Manchester United host West Ham United at Old Trafford on Saturday in the Premier League. United is still seventh in the table but now only two points off fourth-placed West Ham and with a game in hand over the Hammers. However, Arsenal and Tottenham sit above United and have one and two games respectively in hand over the Reds.
📣 “In our position, every single game is of great importance. We need to make sure we get maximum points out of them,” Ralf adds.
— Manchester United (@ManUtd) January 21, 2022
Ralf Rangnick is enjoying the respite that comes with a win – despite the terrible first half at Brentford in midweek and the disappointing capitulation at Aston Villa last weekend. Rangnick is looking to pick up maximum points from United’s next three league fixtures, and progress in the FA Cup, before the Champions League starts affecting the schedule.
Meanwhile, Rangnick’s calm, measured and intelligent leadership is tentatively starting to win around the players after significant pushback in previous weeks. Let’s hope the club doesn’t undermine him.
Victor Lindelöf is unavailable on compassionate grounds to partner with Raphaël Varane again, and Harry Maguire is perhaps the likely replacement. Maguire came off the bench for the last 20 minutes at Brentford on Wednesday when United switched to a back three in defense to protect their two-nil lead. However, Phil Jones will also be available and, given Maguire hasn’t walked back into the side since a mysterious fortnight out of the squad, it wouldn’t be a huge surprise to see Jones in the starting eleven for this final match before the international break.
Rangnick delivered on his promise to play 4-3-3 on Wednesday night at the Brentford Community Stadium – and it was Scott McTominay who was tasked with the defensive role. This allowed Fred to play higher up with Bruno Fernandes, and Fred got amongst the assists, but at times it was unrecognizable from the more familiar 4-2-3-1. Fernandes’s position was often much higher than Fred’s, and Fred was usually found much closer to McTominay. But McTominay was the clear holding player on Wednesday.
It is likely that Paul Pogba will be available for selection in a couple of weeks. Pogba may partner Fernandes as one of the two advanced midfielders in this system should Rangnick want to make use of Pogba between now and the summer. Welcome creativity in midfield will narrow options for Fred and McTominay who are both performing well for their manager at the moment. McTominay may benefit more if he can hold down the sitting midfielder spot for himself, and it will be interesting to see if Rangnick sees Fred there too.
There’s a new Tony in town, and this kid is not only mustard but is working his socks off for the opportunity. An example to the rest of the squad. Elanga will be hard to leave out of the team right now despite the competition for places.
Mason Greenwood needs to take a leaf out of Elanga’s book otherwise Greenwood has stiff competition that may be ahead of him when everyone’s available.
Greenwood should, eventually, move to the middle up front – and Greenwood may get the opportunity on Saturday with Cristiano Ronaldo and Edinson Cavani to be assessed. Greenwood must stake his claim now, whether out wide or centrally, and not assume it’s a given.
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Got a goal on the counter to make it three for United on the night at Brentford, cooly lifting the ball high into the net, sending Thomas Frank into a mental stats-based tailspin, and justifying Ronaldo being subbed. Pretty sweet for Rangnick and should do Rashford the world of good after a miserable display last time United played at Old Trafford.
What a difference a week makes for United’s underperforming forwards. Jadon Sancho, returning from compassionate leave, is unlikely to be in the squad again – which means another chance for Rashford. Whether off the bench or from kick-off, hopefully, Rashford takes the opportunity and receives a warmer reception on Saturday from the home crowd.