Ralf Rangnick has urged Jadon Sancho to start replicating his training performance on the pitch for Manchester United after a hugely disappointing start to life at Old Trafford.

United spent a reported £72million on Sancho in pre-season, his move from Borussia Dortmund being long in the making after the club spent well over a year courting him.

Having left Manchester City as a teenager, Sancho blossomed into one of Europe's most promising young players in the Bundesliga – his haul of 51 non-penalty goal involvements over 2019-20 and 2020-21 was bettered by just five players across the top five European leagues.

Of those 51, 27 were assists, with Thomas Muller (39), Kevin De Bruyne (32) and Lionel Messi (27) the only three to boast a higher tally.

While some critics have argued Sancho's 16.0 expected assists (xA) in that time shows that his form was unsustainable, that was still an extremely high figure as he ranked 11th among the same group of players.

He has found life a little harder at United, though, registering just two goals as his only goal involvements. He ranks fifth in the squad for xA (2.0) and sixth for non-penalty xG (2.2) across all competitions, and this is not even a team that is thriving.

The England international came in for criticism after a particularly anonymous substitute appearance in the 2-2 draw with Aston Villa, though it would seem the Sancho playing in matches is almost unrecognisable to the one Rangnick sees in training.

"Whenever I see him train, he's showing that he's one of the best players in the training sessions," Rangnick said.

"But now it's about transferring that to when he's playing, and showing the same kind of level and performance on the pitch.

"I said that to him, by the way, the day before yesterday: 'Confirm the performances you show in training when you're playing on the pitch.'

"For me, it's not at all a question of his position. It's clear that in a 4-3-3 he's a player for either of the two wing positions, either left or right. He can play both.

"I think he would prefer a little bit the left side, because he can then switch inside and have a go on goal or shoot on goal with his strong foot.

"But for me, there's no question, no doubt about his position. He's a winger. He's somebody who can dribble fast with ball, and for me it's not at all a question of which is the best possible position for him."

Pressed for a potential explanation for Sancho's struggles, Rangnick was hardly definitive, but he did offer a few theories, namely greater demands physically and psychologically.

"It's difficult to say. I think it's a different league, it's a different competition. It's more physical," Rangnick continued.

"Now he's playing for one of the biggest clubs in the world. I think it's also got to do with a lot of different things up here in his head. It's a difference if you come as an 18-year-old, unknown, a talented English boy to Borussia Dortmund.

"From then on, you can only improve; you can only make a success out of that. The level of expectation was a lot lower compared to the situation when, at the age of 21, you come to a club like Manchester United for a high transfer fee, with a high level of expectation.

"Everybody expected from him that he would be one of the best players in the team. Again, this is psychologically, emotionally a more challenging situation than the one he had at Borussia Dortmund, and these are exactly the kind of steps that he has to make to become a top player for the next 10 years for this club."

Rangnick is optimistic Sancho will rediscover his confidence with a few more decisive actions in the final third, though he did warn the 21-year-old that only he can take those steps, there is only so much those helping him can do.

"With those kinds of players, creative, offensive players, it's all about confidence. It's all about having that confidence, being aware how good they can be and then showing it in front of 75,000, or 45,000 at Villa Park.

"Of course, in the end he has to do that. He has [to make] that step again. As I said, in most training sessions he's training on a very high level. Now it's about having the transfer onto the pitch in the Premier League, in the FA Cup and in the Champions League.

"He can do that; he has the ability to do that. There is no doubt about that, but now we have to develop him into that kind of player, showing the same kind of performances that he showed at Borussia Dortmund.

"We can give him the guidelines, we can give him helping hands and show him that we are trying to accompany him on this way, and give all the necessary assistance that he needs, but in the end it's up to him to take those next steps."

Cristiano Ronaldo "cannot do things on his own" and Manchester United will therefore not look to build their team around one player, according to interim manager Ralf Rangnick.

