Ralf Rangnick has been in the dugout for just three Manchester United matches since he was announced as interim manager 20 days ago.
You’d expect that during the intense winter period it would’ve been more, but a COVID-19 outbreak at Carrington led to matches against Brentford and Brighton being postponed. This leave just two fixtures against Newcastle and Burnley for United in 2021.
Despite the minimal game-time under the German manager, his use of the 4-2-2-2 in all three of his games in charge so far suggest that this will be his longer term shape for the team currently sat in sixth — but can rise to fourth by winning their games in hand.
So, with the limited time we’ve seen of Rangnick’s Reds, it’s slightly difficult to assume which is his best starting team in his preferred formation, however there have been clues so far in his short tenure.
Some have stood out in the latest matches, some less so. While all of the players will likely be able to prove their ability to adapt under the German professor, Rangnick probably has an idea of his strongest team at the moment.
Here’s what I think it might be:
GK — David de Gea
The Spaniard has been in phenomenal shot-stopping form throughout this campaign, and will more than likely be the starting option for Rangnick as the season progresses.
However, United’s no.1 would need to show improvement in the other areas of his game; particularly in his sweeping.
With a strong pressing system, the Reds’ goalkeeper will need to be proactive and aware to any long balls in behind his defence.
While this has not been a particular strength of his, David De Gea knows that this is an area of his game that needs to be strong if he is to continue his good form under the German manager.
This makes it understandable that United’s manager is reluctant to let Dean Henderson leave on loan in the January window. He may get a chance in between the sticks if De Gea is unable to improve the other areas of his game.
Yet, as it stands, there’s only one goalkeeper that will be starting for Rangnick when the team returns to action; and that is David de Gea.
Defence — Diogo Dalot, Raphaël Varane, Harry Maguire, Luke Shaw
Moving onto the defence, it’s similar to the one which many fans would’ve liked to see at the start of the season; but with Diogo Dalot coming in for Aaron Wan-Bisska, who’s stifled in his development this season.
The Portuguese right-back has impressed since he came into the side against Arsenal at the start of the month, and will likely continue operating on the right side of Rangnick’s defence.
Dalot has shown to be comfortable in possession and has been involved in the build-up for a few of United’s goals since he’s came into the side.
Meanwhile; even though Victor Lindelöf has impressed since coming back into the side, Harry Maguire should be the partner to the returning Raphaël Varane, despite going through torrid form at the start of this season.
The pairing suit each other very much so, and Maguire’s importance to both United and England throughout the previous two years seems to have been forgotten by many supporters.
Similarly, Luke Shaw should slot back into the side. Alex Telles has faired well in recent matches, but the difference in quality between the Englishman and the Brazilian is stark.
This long break should allow Shaw to rest and prepare to return to his form of Euro 2020 and last season, where he was touted as the best left-back in Europe throughout the period.
Midfield — Scott McTominay, Fred, Donny van de Beek, Jadon Sancho
The deeper midfield pairing of Scott McTominay and Fred is the obvious choice for Rangnick and how he likes his teams to play.
Fred is likely to be a standout, as he has been in Rangnick’s opening matches, while the Scotsman is a more appropriate partner than the ageing Nemanja Matic.
Meanwhile, in the double-10’s, we’ve seen Jadon Sancho start to flourish at United after a difficult start, he will be a mainstay in the side for Rangnick.
Donny van de Beek is yet to get going under the new management, but could be the perfect acquaintance for Sancho in that position. Also offering an extra link from defence to attack, which United have lacked massively this season.
Forwards — Cristiano Ronaldo, Bruno Fernandes
Despite not being involved in the midfield, Bruno Fernandes could see himself play in the frontline alongside his nation’s captain.
In a team that will look to control matches under Rangnick, having Bruno in a position further forward will mean that he does not have responsibilities in deeper areas to progress and circulate the ball — where he can often be rash and lose possession.
However, with Rangnick also wanting quick and direct transitions when his team wins possession, Bruno is the main man, which means he is highly unlikely to be dropped to the bench. A position higher up the pitch could be the correct recipe for the German manager.
Bruno’s pressing would be more useful in the front two as well, where it’s a more simple pressing job for the player than in a slightly deeper role — meaning Bruno’s energy would probably be used more effectively.
Being closer to Cristiano Ronaldo would also benefit the man that has assisted him nuerous times already this season.
The pair have proven to link up well and be quite deadly in combination at times this season, so it would be interesting to see them together in the frontline, and it could allow United to control matches while still having their Portuguese Magnifico’s magic in the side.
There are options…
This team has left out some hard-hitters. Marcus Rashford and Mason Greenwood have proven to be important players for United and could easily find their way back into the side, especially since both are more natural fits alongside Cristiano Ronaldo.
There are also options such as world cup winner Paul Pogba, who is yet to feature under Rangnick due to a long term injury. Pogba may yet have a sway in who starts under the German, as his talent is more than obvious.
Ultimately, Rangnick has many options at his disposal, and we’ve only seen a glimpse of how he wants his United side to play.
Players like Van de Beek and Dalot could have finally have key roles at Old Trafford under this management — it’ll be interesting to see how things unfold through the season.