Ralf Rangnick stood stoicly on the sideline of Manchester United's 1-0 win on Sunday over Crystal Palace, surveying for the first time the hand he had taken over from Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. After being appointed interim manager at Old Trafford last week, the German was quick to inject some organization into the on-field play. For some in the dressing room, this is good news. For others, it might not be so positive.
The German coach, who boasts a near mythical standing in the sport for his views on how soccer should be played, has been hired to implement a style of play and install soccer principles in a squad desperately lacking in this regard. Which Manchester United players will be the winners and losers of Rangnick’s reign?
Rangnick had only just taken charge of his first match as United manager and Jadon Sancho already appeared to be the player the Old Trafford club paid £73m for him to be. The England international is used to leading a high press following his time at Borussia Dortmund and this should make him a favourite of the new boss.
United’s interim manager has already been quoted speaking in glowing terms about Sancho. He knows the 21-year-old well having watched him at close quarters in the Bundesliga and knows how effective he can be in quick transition. With Rangnick at the helm, Sancho’s Manchester United contract can truly begin.
Donny van de Beek
Despite arriving at Old Trafford with a reputation as one of European soccer’s brightest young midfielders, Donny van Beek became something of a forgotten figure under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. Now, though, he could be tailor-made for Rangnick who has publicly declared his preference for midfielders who look to pass the ball forward.
Van de Beek could be key to Rangnick finding some balance in the centre of the pitch. United already know the difficulties of fitting Bruno Fernandes and Paul Pogba into the same team and so the midfield could be Rangnick’s first point of order upon taking over. Van de Beek has plenty to offer the German coach.
He might be widely maligned by many fans and experts, but there’s a good chance Fred will be a favourite of Rangnick. The Brazilian certainly has his flaws. Those have been exposed this season with opposition sides targeting Fred for his inability to keep hold of the ball in possession, but he still offers a lot in terms of his off-the-ball energy.
Indeed, his average of 26.2 pressures per 90 minutes this season is significantly higher than that of any other Manchester United player. Fred’s long-term future at Old Trafford might see him ultimately replaced by someone who can offer more in possession, but Rangnick is only in charge until the end of the season and the 28-year-old could be very useful to him – already proven by the midfielder's winning goal against Crystal Palace.
Even before Rangnick’s appointment, Cristiano Ronaldo’s inability, or unwillingness, to press from the front was the subject of much discussion. The 36-year-old is still one of the best finishers around, but Rangnick may prefer a more mobile centre forward who can play his part in a more cohesive off-the-ball approach.
Ronaldo has 12 goals in 16 starts for Manchester United this season and so it might be impossible for Rangnick to ignore the qualities of the legendary forward, but the German might have to contract a shape and system that compensates for his limitations. So far this season, Ronaldo has been the solution to a problem of his own making. If the Portuguese continually generates the pressing work rate he displayed on Sunday, he'll be difficult to drop. Should that energy level fall, Rangnick won't hesitate to bench the club's highest scorer.
Rangnick likes his full backs to offer width and an attacking outlet. This could be a problem for Aaron Wan-Bissaka who is a more defence-minded option on the right side. The 24-year-old is renowned as one of the best one-on-one defenders in the Premier League, but is limited in his final third output.
This could see Rangnick favour Diogo Dalot. The Portuguese full back enjoyed a successful season on loan at AC Milan last term and even made Portugal’s squad for Euro 2020. Dalot is a good dribbler, has a natural instinct to make the byline and break to the edge of the box and can cross a ball. Wan-Bissaka could have competition.
If Fred and van de Beek are to be among Rangnick’s favourites, with Fernandes too good to drop, Scott McTominay could find himself squeezed out of the Manchester United first team. The Scotland International is a widely misunderstood player, frequently used in defensive roles when he is better driving forward with the ball at his feet.
However, Rangnick might not have a place in his team for a player with this quality, and if he does Pogba is likely to be given the nod. McTominay could still prove his worth as a useful squad figure, and has already been handed a start in Rangnick's first two matches, but he might be forced to adapt his game to find his spot under the new manager this season.