The Portugal international has scored 14 goals and assisted three more in 21 appearances since returning to Old Trafford from Juventus in September.

That is double the number of goals than any other United player, with compatriot Bruno Fernandes next on the list with seven strikes to his name in 2021-22.

Ronaldo's incredible longevity was recognised with a special award from FIFA on Monday after becoming the all-time top goalscorer in men's international football history in 2021.

But while Rangnick is in awe of Ronaldo's scoring record, he has no plans to centre his United side around the five-time Ballon d'Or winner.

"What he has done with his career so far is amazing: 800 goals in competitive games, which no one has achieved that in the last 80 or 100 years," Rangnick said.

"That shows what kind of exceptional player he is. But the Premier League is the most competitive league in the world and he cannot do things on his own. 

"He is one important member of this team and that’s how we have to develop."

Ronaldo has missed United's last two games – a 1-0 win over Aston Villa in the FA Cup third round and a 2-2 draw against the same side five days later in the Premier League.

Rangnick is hopeful of having Ronaldo back for Wednesday's trip to Brentford, which has been rescheduled from last month after a COVID-19 outbreak in the United camp.

A raft of games have been called off in the English top flight in recent weeks, with bottom side Burnley having as many as four games in hand on some sides around them.

Thomas Tuchel is among those to have asked for more transparency in terms of games being called off, with Chelsea recently having a postponement request declined. 

Asked if he feels more should be done to prevent postponements, Rangnick said: "I don't know, I can only speak about our club here, we had some problems four weeks ago.

"Right now we don't have any issues, we have players available, we haven't had any COVID cases. I can't judge other clubs, it's something the Premier League has to deal with."

United head to Brentford sitting seventh in the Premier League and with just one win from their last five away top-flight matches. 

The Red Devils have scored in all 10 of their Premier League away games this season, which is the best-such 100 per cent record in the competition this term. 

However, three of the last four times they have failed to find the net on the road in the league have been in games in London (v Arsenal, Chelsea and Crystal Palace last season).

Manchester United interim boss Ralf Rangnick will consider selecting Anthony Martial to face Brentford after holding clear-the-air talks with the forward.

Martial was absent from United's squad for Saturday's 2-2 Premier League draw with Aston Villa, which Rangnick explained was down to the player not wanting to be included.

However, the 26-year-old subsequently refuted his manager's claims by stating on social media that he "will never refuse to play a match for Man United".

Speaking on Tuesday, Rangnick did not explain the contrasting versions of events, but he left the door open for Martial to return to the squad should the forward prove his fitness.

"I had a conversation with him on Sunday about what happened and how I saw the situation," Rangnick said at a news conference previewing Wednesday's trip to Brentford.

"The matter is now resolved. He didn't train yesterday or the day before. But he will probably train today and after training I will then take the decision if he is selected or not."

Martial is reported to have rejected loan offers from other Premier League clubs, while Juventus and LaLiga pair Barcelona and Sevilla have also been credited with an interest.

The ex-Monaco man has scored 79 goals in 268 appearances since his debut in September 2015 – only Marcus Rashford (91 in 286) has scored more for United in that period.

Martial's 79 goals have come from an expected goals (xG) return of 64, meaning he has scored 15 goals more than expected from the quality of his chances.

That is the largest positive xG differential of any player at the club over the same period, followed by Mason Greenwood (11) and Rashford (10).

However, Martial's playing time has been limited this term – not helped by injury issues – with his 358 minutes on the field only the 21st most of all United players.

The player's agent, Philippe Lamboley, revealed last month that Martial is looking to join a new club in January due to a lack of playing time.

While Martial may play a part against Brentford, team-mate Paul Pogba is still not being considered for selection despite returning to training this week.

Pogba has been used just 13 times this season – and not at all under Rangnick – but could return from a three-month lay-off in the next few weeks.

"Paul had his first day of training with the whole group yesterday," Rangnick said. "He showed what kind of extraordinary player he can be.

