KEIR RADNEDGE REPORTS: Caretaker Michael Carrick will still be in charge – officially – of Manchester United for tonight’s Premier League hosting of Arsenal. Interim manager Ralf Rangnick was still awaiting formal confirmation of his work permit.
This will not have prevented Rangnick expressing his opinions in private. The first outcome of his anticipated arrival appeared to have been the decision to drop Cristiano Ronaldo to the substitutes’ bench for Sunday’s 1:1 draw at Chelsea.
Carrick insisted after the game that the decision had been his and his alone. But the switch from Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s 4-2-3-1 to a diamond formation with two quick attackers in Marcus Rashford and Jadon Sancho was notable. Dropping Ronaldo looked like the sort of decision by a new manager keen to establish his authority.
Ronaldo’s defenders insist that, at 36, he was not a man for the press and also that he had already played almost every minute of his previous six games for club and country.
United’s owners did not sign Ronaldo to be a luxury supersub. Rangnick will be expected to find a system which makes full use of Ronaldo’s goal-scoring genius. He will also be expected to succeed where Solskjaer failed in bringing the best out of Sancho in attack and Donny van de Beek in midfield.
Rangnick has positives such as David de Gea’s superb form in goal. Hopefully Raphael Varane can now overcome the injury problems which spoiled his first four months at Old Trafford. Captain Harry Maguire badly needs Varane’s support to help him regain consistent form.
In midfield Rangnick has hard workers in Fred and McTominay while Bruno Fernandes was United’s most creative player in the Solskjaer era. However Paul Pogba is a lost cause. By the time he regains fitness in the new year he may find that Rangnick has found ways and means to render him surplus to requirements.
In attack the under-performing Anthony Martial and veteran Edinson Cavani are both in danger of being among the first players released, perhaps even in the January transfer window.
Rangnick will then have a clear view of the talent available. This will enable him to plan effectively for the second half of the season which demands a climb up the league, progress in the Champions League and an FA Cup campaign to keep the fans in hope of at least one trophy.
What may happen then is fascinating. United need Rangnick to emulate Solskjaer’s initial success as interim manager. The Norwegian won 14 of his first 19 games in charge. These were results which virtually forced United to hand him a three-year contract. That, of course, did not end well.
At the moment Rangnick is supposed to be in charge of the team for the rest of the season, find a new manager and then take up a two-year consultancy. But if Rangnick fulfils his initial task to restore winning form then the Glazer family will be under pressure to make Rangnick his own successor.