 months.
Tuchel justified United’s admiration – turning their fortunes, winning the biggest prize in club football and facing a serious challenge for the title in his first full season at the helm.
Tuesday’s 4-0 win over Juventus was the most comprehensive performance of his reign so far and a resounding statement from Chelsea credentials.
It was also a warning to United, who are heading west London following the 4-1 loss to Watford that ultimately did for Solskjaer.
Michael Carrick – Solskjaer’s former assistant – may have overseen the Champions League midweek win over Villarreal, but United knew they couldn’t risk placing the fate of their season in the hands of ‘such an inexperienced character.
At Rangnick, they turned to a serious operator – a major influence in European football at the moment and a man considered capable of saving their campaign.
The 63-year-old, who was recently an executive at Lokomotiv Moscow, is seen as a mentor for Tuchel. He was also an inspiration for Jurgen Klopp – another German manager coveted by Woodward.
Now the hope for United is that they can close the gap with Chelsea, Manchester City and Liverpool – but on Sunday there’s the very real prospect of them being shown how far off the beat they are.
They were humiliated by Liverpool last month – limited to the role of spectators by City a few weeks later. Chelsea have the potential to offer another humiliation.
They can dominate possession the City way and have become a growing threat as an offensive proposition, which has been demonstrated perfectly against Juve.
The dominant nature of the victories against Leicester and Juve is proof of the power of Tuchel’s side and underscored their transformative effect on Chelsea.
In five of their last eight games in all competitions, they have scored three or more. They have lost once in the league all season.
By comparison, United have proven to be an equal opportunity point provider for all opponents – just as likely to be turned around by teams at the top or bottom of the table.
If it does form, the point difference between the teams could be increased to 15 in favor of full-time Chelsea. Tuchel’s team is only growing in strength and confidence.
Romelu Lukaku is in good shape again, with Timo Werner after a month of absence for both. And while there are fears Ben Chilwell may have suffered cruciate ligament damage, the depth of the Chelsea squad has been a remarkable feature of their impressive start to the season.
The dominating nature of victories against Leicester and Juve over the past week is proof of the power of Tuchel’s side and underscored their transformative effect on Stamford Bridge.
The hope within Old Trafford is that Rangnick can have even a fraction of that influence over United’s season.
Sunday, however, may come a stark reminder of how big the gap is – leaving them to miss the one who escaped.
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