Ralf Rangnick admitted Manchester United’s plan was in the “dustbin” after Atlético Madrid scored on seven minutes before Anthony Elanga’s second half equaliser snatched a draw for the interim manager’s team in the Champions League last-16 first leg.
It means the tie is poised going into the return at Old Trafford next month. Yet Rangnick’s decision to pick a central defender, Victor Lindelöf, at right-back instead of Diogo Dalot or Aaron Wan-Bissaka, regulars in the position, backfired when João Félix’s flying header put Atlético ahead at the Wanda Metropolitano Stadium.
United then struggled to rally before Elanga, a 75th-minute substitute, became the club’s youngest ever scorer in the knockout phase at 19 years and 302 days.
Rangnick said: “After seven minutes we were 1-0 down and the plan was in the dustbin. I knew this was not his [Lindelöf’s] best position, when we had Aaron Wan-Bissaka on the ball and Alex Telles [both substitutes, later] we had more possession and more assistance from the wings.”
The German bemoaned his players’ passivity. “What we played in the first half I still cannot believe. We played without conviction, without aggression and that is why we were struggling,” he said.
Rangnick revealed Elanga was set to go on loan before a substitute appearance in December’s 1-0 win over Crystal Palace – the German’s first in charge – convinced the 63-year-old to ask the Swedish forward to stay.
“He was the player with the best training performance, he had already decided to leave on loan,” Rangnick said. “He came on against Palace, and after I told him I want him to stay. Right now he has just shown what is possible with the right mentality, right approach to go into games.”
A delighted Elanga said: “I told you how calm and cool I am and whenever I am given an opportunity I want to repay the manager.”