How Ralf Rangnick's 4-2-2-2 could look at Manchester United

Ralf Rangnick is one of the brightest tactical minds in the world of football and he could be on the verge of being appointed as Manchester United interim manager.

The Athletic report Rangnick is ready to take the job, as well as a longer term role as a strategist behind the scenes.

This is a very smart move from United and while there is plenty to dig into, the first job at hand for Rangnick will be working out how to line his team up.

Rangnick has been versatile at his previous clubs, adapting his formations to suit his personnel. At RB Leipzig he worked out a system which drove their success, a 4-2-2-2 formation.

There are no guarantees Rangnick will implement this at Old Trafford, but if he does, then it opens up a range of selection issues. Let’s take a look at how United could line up in a 4-2-2-2, when everybody is fit.


Photo by Ash Donelon/Manchester United via Getty Images

Who makes Rangnick’s XI?

Goalkeeper: With a new manager, the Dean Henderson vs David de Gea debate may restart. Most likely is that Henderson is sent out on loan and De Gea retains his spot.

Rangnick does not like his players to pass the ball back to his goalkeeper, which suits De Gea. If Rangnick wants to play a high defensive line then Henderson may suit him better due to his willingness to come out of the box.

From a strategic perspective, Rangnick may encourage United to sell De Gea and go with Henderson long term. But at first, the Spaniard is likely to begin the Rangnick era between the sticks.

Defence: One of the reasons Rangnick may prefer not to make a big decision in goal, is because he could have several to make in defence.

Raphael Varane will start when fit, and then it is possible Rangnick rips up the current teamsheet and selects Eric Bailly alongside him.

Bailly is strong in the air and quick, traits which Rangnick liked in Dayot Upamecano and Ibrahima Konate, two centre-backs he discovered at Leipzig. Neither Harry Maguire or Victor Lindelof have the pace the manager would like.

At left-back it could also be time up for Luke Shaw, who was criticised by Rangnick in September 2020 [Football Daily]. Consider Shaw’s recent poor form, and the more experienced Alex Telles could get the nod.

Neither of United’s right-back options are great. But Aaron Wan-Bissaka has enough positive traits to interest Rangnick and he is still a better option than Diogo Dalot. The coach will look to work with and try and improve the former Palace defender, and probably seek to improve the position in the transfer window.

Photo by Maria Jose Segovia/DeFodi Images via Getty Images

Midfield: This is where Rangnick’s 4-2-2-2 formation clicks into gear. The two players anchoring the midfield have a big responsibility to play forward passes.

A partnership of Fred and Donny van de Beek is the best fit for what Rangnick is looking for, with both players possessing a mix of energy and passing range. Scott McTominay and Paul Pogba are likely out, while Nemanja Matic is not going to be a regular. This remains a position in need of investment.

In front of them, Bruno Fernandes and Jadon Sancho will share responsibility as creative players to supply United’s forward line.

Photo by Ash Donelon/Manchester United via Getty Images

Striker: The beauty of Rangnick’s 4-2-2-2 system is that it benefits Cristiano Ronaldo, who is not asked to play as a lone striker.

We saw against Tottenham how devastating a pairing of Ronaldo and Edinson Cavani can be. The Uruguayan is hard-working and relentless in his pressing. United just need him to stay fit. The veteran pair are still the best strike force available when everybody is fit.

If Cavani is not available then Marcus Rashford will likely be the preferred option to partner Ronaldo at first. But Mason Greenwood’s skillset will be very intriguing to Rangnick and with time, the 20-year-old could develop as his most trusted option in attack.

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