Manchester United started off the Ralf Rangnick era with a top performance against Crystal Palace last weekend, running out 1-0 winners in a game where United could have scored five. The instant impact of Rangnick’s arrival was evident from the first whistle, with United pressing high up the pitch and recovering the ball quickly. This type of pressing and control is a different style of playing in comparison to recent years, so in this article we’ll take a look at five players who could flourish and five who may be heading for the exit:
Five Who Could Flourish:
The first player in this list is almost an obvious pick after recent performances. The 28-year-old Brazilian has been hugely impressive in the last four games, sticking to his best attributes of breaking up play and providing energy in United’s midfield.
If Fred was capable of doing this consistently then there’s no doubt around the fact that he’d be considered one of the top midfielders in the league, however this has not been the case during his time at United thus far. Fortunately, with Ralf Rangnick’s preference for fast and high pressing football, Fred may be better suited to perform to his best ability more consistently.
Already proving to be the matchwinner in his first game under Rangnick, Fred produced a brilliant performance- deservedly winning man of the match. With all of this being said, under Rangnick’s expert coaching and being well suited to United’s new system, Fred is one of the players who will look to improve the most over the next six months; and hopefully finally fulfil his full potential for United.
2. Victor Lindelof
Victor Lindelof is a player who may be surprised that he’s currently featured so frequently in the United starting eleven, however an injury to Raphael Varane has afforded the Swede an opportunity to stake a claim for a permanent spot. The 27-year-old has actually been one of United’s better performing defenders this season, although that’s not saying too much.
Having just been promoted to Sweden captaincy it seems Lindelof has gained more maturity and this is showing in his performances. During Rangnick’s first game in charge, Lindelof was aggressive and tenacious when pressing further up the pitch. Additionally, he was able to pass out accurately and switch the play with ease, which was to the benefit of United’s charging fullbacks and forwards.
It’s likely that when Varane comes back from injury Lindelof will be delegated to the bench once more, however this isn’t certain as club captain Harry Maguire has had an awful season so far. Whether Lindelof manages to become a regular starter or not, there’s some good signs for a high level of performance from the Swedish captain, suited to Rangnick’s affinity for pressing high and aggressively.
3. Mason Greenwood
Mason Greenwood burst onto the scene at United as a teenage sensation, managing to bag a hugely impressive 19 goals in the 2019/2020 season. While not quite reaching those numbers last season, Greenwood has started this season well- scoring some brilliant goals already.
Greenwood has already scored five goals in all competitions thus far and has the potential to surpass his impressive haul of 19 from a couple of seasons ago. The 20-year-old registered an assist in Rangnick’s first game in charge and scored a stunning goal in United’s final Champions League group game against BSC Young Boys.
The deadly forward was largely restricted to a role on the wing in recent years, but with Rangnick’s preferred 4-2-2-2 system Greenwood may be able to start as one of the two strikers more regularly, allowing him ample opportunity to score.
Rangnick has already spoken about Greenwood’s talent and potential, having been impressed with his performances so far this season, which means Greenwood should mature into an even more deadly forward under Rangnick.
4. Diogo Dalot
United have relied on Aaron Wan-Bissaka as the right-back option heavily during his time at the club, while Portuguese Diogo Dalot has been second choice. Dalot, who joined from Porto, was touted as one of the most promising fullbacks in world football when he initially signed.
Unsurprisingly, the 22-year-old has failed to live up to the hype just yet, although there is still ample time for him to develop his game. Dalot moved to AC Milan in 2020 for a moderately successful loan spell, which many thought would lead to his permanent sale.
This didn’t happen though, and it now looks likely that Dalot may be able to displace out of form Bissaka for the starting spot in the team. As mentioned previously, Rangnick likes proactive football with high pressing and attacking fullbacks- something more suited to Dalot’s natural game than Wan-Bissaka’s.
In the game against Crystal Palace Dalot was a constant threat, overlapping and knocking balls into the box all game. In addition to this he came very close to scoring at the end of the first half after a nice run. Rangnick may well just prefer to use Dalot as his starting right-back, which could lead to the Portuguese’s best run of form yet.
