How Man Utd could line up if Ralf Rangnick solves four problems highlighted by Wolves loss
Manchester United v Wolves: Match in pictures
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Manchester United suffered their first defeat under Ralf Rangnick after a surprise 1-0 loss at the hands of Wolves on Monday evening. But the performance, not the result, will give the interim coach the biggest cause for concern after a drab display in front of their home crowd. Joao Moutinho’s late strike handed Bruno Lage’s side a deserved victory after a professional display at Old Trafford, leaving Man United to feel puzzled at how their side had been so poor just days after beating Burnley 3-1.
Rangnick admitted that his side are “struggling” and the German tactician is under no illusions about the size of the task on his hands.
“I knew it would be a difficult job,” Rangnick said.
“There was a reason why they contacted me and signed me, so I knew from the start it would not be an easy job to find the best possible balance with regards to the players we have offensively and defensively.
“It was important for me we don’t concede that many goals. But again today against a good team, one of the better teams in possession of the ball and not an easy team to create chances [against] ourselves, it still showed we are struggling and we have quite a few steps to take.”
So, how does Rangnick go about solving the issues in front of him? Express Sport looks at four problem areas to address…
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It was notable for Rangnick that the best defensive performance in his backline came from Phil Jones, the central defender making his first appearance for the club since January 2020.
Even with the experienced Raphael Varane and reinstating Aaron-Wan Bissaka and Luke Shaw, United looked unbalanced and nervy. Jones was the only player who could escape criticism due to his commitment to making blocks and competing for aerial duels and tackles.
The 29-year-old certainly did enough to warrant being included in the discussion for keeping his place, especially if Harry Maguire fails to recover in time after the captain was absent.
It appears Rangnick may need to continue rotating his full-backs in an attempt to make it clear they are fighting for their place in the side, with Alex Telles and Diogo Dalot also producing questionable performances.
If there is no obvious improvement in the coming weeks, Rangnick could be forced to move in the January transfer window, with a move for Brighton full-back Tariq Lamptey certainly not out of the question.
Scott McTominay may have done enough to earn himself a regular spot in the ‘No.6’ role. Now Rangnick must decide who to sign to fit in alongside the Scotland international.
A central midfielder has long been on United’s transfer agenda and reports suggest the German boss is readying a £100m transfer bid for West Ham captain Declan Rice in the coming weeks.
RB Leipzig’s Amadou Haidara and Monaco midfielder Aurelien Tchouameni would appear to be cheaper and more realistic alternatives, but the 63-year-old coach knows he has options to use in his current squad too.
Much like he was under previous boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, Donny van de Beek has been merely a spectator since Rangnick’s arrival and has only featured for seven minutes since his arrival with three late appearances from the bench.
But after watching Nemanja Matic’s poor outing against Wolves, and doubts over Fred and Paul Pogba, it may be time to unleash the out-of-favour Dutchman. After all, it cannot possibly get worse after that display from United.
It was believed that Jadon Sancho would kick on after finally ending his run of 13 games without a goal against Chelsea. But the 21-year-old has struggled for form and has been in and out of the team.
Similarly, Marcus Rashford appears to be struggling for confidence after an anonymous outing from the bench. Mason Greenwood cut a frustrated figure when he was hooked midway through the second half, a decision that was met with boos from the home crowd.
Rangnick’s constant changes to the wingers in his 4-2-2-2 formation suggests he is still trying to find the optimum setup.
But the manner in which Sancho and Greenwood used their pace and direct running against Burnley gave Rangnick a glimpse into how it could work.
The issue for the manager to resolve is where Bruno Fernandes fits into the equation. The Portuguese was lively off the bench and hit the bar with a close-range effort, but he is neither a winger nor a striker.
That said, taking Sancho out of the firing line and placing the 27-year-old on the left could be a temporary change to refresh his options.
Cristiano Ronaldo gave the performance off the ball that his manager would have expected of him, providing intelligent runs into the channels and behind the defence. The only aspect missing was the final ball, with the 36-year-old looking frustrated on a number of occasions.
The Portuguese did have the ball in the net only for the offside flag to correctly go up against him. But his lack of attempts otherwise showed how easily he can be isolated.
Ronaldo and Cavani worked well together against Burnley, with the Uruguayan used as the pressing forward and Ronaldo positioned inside the box.
But Rangnick’s slight tweak seemed to upset the balance of his formation, playing Cavani almost as a No.10 behind their star man.
The interim coach also seems to view Rashford as a winger, but in deeper areas the 24-year-old is struggling to make an impact on games.
As they prepare to face Aston Villa next on January 10, Rangnick may consider replacing Cavani with Rashford up front to see how he operates in a more central position alongside Ronaldo.
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