Following a mixed bag of Premier League results of late, Ralf Rangnick now has his sights set on the UEFA Champions League tie against Atletico Madrid.
Diego Simeone is one of the established managerial names in world football, usually renowned for the way he sets his team up as hard to beat and defensively robust. However, with Los Colchoneros sat 5th in the table over in La Liga, the Argentinian boss has had it tough this season, and Rangnick will bear the fragilities of Atletico in mind when selecting his team for the European clash.
It is probable that German interim boss will opt for a 4-3-3 formation, with a holding midfielder and two box-to-box players, considering the whole ‘away from home in Europe’ context.
Goalkeeper and Defence:Embed from Getty Images
Goalkeeper: David De Gea
The Spanish shot-stopper didn’t have his finest game on Sunday, and he was perhaps at fault for the first goal in the Leeds comeback. In spite of this, De Gea has been the player of the season so far, saving his team on many an occasion, and his selection needs no justifying as United head into the Champions League Round of 16.
Right-Back: Diogo Dalot
It came as a shock to many Reds fans when Dalot was dropped to the bench for the league clash at weekend, but it is likely that Rangnick was simply resting the Portuguese international ahead of the big game in midweek. Aaron Wan-Bissaka put a good shift in against Marcelo Bielsa’s team, but Dalot deserves the spot he has earned in the last months.
Centre-Back: Raphaël Varane
Having pulled out of the Brighton game pre-match, Varane was subject to a spot on the bench against Leeds. Perhaps similar to Dalot, Rangnick will likely have the European tie in mind, and will want the four-time Champions League winner to be fit and healthy at all costs. Varane will know a Simeone side well from his time at Real Madrid. His selection needs no justifying.
Centre-Back: Harry Maguire
After a disgruntled period, both on and off the field, it was refreshing to see Maguire put in a good performance in uneasy conditions on Sunday afternoon. The goal ought to have done the skipper a lot of good, and he has to try and build some consistency now. Lindelöf again played well, but it would be a true shock if he started the game on Wednesday.Embed from Getty Images
Left-Back: Alex Telles
Whilst both have had their good moments during Rangnick’s tenure so far, neither Luke Shaw nor Telles have really nailed down the starting spot at left-back. Shaw hasn’t been in the best form of late, and with his habit of making petty challenges and picking up cards, the German interim boss may opt for Telles, who is yet to be booked this season in all competitions. Also, remembering his time with Porto, Telles has that foreign knowledge of the game that Shaw may lack, so perhaps the Brazilian is a better shout for this fixture in particular.
Midfield:Embed from Getty Images
Holding Midfield: Scott McTominay
McTominay has proven across a couple of years now that he is not the solution to United’s holding midfield problem; his better qualities are shown when going forward, and on the continent, his defensive frailties may be exposed for all to see. It is difficult to dislike the Scotland international, though, as he is the best option available from himself, Fred and Matic, and he undoubtedly gives it his all for the shirt. Blame the people upstairs for once again failing to provide.
Central Midfield: Paul Pogba
The World Cup winner was cheered on against Brighton last Tuesday when he replaced a dismal Fred in the second half. His quality is there for all to see, and he proved that quality is there once more at weekend, with a whole host of attacking play that drove his team forward. Whilst he will likely be gone in a few months, Pogba needs to perform to put himself in the shop window, so let’s hope he performs on the biggest stage this coming Wednesday night. When the Frenchman plays well, so too do United.
Central Midfield: Bruno Fernandes
In what hasn’t been a smooth-riding season for Bruno, he has still put up some fantastic numbers. The 27-year-old has registered six assists in five Champions League games this campaign, averaging 1.2 per match. His link-up play with Cristiano Ronaldo has looked good in Europe so far, and with a goal at the weekend, everything suggests the Portuguese Magnifico is due another good performance against Atletico.
AttackEmbed from Getty Images
Left Wing: Jadon Sancho
The start of Sancho’s United career was sluggish at best, but the former Dortmund man is really kicking on in a red shirt, now. With a consistent run in the team, the winger seems to have found himself a home on the left flank, and the numbers are now stacking up slowly but surely for him. Sancho bagged a couple of assists at weekend and will want to kick on even further on a European stage that he knows well from his time abroad.
Right Wing: Marcus Rashford
With Jesse Lingard putting in a rather feeble showing against Leeds and with Anthony Elanga still only 19 years of age, it makes sense that Rashford will play in the Round of 16 clash this week. Rashford was not brought on in the win over Leeds, indicative that Rangnick was planning on keeping him fresh ahead of the game in Europe. Although Rashford has not shown great technical ability this season, his pace is an asset that will never blow cold, and this could come in handy against a shoddy Atletico back four. The time to kick on is now for Marcus.
Striker: Cristiano Ronaldo
In the 118-year history of Club Atletico de Madrid, there has been no greater nemesis of the club than Ronaldo. The Portuguese superstar has faced Atletico a whopping 35 times in his career, the most he has faced any club side, and has scored an even greater 25 goals against the Spanish team.
Now 37 years of age, Ronaldo has scored an incredible 140 goals on what is club competition’s greatest stage. He has more records in Europe than most United players have European appearances. Even in this underwhelming United season, Ronaldo has more goals in Europe (6) than he has played games (5) It is fair to say that he is Mr Champions League.
His selection is never in doubt for the game, where he will face a familiar foe in Simeone.
Possible involvementEmbed from Getty Images
Wan-Bissaka could be a savvy call at right-back, as even though he is not well equipped going forward, he does have defending qualities that will be useful on the continent.
Shaw has a good chance of being involved, as it is quite literally a toss of a coin between himself and Telles at the moment, with neither being head and shoulders above the other.
Fred could be a good shout in a game that will require grit, tenacity and hard work, so perhaps he could be preferred to McTominay in holding midfield. He could play as a box-to-box, but Pogba and Fernandes are essential to United getting the all-important away goals.