With Ralf Rangnick set to take charge of his first game as Manchester United’s new interim manager, the excitement around Old Trafford has risen to new levels ahead of the Crystal Palace fixture.
But with the transfer window opening next month and a huge summer in prospect at Old Trafford six months later, supporters will soon turn their attentions to how their team may line up under him.
Notoriously flexible with his formations, Rangnick is something of an enigma and as such, it is difficult to predict which formation and players he will choose. However, there is no doubting that he has a star-studded squad at his disposal.
Ralf Rangnick will have already started to think about transfer targets at Manchester United
According to reports, Borussia Dortmund striker Erling Haaland is top of Rangnick’s wishlist
United, of course, have been disappointingly limp this season – a trait which slipped into far too many of their performances and led to the sacking of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. As we enter the holiday period, now is the time for that to change.
Handily, in just a matter of weeks, the winter transfer window opens. Rangnick will certainly be allowed to splash the cash, and recent reports from Germany have suggested that he already has four names lined up for Old Trafford swoops.
Erling Haaland, Timo Werner, Christopher Nkunku and Amadou Haidara are the players said to have been added to his shortlist. There is little surprise that he wants Haaland, but Rangnick will raise eyebrows by moving for Chelsea ace Werner.
Both Nkunku and Haidara play for RB Leipzig, Rangnick’s former team, and as such are classy and reliable performers capable of breathing new life into the midfield. So, if the quartet were to arrive in the near future, how could United shape up?
GOALKEEPER – DAVID DE GEA
Despite his spot in the team looking shaky under Solskjaer, the impressive David de Gea will be Rangnick’s first-choice between the sticks.
This season, the stopper has managed to rediscover his best form, and it is only his seemingly never ending highlights reel of saves which has kept United afloat.
Dean Henderson handed him stern competition last term, but since he contracted Covid-19 and missed out on invaluable minutes, De Gea has cemented his place.
He has his limitations, however, which may hinder how the side progress from the back and through the thirds, but his reflexes more than justify him lining up.
David de Gea looks back to his best this season and will keep his spot under boss Rangnick
RIGHT BACK – AARON WAN-BISSAKA
This selection is born out of a lack of other options in this position, more than anything. Aaron Wan-Bissaka has been poor this season, but will keep his spot.
On several occasions in recent weeks, the young full-back has been carefully marshalled by United’s coaches, who have been left in dismay at his positioning.
He is an expert, and one of the best in the world, at one versus one tackling, but it is the other areas of his game that Wan-Bissaka has failed to strengthen since arriving.
To his fortune, Diogo Dalot – aside from Thursday’s win against Arsenal – has also failed to live up to expectations in other brief cameos, and it would not be a surprise if Rangnick decides reinforcements are needed here.
One player under threat is Aaron Wan-Bissaka, whose flaws have been clear to see this season
CENTRE BACK – RAPHAEL VARANE
United sorely miss Raphael Varane, that is clear to see. He has been a dominant and imposing figure at the back, and his team-mates look notably weaker without him.
Slowly but surely, he is battling back to reach full fitness, and sat out the dreary final weeks of Solskjaer’s tenure. Under Rangnick, he will hope to slot back in seamlessly.
Despite his centre-back partner, Harry Maguire, sporting the armband, it has been Varane who has stood out at the leader. His experience at winning trophies is key.
With a good passing range and ability to carry the ball out for the back, he looks to be the perfect for Rangnick’s preferred high-pressing, full-throttle style of play.
United have sorely missed the presence of Raphael Varane during his lengthy injury absence
CENTRE BACK – HARRY MAGUIRE
This is a pretty long post-Euro 2020 hangover, Harry. Since almost helping England to a first trophy since 1966, Maguire has been nothing short of calamitous for United.
Week after week, he has made costly mistakes. He has looked flustered and has consistently fallen short of the standards expected of a captain at Old Trafford.
The good news is that the only way is up. Under now departed caretaker boss Michael Carrick, Maguire looked better and assured, putting in a solid if unspectacular display against Arsenal.
Rangnick will lean on Maguire in his bid to kickstart United’s push for the Champions League and hoped surge back up the Premier League table, and the centre-back will have little choice but to pay him back in spades.
Harry Maguire has flattered to deceive at United this season, and needs to find his form again
LEFT BACK – ALEX TELLES
This may be the first big decision Rangnick takes after assuming control soon. Luke Shaw, a regular for United for years, has not impressed the tactician in the past.
Back in 2020, Rangnick said Shaw may not be ‘on the same kind of level you need for a club like Manchester United’, and admitted they ‘could do with a left back’.
Damning comments, indeed, and they have firmly placed the pressure on Shaw to defy his critics and bounce back, as he has done often during his time at the club.
Rangnick, though, has no time for players who don’t perform regularly, and therefore he may be tempted to make Alex Telles, Shaw’s understudy, his first-choice option, especially with how he grew into the Arsenal game after a difficult start.
