What formation should Rangnick use to get the best out of Man United?

Ralf Rangnick’s 4-2-2-2 formation was ripped to shreds by Wolves and has been slammed by pundits… so, what system should he use to get the best out of his Man United stars? And is it time to bench Cristiano Ronaldo?

  • Manchester United put in a poor performance during their 1-0 defeat by Wolves 
  • Things do not appear to have picked up since Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was sacked 
  • New boss Ralf Rangnick is facing tough questions regarding his formation
  • Wolves exposed gaps in his 4-2-2-2 and pundits are not convinced it is working 
  • Sportsmail takes a look at the system options the German could look to use 

As the final whistle sounded out at Old Trafford on Monday night and the boos echoed around, many fans would be excused for thinking these were still the final days of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

The Norwegian club legend is long gone, yet the malaise within the Manchester United ranks still appears to be very much present.

United looked pedestrian during their 1-0 defeat against Wolves, unable to implement Ralf Rangnick’s principle of consistent pressing.

Defender Luke Shaw admitted the team found themselves very much lacking in options on many occasions, while pundit Jamie Redknapp later declared that the current system being deployed under the German is simply not working.

Defeat at home to Wolves highlighted that Manchester United still need to make big changes

Speaking on Sky Sports, Redknapp said: ‘We speak about managers coming into the game and he came in with this famed 4-2-2-2 system – it doesn’t work.

‘When you come here, you have to have the right players, it doesn’t matter what system you play. Then he went to a three at the back, today he played 4-4-2 and at the end of it, I think he’s making up systems. There was no real identity of how they were trying to play.’

The words were scathing but Rangnick, who is a vastly experienced coach, does indeed appear to be in the process of tinkering in order to work out what functions best.

Time, however, is of the essence. United currently languish in seventh place in the Premier League, some four points short of the Champions League places.

A continued run of defeats, or even dropping points, at this precarious point of the campaign could spell disaster for their hopes of reaching Europe’s top competition.

So, what options does Rangnick have at his disposal? Which formations could freshen things up? And what does this all mean for talisman Cristiano Ronaldo? Sportsmail takes a closer look.


Against Wolves Rangnick set up his side in  his favoured 4-2-2-2 formation and paid the price.

United looked disjointed and out of sorts, uncharacteristically lacking in confidence despite being at home. That cannot continue.

Rangnick of course will benefit when he has a fully fit squad at his disposal, and no players unavailable due to Covid-19 isolation.

Chance may be a fine thing, however, so the veteran boss quickly needs to work with what he’s got, and adapt.

A 4-2-3-1 formation would allow United the reassurance of a solid base and – relatively speaking – a composed midfield unit.

Going with a series of pairings down the field with his 4-2-2-2 against Wolves, Rangnick saw his United side exposed and unable to hold momentum.

Rangnick needs to consider how, or if, to accomodate Cristiano Ronaldo going forward

The idea on Monday night was to press all areas and ensure no gaps were left unfilled, but United were unable to build a coherent structure from the off.

Deploying a back four with two sitting midfielders in front, however, could provide a foil. This formation would permit the likes of Fred and Scott McTominay to sit, as they did during much of the good moments under former boss Solskjaer.

Further ahead, an attacking three would provide a combination of threat, energy and creativity behind the focal point of the attack; Ronaldo.

Rangnick would be able to select from the likes of Mason Greenwood, Bruno Fernandes and summer signing Jadon Sancho in his front three, with Ronaldo as centre-forward and designated goal-getter.

It is, on paper, a system the veteran Portuguese ace would relish. Should he misfire, Edinson Cavani would be a natural fit to come on and replace him as the sole forward up top.


Taking a more expansive and perhaps dynamic approach, 4-3-3 would allow Rangnick to get each of Sancho, Greenwood and Marcus Rashford up front and on the field.

Such a trident at the danger end of the pitch would terrify opponents with pace, trickery and ruthless direction.

One major issue however; it pushes Ronaldo out into the cold. This is, of course, something the No 7 would have a huge issue with.

Summer signing Jadon Sancho needs to be given time and attention in order to succeed

Rangnick could deploy Ronaldo at the centre of a front three, though him being in the latter years of his career would naturally have some bearing.

Ronaldo is still among the finest, most clinical finishers in world football, but relentless speed at the drop of a hat is no longer in his arsenal.

The 36-year-old now relies much more on his positioning and reading of the game, as opposed to picking the ball up deep and starting a razor sharp counter attack from 60-yards out.

A 4-3-3 system would also give Rangnick the option to rotate his midfield personnel, placing the likes of Donny van de Beek in a deeper role while permitting players such as Fred to play more to their creative strengths, rather than simply acting as a defensive block.


This is perhaps a long shot, and one which is immediately seen as unfavourable as it involves manipulating the defence.

Rangnick is highly unlikely to fall back onto this set-up, particularly given some of the criticisms already levelled at some of his players.

The forward play of Aaron Wan-Bissaka seems to be scrutinised on a weekly basis, and the new United boss could certainly do without having the £50m man highlighted each weekend due to his struggles in an advanced wing-back role.

Players such as Aaron Wan-Bissaka have come under increasing scrutiny in recent weeks

Instead, Rangnick has already shown a willingness to shake things up and bring in the likes of Diogo Dalot and Alex Telles, but this is all very much a period of experimentation.

This system, if nothing else, would allow United to get a vice-grip on midfield and really impose themselves in the centre of the park with numbers.

A lot of boxes would be ticked here, in terms of dominance of possession and the availability of personnel to aggressively press. It is something Rangnick will no doubt be ingraining into his men on a daily basis at their Carrington base, given it is still very much early days in his reign.

Up front, a forward two again affords the option of having Ronaldo in or out of the team. The Portuguese ace could be partnered alongside Cavani, as has already proven effective this season, or deployed from the bench to add both experience and a fear-factor alongside starlet Greenwood.

The 3-5-2 was preferred by Solskjaer in the final weeks of his tenure, and produced a 3-0 victory over Tottenham in late October.

Setting up with added midfield numbers would provide chances for Donny van de Beek

It bought the Norwegian some precious extra-time but, more importantly, it showed United can thrive in this formation if it comes down to it.

Sure, it helped quite generously that Spurs, under former boss Nuno Espirito Santo at the time, looked completely shell-shocked, but a blueprint is already in place, regardless. 

The next few weeks will be particularly telling for Rangnick, and many sleepless nights likely lie ahead.

Fixtures against Steven Gerrard’s Aston Villa wait on the horizon, before an ominous visit of former boss David Moyes and his in-form West Ham side.

Plenty of big decisions need to be made by Rangnick, so expect numerous formation chops and changes before an air of consistency returns to the red side of Manchester. 

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