"He will not be available for the two games this week. Hopefully after the break, with the cup game against Middlesbrough and the away game at Burnley, he can be an option."

Rangnick also confirmed he will make a late decision on whether Rashford and Cristiano Ronaldo will feature in west London as they recover from knocks.

Wednesday's meeting will be the first between United and Brentford in the league since 1947 and their first in any competition since 1975, when United won 2-1 in an EFL Cup tie.

Anthony Martial has insisted he would never refuse to play for Manchester United, despite Ralf Rangnick's claims that he asked not to feature against Aston Villa.

The 26-year-old forward was absent as Rangnick named just eight substitutes, including two goalkeepers, for United's trip to Villa Park, which ended all square after Philippe Coutinho completed a late comeback from two goals down. 

Rangnick was already without Marcus Rashford and Cristiano Ronaldo due to injury, with Anthony Elanga chosen to start on the left flank.

The United interim manager revealed last month that France international Martial is seeking a move away from the club due to a lack of minutes.

Sevilla were reported to be interested in Martial but are understood to be unable to afford his wages, with United apparently rejecting an approach to take him on loan until the end of the season.

Rangnick told reporters: "He didn't want to be in the squad.

"He would have been in the squad normally but he didn't want to and that's the reason why he was not travelling with us yesterday."

However, Martial – who joined from Monaco in 2015 – subsequently refuted his manager's claims.

On his Instagram story, Martial said: "I will never refuse to play a match for Man United.

"I've been here for seven years and I have never disrespected and will never disrespect the club and the fans."

Anthony Martial "didn't want" to be involved in Manchester United's 2-2 draw with Aston Villa, claimed Red Devils boss Ralf Rangnick, as the attacker continues to push for a move away from Old Trafford.

The 26-year-old forward was absent as Rangnick named just eight substitutes for United's trip to Villa Park, which ended all square after Philippe Coutinho completed a late comeback from two goals down. 

Rangnick was already without Marcus Rashford and Cristiano Ronaldo due to injury, with Anthony Elanga chosen to start on the left flank.

The United interim manager revealed last month that France international Martial is seeking a move away from the club due to a lack of minutes.

Sevilla were reported to be interested in Martial but are understood to be unable to afford his wages, with United apparently rejecting an approach to take him on loan until the end of the season.

Martial seems intent on forcing his way out, however, with Rangnick confirming after the Villa draw that the player unilaterally decided to not be in the squad.

 

Rangnick told reporters: "He didn't want to be in the squad.

"He would have been in the squad normally but he didn't want to and that's the reason why he was not travelling with us yesterday."

Martial was out with a knee injury during Rangnick's first weeks, but he has yet to make an appearance in any competition since.

Ralf Rangnick believes Manchester United took another "step forward" despite feeling as if they had lost after throwing away a two-goal lead in Saturday's 2-2 draw with Aston Villa.

United found themselves 2-0 up in the 67th minute thanks to Bruno Fernandes' brace, his first-half opener a result of an Emiliano Martinez error and his emphatic second coming after Morgan Sanson's poor pass.

But it was a case of United being unable to get over the line, with Jacob Ramsey pulling one back before then teeing up Philippe Coutinho to net the crucial equaliser on his debut with eight minutes left.

United did control large parts of the match and arguably looked at their most fluent in attack under Ralf Rangnick, with Mason Greenwood and Anthony Elanga both threatening from the flanks.

But Rangnick could not hide his frustration at United failing to maintain their level into the dying stages.

"It is very difficult to find positives after these 95 minutes," he told Sky Sports. "I felt it was the best game since I came here, in the first half for 30 minutes, when we dominated the game. We had taken some steps forward but have a few things to do better.

"The plan was to press them in the midzone and we did that very well in the first 30 minutes, and control the ball, and those were the positives. When you are 2-0 up you have to defend better than we did in the last 15 minutes.

