Football Features

The best and worst Manchester United players under Ralf Rangnick so far

By Muhammad Butt

The best and worst Manchester United players under Ralf Rangnick so far

Published: 17:33, 23 March 2022 | Updated: 2:04, 29 November 2022

You’ve probably heard this before, but Manchester United are at a key juncture in the post-Sir Alex Ferguson era.

For what seems like at least the fourth time in the last nine years, United need a refresh. The squad needs rejuvenating, ripping up and starting again. Only for real this time. Unlike the half-hearted resets under Jose Mourinho and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, this one has to count.

Many in the United squad have been poor this season. Some terrible, even. This has led some fans to call for all but a select few to be sent packing this summer.

That’s a tad dramatic (in some cases), so we thought we’d grade the United players ourselves. Specifically their performances under Ralf Rangnick, as those will be the displays that will form the German’s opinion on what to do with them in the summer when he moves into a consultancy role.

Bruno Fernandes: A

New season, same story. Despite reports of his downfall on social media, Bruno Fernandes is still one of the best players in the Premier League. A phenomenal chance creation machine, even if he’s had more bad games this season than he had in the previous two combined.

Since Rangnick took over at United, only Spurs duo Harry Kane (nine) and Son Heung-Min (eight) have created more than Bruno’s seven big chances, while only Kevin De Bruyne (39), Martin Odegaard (37) and Trent Alexander-Arnold (35) have created more chances overall than him in that same timeframe (34).

That he only has three assists despite this output suggests the problems lie elsewhere. If there are things that need fixing about Manchester United, and goodness there are plenty, Bruno Fernandes is not one of them. Not quite A+ like he was last year, but still top of the class.

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David de Gea: A

As always with David de Gea, there are holes in his game that opponents can and do exploit. But as always with David de Gea those flaws are masked because he saves so many shots. Just, all the shots.

Well fine not all, but a massive amount anyway considering how often he gets bombarded. Only last month Opta revealed he has prevented just under eights goals from hitting United’s net in all competitions this season, but it feels like so much more. Pure A.

Jadon Sancho: B+

After really struggling under Solskjaer, Jadon Sancho is starting to find his feet as a Manchester United player. Playing primarily from the left, Sancho has been a breath of fresh air and a creative joy, driving at opponents with confidence and swagger.

There’s definitely room for improvement, but if he were aided by a proper full-back and a better midfield, and a more mobile striker (in essence, if he were playing in a better football team), you’d see so much more out of him.

Fred: B+

If there was an award for most-improved player then it would certainly be Fred. The man from Brazil has really stepped it up under Rangnick’s more tactically rigorous demands, and now looks a player who can, on his day, give top players a run for their money.

However, he is still Fred, and so, he’s more than capable of dropping a stinker in there. And for all his effort and drive, sometimes he’s just not very good. The fact that it’s a celebrated surprise when he does something great is a clue he’s not top-class.

Raphael Varane: B

Majestic when fit. Regal when fit. United’s best defender despite the instability all around him, and his own injury problems. He’s lost just two Premier League games all season, and only by a single goal. Those thrashings — or capitulations — against Watford, Man City, Leicester and Liverpool? Varane was injured. But that in itself is an issue because fitness is a vital aspect of a footballer’s repertoire, so he can’t be an A.

Cristiano Ronaldo: C+

Under Rangnick, Cristiano Ronaldo is obviously still a potent poacher (with seven goals, he’s top-scorer under the German), hence the C+ grade. But, no one who’s watched him lumber around the pitch looking clueless and lacking the athleticism to match his drive could possibly think he’s cut out to playing a fast, aggressive pressing style of football like the one Rangnick desires.

Roy Keane keeps on calling for United to build their team around Ronaldo but the man is 37! He cannot physically handle playing every game and has a questionable commitment to even playing for the club. Building around him would be sheer madness, as his pathetic showing against Atletico Madrid (where he didn’t even manage a shot at goal in the second-leg) showed: he doesn’t have it anymore, not consistently anyway. Which is what he’d need to justify all that focus.

Anthony Elanga: C+

A breath of fresh air, Anthony Elanga has indeed been very bright as a young talent often favoured by Rangnick. However the sheer awfulness of the players he’s replacing has disguised the fact that while he’s been good, he has some significant areas that need improving. The Atletico Madrid defeat, where he missed a sitter and was culpable for Atleti’s goal, was an illustration of that.

Diogo Dalot: C

Like Elanga, the sheer misery of the incumbent Dalot took his starting spot from has made the right-back look so much better than he actually has been. He’s been alright, average, not much more than that – but at least he can defend the back-post (when not left 3-v-1 anyway).

Alex Telles: C

As with the man above him, Alex Telles has benefitted from the bar for his position being on the floor. He’s come in at left-back and had some bright moments. His set-piece delivery for one, but he is often erratic and inconsistent, and if Luke Shaw wasn’t trudging through games, he’d barely play.

Paul Pogba: C

Paul Pogba has the talent to be A+ in all honesty, but his focus and consistency is a big fat F, just look at his recent comments about United’s season being “dead” and him once again hinting at a possible summer exit when his contract expires. When you mix those two extremes, you average out with a C. He’s been good at times, and United definitely benefit from his forward passes, but he’s also been quite bad too.

READ MORE: Who are the favourites to sign Pogba this summer?