5. Jadon Sancho
Jadon Sancho’s start to life at United has not quite been what he or the fans may have expected, however in the last week or so there are signs that he might start hitting form. Sancho struggled under former manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, spending more time on the bench than he would have liked.
However, it looks like Sancho may be granted a first team role under Rangnick, playing in one of the number 10 roles alongside Bruno Fernandes. After scoring twice in one week under Michael Carrick, Sancho may start performing to his best ability under a new manager who actually tried to sign him several years ago.
Rangnick recognises the talent in the young English forward after presumably watching him intensely during his career at Borussia Dortmund. Playing in an inside 10 role may benefit Sancho, who can start linking up with the strikers and fullbacks more cohesively, which should ultimately lead to a flurry of goals and assists.
Five Who Could Leave:
1. Anthony Martial
After announcing himself in dramatic style against Liverpool in 2015, Anthony Martial has never fully reached that same height again. The Frenchman has had periods of good form but has never consistently impressed or shown enough to be a first choice Manchester United striker.
Since the arrivals of the likes of Edinson Cavani and Jadon Sancho, Martial has been starved for game time or any kind of good form. News also broke this week from Martial’s agent Philippe Lamboley, stating the striker wishes to leave the club in January due to his lack of game time, which all but confirms the exit is looming for the once promising 26-year-old.
2. Eric Bailly
Eric Bailly is a player that has only recently signed a new deal with United, yet presently sits as fourth choice centre-back. The Ivorian has expressed his desire to play games and help the club, yet under Solskjaer this opportunity was not presented. Bailly has a high level of talent but his tendency to make rash decisions holds him back from being selected week in week out.
Theoretically Bailly fits in with Rangnick’s high intensity pressing football perfectly, but it looks like he will have to settle with being a squad player after the arrival of Raphael Varane and the good form of Victor Lindelof, plus the fact that it’s likely club captain Harry Maguire will be retained as a starter. All of this being said, Bailly will probably look to seek another club in order to gain more playing time.
3. Dean Henderson
Dean Henderson looked very likely to replace David de Gea as United’s number one goalkeeper towards the end of last season, however a De Gea resurgence has shut down any chance of that happening.
Henderson possesses enormous amounts of talent for such a young goalkeeper, and certainly doesn’t lack the confidence necessary to be United’s first choice goalkeeper. Henderson played in United’s final Champions League group game against BSC Young Boys, putting in a confident display complete with elements of a sweeper- keeper.
This would be to Rangnick’s liking, however the United manager has made it clear that De Gea is number one, which could indicate rumours about a potential loan or permanent move away could become something more concrete.
4. Jesse Lingard
The longstanding saga surrounding Jesse Lingard and his United future should finally come to a close under Rangnick’s reign as manager. While there are no doubts surrounding the quality Lingard has, it’s clear the academy graduate wants to be starting games, deservedly so too. West Ham looked like a likely destination after an impressive loan spell there last season, although Newcastle United are starting to show interest as well.
Lingard will suit Rangnick’s style of pressing, but it feels like it’s too late for the 28-year-old to revive his United career at this point.
5. Juan Mata
Juan Mata has been an excellent servant to United since joining back in David Moyes’s short spell as manager. Mata has always oozed class when playing but he finally seems to be at the stage where his body can no longer cope with the rhythm and intensity of the Premier League.
The 33-year-old has only made three appearances so far this season and there have been suggestions Mata may prefer a return to Spain sooner than later. It’s distinctly obvious Mata is the wrong type of profile to carry out the intensive pressing style of play United are expected to develop over the next six months, meaning a January or summer exit is on the cards.
In addition to the players mentioned above there are still several futures that could pan out either way- including the likes of Donny van de Beek, Nemanja Matic and Paul Pogba. Rangnick will be keen to trim the squad down and assemble a team more in his image over the next few months, and if successful United may finally compete for the Premier League title once more.
Written by Sam Wilson