Manchester United’s dismal defeat to Wolves on Monday night raised fresh questions about the direction of the club and, in particular, the attitude of the players.
Despite hiring a new interim manager who acknowledges the need for change at Old Trafford, the squad is still plagued by the same silly mistakes and baffling decision making that led to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s sacking last year.
The nature of the reoccurring problems proves that Ralf Rangnick is not entirely to blame for an inconsistent run in recent weeks, but he has a tough task on his hands if he is to salvage something from this season.
A priority will be strengthening a leaky defence, and our United writers have taken a look at the ways in which Rangnick could look to solidify his back line.
The larcenous £50million Crystal Palace banked for Aaron Wan-Bissaka rivals any robbery by Jesse James. How Wan-Bissaka kept his place against Wolves was mystifying when Diogo Dalot performed well in December and should have been a shoe-in at right-back, whatever the competition and whatever the opposition.
Harry Maguire reached world-class levels during the European Championship but has been a walking disaster all season. Solskjaer refused to drop Maguire as he had spent £80m on him and prematurely promoted him to captain. Maguire’s injury affords Rangnick an ‘excuse’ to bench him. Paradoxically, Maguire is still the most suitable partner for Raphael Varane.
Victor Lindelof has just had an anxious month with his own health and his infant son’s stay in hospital. He has never looked cut out to be a regular centre-back for United and is vulnerable to speed and strength, but he thrived when on the front foot against Crystal Palace and he deserves a run next to Varane.
Luke Shaw has come to symbolise much of United’s malaise in the last eight-and-a-half years but is still the club’s best left-back.
Samuel’s back four: Dalot, Lindelof, Varane, Shaw.
Rangnick identified keeping clean sheets as his biggest challenge at United, and despite a recent slump in form, he still has as many as Solskjaer managed in the league this season.
It is important to note that defending starts from the front and that improving defensively relies on all players across the pitch doing their bit, even if there is a case for changes in personnel.
Wan-Bissaka has regressed after a decent debut season and it is telling that Dalot is now the fan favourite despite his own individual errors and struggles to actually defend. On the other side Shaw remains a shadow of his former self but he is still the most rounded full-back at the club and has proven this calendar year that he has the ability to perform at a world-class ceiling.
Varane has been rather disappointing since he signed this summer but Maguire is the scapegoat. Both have been poor, but they still represent the centre-back pairing that needs to keep playing together in order to form a partnership. Lindelof is arguably the in-form central defender, but it is still hard to argue he should start ahead of the club captain and a World Cup winner.
Rich’s best back four: Dalot, Varane, Maguire, Shaw.
Despite a dip in form this season compared to last term and his Euro 2020 heroics, Shaw remains the best left-back at United and can bring more control and authority bombing down the flank, as well as in defence.
The same cannot be said of Wan-Bissaka, who has regressed since his debut campaign under Solskjaer. Dalot looks far more suited to Rangnick’s 4-2-2-2 and has improved defensively.
Maguire is the captain and, on ability, is among the best two central defenders United have. But his current form doesn’t befit that of a United captain, nor a starting centre-back, so Rangnick must trial a Lindelof and Varane partnership that has the potential to look really composed and imposing. Telles, Maguire and Wan-Bissaka may all benefit from being dropped.
Dom’s best back four: Dalot, Lindelof, Varane, Shaw.
We’ve teamed up with LiveScore to invite fans to vote for their favourite results – the games which were much more than a score. Vote for the match that mattered to you here.