Nemanja Matic: C

There are times when Nemanja Matic looks like the serene, cool-headed veteran that United desperately need. However those times are few and far between and are usually followed with, or punctuated, by moments of him looking like a leaden-footed automaton who couldn’t keep up with a toddler.

Scott McTominay: C

“Scotty,” Ralf Rangnick said after the Spurs game, “is only valuable if he can perform with 100% of his physical capacity.”

What more need be said?

Juan Mata: C

Real nice guy. Seems like he should still be useful on the pitch but he just doesn’t get on. He gets a C though because he really is quite nice.

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Victor Lindelof: D

Victor Lindelof should be good, really. He’s got almost every attribute you want a centre-back to have. The problem is he is as soft as Swedish butter, and attackers have grown fond of spreading him across the pitch this season. This is only a D because he does occasionally manage to look quite useful.

Eric Bailly: D

Eric Bailly has the physical and technical skill-set of a world-class centre-back. However, he has the mental and tactical skill-set of a box-to-box midfielder. That makes him tremendously fun to watch, but a questionable defender at best.

Donny van de Beek: D

He looked alright when he played, right? Not good, but not bad. Ok maybe a little bad. It’s weird.

Aaron Wan-Bissaka: E

It’s telling of the standard of coaching at United prior to Rangnick’s arrival that instead of inheriting the raw but obviously brilliant talent that Aaron Wan-Bissaka is, he has looked all at sea. He is a player who can simultaneously man-mark Neymar and Kylian Mbappe out of games whilst also struggling to complete 10 yard passes. Rangnick’s got a struggling player with a shattered sense of self that has offered very little when he’s played.

Marcus Rashford: E

Once the most clutch player in the United squad (hell, the England squad too), Marcus Rashford battled through a mountain of injuries over the last couple of seasons and it clearly took its toll.

However even as surgery helped fixed those issues he now seems dogged by an absence of the mental strength that made him such a pillar of the squad in the first-place. Could it be a hangover from his failures in the Europa League and Euro 2020? Those were because of his injuries, but it’s definitely possible. He doesn’t look right.

Jesse Lingard: E

He wanted to leave in the summer and was convinced to stay in a move that has worked out poorly for all involved. He’s played very much like a man who’d rather be elsewhere, offering none of the usual joy and intensity that Lingard usually provides.

Phil Jones: E

He played one game. And United lost it 0-1. Now, he actually played ok in the game itself, so this isn’t quite an F, but it’s close.

Edison Cavani: E

If he was fit more, he’d rate higher. But it definitely feels like he agreed to renew his contract just to help further boost his retirement fund, because the amount of times Rangnick admits that the Uruguayan just wasn’t feeling up to playing is either a revolutionary bit of management that truly foregrounds the mental health of players, or it’s a guy who is just coasting until his contract expires.

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Anthony Martial: F

Awful. Just hideous. No idea what happened to him since 2019/20, but it’s nothing good.

Luke Shaw: F

While everyone has been directing their ire at his centre-back compatriot, Luke Shaw has managed to have an abysmal season of football with no one really noticing. Last season, under threat from Telles, Shaw gave us a world-class season. A season that had everyone fooled into thinking Shaw would finally go on to fulfil his massive potential and become United and England’s stud left-back. He was even great at the Euros! He scored in the final!

Then this season happened, and Shaw has just become an absolute non-entity. He routinely has his spot taken by Telles, a flawed defender whose energy and invention make him useful. Shaw is sheer blandness up and down the left-flank, being neither creative nor solid defensively. He’s just kind of there, and Rangnick does not appear to be much of a fan of his at all.

Harry Maguire: F-

Harry Maguire had a tough start to 2020/21 too. Then he found his form and finished the season in phenomenal form. If he was fit, United would have likely won the Europa League final. In any case he also starred for England at the Euros, drawing praise from Jurgen Klinsmann, and it was a very hype time as Maguire came into the season ready to be partnered by Varane, someone to spare his blushes rather than shine a light on them, as Lindelof did so often.

He had a tough start to 2021/22 too, but hey, he’d pick up form right?



Maguire got worse and worse. It’s hard to say what the exact low point was but the Liverpool game, where he was involved in all five goals scored by the Reds in the first hour at Old Trafford, seems like a good place to pinpoint the nadir of his season.

If this grade were for the whole season, or specifically Solskjaer’s section, Maguire would be getting a U (for Ungraded) as he was that bad. He’s improved enough under Rangnick that he deserves at least a proper grade, but the lowest one possible because he’s still been terrible.

Maguire has been so bad that watching him play well introduces in a person an excess of existential dread, of terror, of heart-thumping suspense and fear, because you know he’s going to make a mistake and it’s all going to fall apart, so you start seeing nightmares around every single corner. Every time an opponent gets near him you panic “is it now? Is now the time?” and sometimes it is, but sometimes the nightmare goes on and on (and on).

It’s possible Harry Maguire has had the worst season of any fully-fit top-class centre-back in the history of the Premier League. There were always people who joked he was rubbish, or that he wasn’t good enough for United, and while he was never “world’s most expensive defender” levels of great, partnered by someone like Varane, he should have been great.

But this season has been so historically bad, Maguire has been so utterly abysmal, that you start to think his critics had a point and, more pertinently for Rangnick, you genuinely wonder if he can recover? Maguire would need mythic levels of self-belief and mental strength to walk away from a season this bad and still be capable of playing top-tier football for Manchester United. Does he have that? Or will United need to a new centre-back in the summer? Only Ralf will know!