"We gave away too many balls at times in the last 15 minutes, we were not as compact as before and conceded the two goals. In the last 15 minutes before half-time we were not as courageous to step up, it was better in the second half and then you have to take the three points home. It feels like a defeat, to be honest.

"Right now it's very disappointing but what we showed was a step forward, but it's about getting the results, it feels like two points lost and given away."

Fernandes' first goal was only his second since September, with the midfielder – who wore the captain's armband – appearing to thrive a little more in the absence of Cristiano Ronaldo, missing out with a hip injury.

While he acknowledged the performance was better than some recent efforts, Fernandes was left bemoaning United's lack of ruthless in the final third, something Ronaldo may have been able to do something about.

"We got into the perfect position to score more goals and take the third goal and finish the game, but we don't get our chance on the counters and gave the chances to them," he added.

"They have good players up front and draw the game, it is tough to take because I think the game was under control.

"After our first goal they began to press us more, but still we had our chances and could have scored again. Sometimes the shot was not good, or the pass was not good and you start losing confidence, the game got more open and they got more space between the lines. With the quality of players they have up front, they hurt you.

"The performance was better than the result, more controlled but the main point is winning games and points. We deserved more, but it's not about deserving, it's about getting points.

"We still have a lot to improve but it is about performance and results together."

United remain seventh in the Premier League as a result of the draw.

Manchester United interim manager Ralf Rangnick has urged his players to follow the lead of Cristiano Ronaldo and be more direct with one another.

Ronaldo called for United fans to have patience with Rangnick's approach in a recent interview with Sky Sports, and said he and his team-mates "can do better".

The 36-year-old added that he does not want to be "in sixth place or seventh place" and that he returned to the club "to try to win, to compete."

United have only lost one of Rangnick's seven matches in charge across all competitions, but recent performances have received criticism from fans and pundits alike, including Monday's 1-0 FA Cup win against Aston Villa at Old Trafford.

Speaking at a news conference ahead of Saturday's trip to Villa in the Premier League, Rangnick said he was pleased to hear Ronaldo's words, and said he hopes the rest of his players can show the same attitude.

"We have so many top, talented players," he told reporters. "It brings me back to what Cristiano said – we have to work and develop as a team together and if it's necessary to speak in a very direct manner to the boys, it helps a lot, even in the locker room.

"If Cristiano, for example, or any of the other players address that to the players directly on the pitch or in the dressing room, they are more than welcome to do that.

"I will do that myself as a coach – and my coaching staff in the pre-and-post match video – but we can only develop individual players if we develop the performances of the team.

"It's not only Cristiano, we have Edinson [Cavani], we have Harry [Maguire], we have quite a few other older players, David de Gea in goal, Victor Lindelof, Bruno [Fernandes]. 

"We have enough experienced older players who can not only be role models in training, on the pitch and in games, but also in all those conversations that happen in the locker room or when they are together in the hotel for away games or home games. This has to happen.

"In a united team, that happens automatically, and I can only invite and challenge and tell all the players, also the older players, to do that on a regular basis because that helps even more so in a team that we have currently."

The Red Devils currently sit seventh in the Premier League, 22 points behind leaders Manchester City and six behind West Ham in fourth place, but with two games in hand over both.

Ralf Rangnick has told Dean Henderson and Donny van de Beek to sit tight and wait for their chances to come at Manchester United.

The United interim boss, who expects to have Cristiano Ronaldo and Harry Maguire back for Saturday's Premier League match at Aston Villa, knows Henderson and Van de Beek have been considering leaving Old Trafford.

Speaking in a news conference on Friday, Rangnick made the case that goalkeeper Henderson and midfielder Van de Beek can be useful assets for the Red Devils over the closing months of the season.

He described Henderson as a "fantastic" shot-stopper, but recognised he wanted Premier League game time that cannot be guaranteed at United. The Englishman has played just twice for United this term, neither appearance coming in the league.

Rangnick also knows Van de Beek is hungry for first-team football for the sake of his Netherlands career, with the World Cup coming up in Qatar at the end of the year.

