The new interim Manchester United boss was in the stands to see the win over Arsenal and now faces some crucial decisions to make ahead of his first game in charge
The Red Devils sealed a hard-fought 3-2 victory over Arsenal at Old Trafford to close the gap on the top four to four points.
The hosts went behind early on after a freak goal from Emile Smith Rowe was allowed to stand and turning things around, Man United were pegged back by the Gunners.
But a late penalty from Cristiano Ronaldo handed Michael Carrick’s side the points in his final game in temporary charge before handing the reins over to Rangnick.
It was a performance that highlighted United’s strengths as much as their vulnerabilities. This squad is loaded with individually gifted players, but the weakness lies within their inability to work coherently as a unit.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer could not find the antidote and the defence regularly leaked goals, but Carrick managed to steady the ship in the midst of their mini-crisis.
With Rangnick taking over until the end of the season and possibly beyond, the 63-year-old is now tasked with identifying the areas where things need to change after a disappointing start to the season.
Ahead of his first game in charge against Crystal Palace on Sunday, here are four key decisions the German has in front of him…
Keeping Ronaldo happy
It was a real Jekyll and Hyde performance from Ronaldo on Thursday. Ultimately, if he ends the game with two goals proving crucial in a 3-2 win, it doesn’t matter how he starts.
The 36-year-old played like a man with a point to prove. There have been whispers around Old Trafford that the new German coach would prefer a pressing, hard-working forward — two attributes not usually associated with Ronaldo.
But he worked tirelessly to get himself in advanced positions and pressed high up the pitch. There was one moment in the second half where he ran the entire length of the pitch to join a counter-attack, only for Jadon Sancho to pass to Bruno Fernandes instead.
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The Portuguese remains a phenomenon, despite his advancing years, and Rangnick would be foolish to ignore that. His 12 goals are not even close to being matched by any other United player — the next highest is Fernandes on five.
Carrick dropped him vs Chelsea but started him here. Nothing is quite as dangerous as a scorned Ronaldo and he showed that with his double against Arsenal.
Rangnick’s job will be to manage his game time and ensure the veteran forward does not become disillusioned with his situation at United. And after his two-goal heroics in midweek, a start on Sunday would be a deserved reward.
The ‘McFred’ dilemma
For all of the talk about how Man United’s failure to sign a defensive midfielder has been the downfall on their season, it was notable that Fred was one of the standout performers against Arsenal.
The Brazilian had an excellent game, setting up Fernandes for the equaliser and pressing high up the pitch to cause Thomas Partey some discomfort. His all-action performance gave a glimpse into the player he could become under Rangnick with guidance from the experienced coach.
Scott McTominay was somewhat more low-key and picked up a needless booking, but the Scotland international provides physicality and control in the midfield areas that perhaps Fred lacks. He was able to go toe-to-toe with Partey and Mohamed Elneny and came out on top.
Rangnick will have some idea of how the central midfielders will operate in his new system, but if passing is prioritised over physical presence, using Donny van de Beek might be a better option than McTominay or Fred.
Dropping De Gea
The Emile Smith Rowe goal that put United behind on Thursday night was one of the most bizarre seen in Premier League history. But from David de Gea’s side — and with the benefit of hindsight — it looked entirely avoidable.
It is certainly not the first time the Spaniard has been distracted by the melee in the penalty area before conceding a vital goal. It probably won’t be the last either.
On this occasion, he was unfortunate to get caught by his team-mate Fred, but the 30-year-old had a duty to play through the pain as the whistle had not been blown.
The concerning aspect of this performance is that is not out of the ordinary. The Spaniard rarely finds himself in the middle ground — he is either superb or calamitous — and rolling the dice again after his midweek mishap may be too much of a risk.
On the other side of the coin, throwing Dean Henderson in goal without a league appearance to his name all season would be a surprise. Too much change may disrupt United after turning around their bad run of form.
But if Rangnick is looking for a goalkeeper who can be relied upon to produce solid performances week in, week out this season, then De Gea might not be his man.
The right man for right-back
Aaron Wan-Bissaka is currently experiencing his toughest period at Manchester United and that was sensed by Carrick when he dropped the 24-year-old against Arsenal, almost just to take him out of the limelight.
And it worked. Diogo Dalot had a solid game at right-back and played his part in Ronaldo’s second goal, showing his credentials in going forward.
But few would disagree that, on his day, Wan-Bissaka is defensively one of the best full-backs in the Premier League. His timing of sliding tackles and recovery runs are unrivalled, even if there is room for improvement on the attacking side of his game.
As a south London man who came through Palace’s academy, he will be desperate for a chance to prove against his former club that he can rediscover his best form under Rangnick.
But with Dalot arguably earning the right to keep his spot, Rangnick will only have his staff reports and training assessments to go by in helping him make a tough call.