Rangnick’s past criticism of Luke Shaw looks to have handed Alex Telles a chance of starting
CENTRAL MIDFIELDER – FRED
Capable of a jaw-dropping, line-splitting through ball one second and then hoisting a pass into the stands the next, Fred still remains a course of confusion at Old Trafford.
That inconsistency was highlighted in Thursday’s game against the Gunners, bizarrely fouling De Gea in the lead-up to Arsenal’s opener before assisting Bruno Fernandes’ equaliser and winning the penalty for Cristiano Ronaldo’s winner.
He is, without a shadow of a doubt, a good midfielder – but it is his inconsistency that has tended to raise eyebrows among United supporters during most matches.
However, his excellent work-rate and ability to press opponents high up the field make him a dream match for how United are expected to play under the new coach.
In fact, United’s two goals against Villarreal nearly a fortnight ago came from Fred pressuring players, and that is exactly the type of doggedness that Rangnick will look for across his squad.
Despite remaining an enigma in midfield, Fred’s high energy and pressing is key for Rangnick
CENTRAL MIDFIELDER – AMADOU HAIDARA
If there is one player who sums up Rangnick, it is Amadou Haidara. He has played for both Red Bull Salzburg and their sister club in the Bundesliga, RB Leipzig.
With this experience already under his belt, he understands perfectly what Rangnick demands from his players – and appears to fit neatly into United’s new style.
His £33million release clause makes this a very affordable deal, and United scouts will be sent to face up against Manchester City on Tuesday if he plays, having missed Friday’s defeat against Union Berlin.
What they will see if he features is an all-action midfielder who provides bundles of energy for this side, and who isn’t afraid to lunge into a tackle and push forward with the ball.
RB Leipzig star Amadou Haidara would flourish under Rangnick should he move to United
WIDE PLAYMAKER – BRUNO FERNANDES
While this is not a position reserved solely for Rangnick’s sides, using two wide playmakers on either flank has been something of a trademark for him.
The players out on either touchline operate as traditional wingers, and are afforded freedom to drift in and out of space to allow the full backs to venture forward.
Quick vertical passes allow his teams to break through towards the penalty area, and Bruno Fernandes – a man known for risk-taking – is the ideal candidate for this role.
He may have been stuck in a rut recently, but ending his goal drought on Thursday and providing four key passes against Arsenal will no doubt provide Rangnick with the hope that with all of his years of experience will help him add an entirely new facet to his game. It is a different role for him, but he will adapt.
Bruno Fernandes is stuck in a rut, but promises to dazzle once again in a wider playmaking role
WIDE PLAYMAKER – DONNY VAN DE BEEK
Finally, it appears Donny van de Beek does have a career at United. He impressed, and scored, at Watford and also helped inspire his team in the victory at Villarreal.
Solskjaer’s decision to barely play the midfielder is unforgiveable, though he also played just a minute each against Chelsea and Arsenal under Carrick. After all, he is the perfect player to link up attacks, and his desire to track back is also invaluable.
Under Rangnick, he would be able to slot into the two-man pivot, or into one of the wide positions in the 4-2-2-2 formation, and can be trusted to deliver solid showings.
Moulded in the Ajax academy, Van de Beek is best when playing one-touch football and bouncing off his team-mates, and he may be integral to Rangnick’s revolution.
Donny van de Beek rarely played under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, and his United future is unclear
STRIKER – CRISTIANO RONALDO
He will not be able to play every game, but Cristiano Ronaldo – when fit – should start as much as possible for United. His goal record – which surpassed the 800 barrier with his brace against Arsenal – more than backs that up.
When Rangnick was unveiled as United’s next manager, there was immediately concern raised about how Ronaldo – who is not known for racing back – would cope.
But the truth is, for players of the superstar’s calibre, finding a compromise is necessary. Rangnick, an elder statesman of the game, has already acknowledged this.
‘Having seen Cristiano in the second half [against Arsenal] at the age of 36, an amazing top professional,’ Rangnick said in his first United press conference. ‘At his age, I’ve never seen a player who is still that physically fit. He’s still a player who can easily make the difference.’
Provided Ronaldo can reserve his energy for those lethal bursts into the box, and cuts off passing lanes up, then there is no reason why he would need to be dropped.
Cristiano Ronaldo would still be able to play for Rangnick despite his side’s high-energy style
STRIKER – ERLING HAALAND
This pick needs no explanation. United have long since been interested in luring Erling Haaland to the Theatre of Dreams, and he would solve all their striking woes.
With Ronaldo and Edinson Cavani aging, there is room for a younger, more long-term option in that area – and Haaland, and his formidable scoring record, is the ideal fit.
Willing to press from the front, he would perform wonders under Rangnick. The two even have a good rapport, and United hope this will grease the wheels for a move.
Either way, on paper, this is one of – if not the best – attacking partnership in the world. A high-pressing United team with these two stars is a truly terrifying prospect.
Haaland has good connections with Rangnick, which may be crucial to United’s move for him