Manchester United host West Ham United at Old Trafford on Saturday in the Premier League. United are 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
"Top of my list is how we can win the games with West Ham, Middlesbrough, Burnley and Southampton." #MUFC | #MUNWHU
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 round the players after significant pushback in previous weeks. Let’s hope the club don’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 defence 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 unrecognisable 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.
Rangnick: "Cristiano is a question mark [to face West Ham] because he has a problem with his neck. He received treatment yesterday for two-three hours and we will have to wait to see how he feels today." #mulive [mu]— utdreport (@utdreport) January 21, 2022
Rangnick: "Edi [Cavani] hasn’t been training with the team yet and will hopefully resume training today and then we’ll take the final decision after the training session today, [around] if he will be available for the game tomorrow." #mulive [mu]— utdreport (@utdreport) January 21, 2022
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.
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.