If the dropping of Cristiano Ronaldo is anything to go by, Ralf Rangnick looks very much set to make big, bold calls to change Manchester United’s dire form around.
Even though stand-in boss Michael Carrick insisted team selection was purely on his own shoulders against Chelsea last Sunday, there was a distinct impression of the Rangnick hallmark, as the omission of Ronaldo favoured a forward line more suited to pressing the opposition’s defenders high up the pitch.
The demoted Ronaldo, unsurprisingly, did not appear to be content with it in the slightest and stormed off down the tunnel after the game.
So, is this a sign of things to come? And if so, who else finds themselves very much at risk among the United squad? They face Arsenal tonight and Rangnick will be watching from the stands at Old Trafford, with Michael Carrick taking caretaker charge for the final time after the incoming interim manager’s work permit was finally granted. Plenty will have it all to prove…
Ralf Rangnick’s soon-to-be-made sweeping changes will upset some at Manchester United
It looks increasingly likely that Paul Pogba will be moving on from Old Trafford as a free agent in the summer, with his contract ticking down and no sign of a renewal.
So, is there opportunity for one final stunning swansong of a season?
After working his way back from injury, Pogba will find himself under the fresh command of a highly demanding manager dealing with the stressful task of having to revitalise United.
For years viewers of Premier League football have noted that Pogba is very much an individual, capable of the sublime but also prone to going absent in the biggest of matches.
Paul Pogba might not fit into Rangnick’s intense system and looks to be leaving next summer
For Rangnick, this simply won’t cut the cloth. The veteran German coach demands 110 per cent from each of his players and specialises in a full-pressing, breathless style of football.
This of course will require Pogba to be fully on board and if he isn’t the results could be disastrous for him.
Should Rangnick see that either the commitment or the willingness to adapt is not present, he will be forced to decide whether it is even worth fielding a player who could soon be packing his bags in the summer.
Pogba needs to play and play well, either to prove he has a future at United or to put himself in the shop window if he wants Europe’s elite to come knocking on his door… but will this happen under Rangnick?
Cristiano Ronaldo had grand ideas in the summer of returning to a place where he was universally adored and scoring much needed goals.
To be fair, it has gone kind of to plan. Ronaldo has turned up and he sure has scored plenty.
Yet something is disjointed. United began to crumble and Solskjaer paid the ultimate price, irrespective of Ronaldo evoking emotional nostalgia by finding the back of the net over and over.
Cristiano Ronaldo returned with hopes of being the hero, but it may not play out quite this way
With a plethora of talent, it’s clear to see that United very much have the firepower to be a deadly counter-attacking team, with youthfulness and vigour to press opponents and hit them on the turn.
Now, Rangnick will soon have to decide whether Ronaldo can be incorporated into this. Should the answer be no, the Portuguese superstar had better start to make peace with the fact that he could be seeing a whole load more of the subs’ bench.
For Rangnick it will not suffice for United to attempt to feed the ball to Ronaldo for 90 minutes, only to limp away with a lacklustre draw – as has been since in recent weeks.
Against Chelsea, though Rangnick was not in the dug-out, United started with a refreshed forward line and took the lead courtesy of a neat breakaway and the ability of Jadon Sancho to capitalise upon a Jorginho mistake.
As the game wore on, the experience of Ronaldo was called upon. This could be a glimpse of what Rangnick might settle on going forward.
Whether Ronaldo will be happy with this is another question entirely… though he might not have a great deal of choice.
Being introduced from the bench against Chelsea may well be a sign of things to come
While Ronaldo will be dead set on proving anybody wrong, it doesn’t exactly help matters that Rangnick himself previously referred to the global icon as ‘too old’… and this was five years ago!
When asked back in 2016 if he’d ever sign Ronaldo or Messi, then RB Leipzig boss Rangnick said: ‘It would be absurd to think that it could work with them here. They are both too old and too expensive.’
Irrespective of this there is nobody better for the ball to fall to inside the area. Ronaldo could be the lifeline Rangnick needs to put games to bed, rather than relying upon him from the start and seeing the team shape suffer as as result.
Anthony Martial appears to be one of those players who will forever frustrate at Old Trafford.
When things click into place, he can be sensational. He has pace, power, trickery, a whirring football brain… everything a manager could really desire in an attacker. Yet far too often he simply doesn’t turn up.
Once he totally take the reins, Rangnick will have the likes of Marcus Rashford, Donny van de Beek and Sancho at his disposal. Not to mention the prodigious talent of Mason Greenwood.
Anthony Martial could soon find himself very much on the fringes of things at Old Trafford
If Ronaldo doesn’t get the nod, Rangnick is expected to make the latter the focal point of his attack, with Greenwood leading the front trident in a central area while flanked by Rashford and Sancho.
Van de Beek is tipped to finally be offered a shot at redemption at Old Trafford and play in behind, intermingled with Bruno Fernandes.
So, where does leave Martial? All signs point to the bench, at best.
The Frenchman is far too talented not to be offered opportunities, but these will be far less guaranteed than they perhaps have been previously.
In 2019 Martial penned a lucrative contract making him one of the club’s top earners, and keeping him at Old Trafford until June 2024. Perhaps both player and club will soon start looking at that, and weighing up whether a summer switch is necessary for both parties.
Last season Shaw was showing what he was all about but this time around… not so much. Rangnick will certainly see him as a vulnerable area in a starting XI right now.
Lapses in concentration against Manchester City last month eventually proved to be costly for former boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, and taking Shaw out of the firing line as a new era begins sounds like a realistic solution.
Rangnick revealed he had doubts over Luke Shaw’s ability before the 2020-21 campaign
And, worryingly for the England star, the forthright Rangnick already revealed before the 2020-21 campaign that he held doubts over Shaw’s ability in the position.
‘I also think that they could do with a left-back,’ Rangnick said with conviction when asked who United needed to sign last year.
‘I know they have Luke Shaw but I’m not so sure if he’s still on the same level that you need to be for a club like Manchester United.’
Shaw’s poor form and Rangnick’s pre-existing opinion of him do not make for a promising relationship. The defender has it all to do to turn that perception of him around.
David de Gea
It is always an interesting one when it comes to David de Gea.
The veteran stopper has long been heralded as one of the best shot stoppers in the world and, for a time, it was hard to argue he wasn’t the best goalkeeper on the planet.
De Gea might not ‘win games’ on his own for United like he used to with incredible regularity, but as the Premier League has seen of late he remains capable of still putting in remarkable performances.
The Spaniard saved two penalties in the damning 4-1 defeat by Watford which cost Solskjaer his job, and most certainly did not deserve to be on the losing side.
De Gea has been a standout performer as of late but his long-term future may be in doubt
He has also produced a number of fine saves in both the Premier League and Champions League as of late… but here is where the problem comes in, he does not exactly fit into Rangnick’s style of play.
The German has a very specific and rigid way of setting up which may not suit De Gea and the strengths he possesses as a ‘keeper.
While the German doesn’t want his defenders to pass backwards – which is good for De Gea – Rangnick’s desire to play a high defensive line would suit Dean Henderson more, given how the Englishman is more than willing to come out of his box and play the sweeper-keeper role.
The reality is that a switch-up with the men between the sticks may be an overhaul too much for Rangnick, given he needs to at least steady the ship before he can increase the knots. Therefore De Gea should be safe for now, especially given his form.
But the warning signs are there. Given how 24-year-old Henderson is seven years younger that De Gea, it would make sense for Rangnick to move on the Spain international in the near future – which, if nothing else, would help United’s vastly inflated wage bill.