Addressing Henderson's situation initially, Rangnick said: "I told him that I would like him to stay because he's a fantastic goalkeeper. In training yesterday, he had another couple of fantastic saves.

"I really like to have him on board, as one of three top goalkeepers. I can fully understand that he wants to play because he's in an age where, as a goalkeeper, he should regularly play.

"On the other hand, we are still in three competitions, we need the three goalkeepers we have right now. I told him that, but I can also, on the other hand, understand his desire to get game-time elsewhere in the Premier League."

David de Gea has reasserted himself as United's first choice between the posts, after Henderson played 13 Premier League games last season, while the other senior goalkeeper on United's books is third-choice Tom Heaton.

Henderson was not involved in the FA Cup clash with Villa on Monday, when United took a nervy 1-0 win in the third round. De Gea started that game and Heaton was the substitute goalkeeper, with Rangnick saying it was illness that kept Henderson out of the game.

Van de Beek came off the bench in the 72nd minute to strengthen a midfield that was being over-run.

The former Ajax man could be practically assured of regular involvement at another club, but at United he has been used just seven times in the Premier League this term. All those appearances have been as a substitute, with Van de Beek spending a meagre total of 68 minutes on the pitch.

"It's the same situation as it is with Dean," said Rangnick. "I'm glad to have him in the squad."

The former RB Leipzig boss said he spoke to Van de Beek after training two weeks ago.

"I told him I would advise him to stay until the end of the season. He wants to play in the World Cup for his country and [Netherlands coach] Louis van Gaal obviously told him that in order to be a regular starter for the World Cup, he needs to regularly play for his team," Rangnick said.

"I can understand his desire to play; on the other hand, we have a lot of competition in our squad in exactly those positions."

United were without Maguire and Ronaldo for the cup clash with Villa, so to have them back adds experience and quality at each end of the pitch, albeit with neither man having been at the height of his powers in recent weeks.

Across his career, Ronaldo has been involved in 11 goals in nine Premier League starts against Villa (eight goals, three assists). That is the most goals he has scored (eight) and been involved in (11) against a specific opponent in the competition.

Jadon Sancho and Phil Jones should also be up for selection after being absent for the FA Cup game.

"I think they will be available," Rangnick said of his quartet. "They only trained yesterday for the first time, Cristiano yesterday, Harry the day before yesterday.

"We have to wait for the final session this afternoon but as it seems right now, they should be available for tomorrow."

While the signs are positive there, United will be hampered by one-match suspensions for Luke Shaw and Scott McTominay that rule both out of the Villa Park game.

Villa have not won any of their last 22 home league games against United (D7 L15) since a 3-1 victory in August 1995. That ranks as the longest winless home run any side has had against another in English Football League and Premier League history, according to Opta.

However, Villa scored a 1-0 win at Old Trafford in September, with Bruno Fernandes missing a last-gasp penalty, and will be attempting to win consecutive league games against United for the first time since November 1976.

They last did the league double over the Red Devils in 1954-55. A United win would be their 300th away from home in the Premier League, making them the first side to reach that mark.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer came in for just a smattering of criticism during his final weeks in charge of Manchester United. The fact that his team had apparently forgotten how to play professional football matches was quite the talking point.

But few things put quite so many noses out of joint as his comments about Marcus Rashford some weeks before his departure.

In October, as Rashford prepared to make his first appearance since shoulder surgery two months earlier, Solskjaer suggested the forward needed to "maybe prioritise his football" after 18 months of dominating headlines for philanthropy rather than finishing.

Later, Solskjaer was forced to clarify his remarks as some felt he was criticising Rashford for tallying up free school meals instead of goals. That felt unfair given Solskjaer was generally speaking in glowing terms, but if there was a hint of brutal honesty there, it's only grown more pertinent.

Rashford is an estimable young man, one who has forced a government into two U-turns over providing for disadvantaged children, who was awarded an MBE for his charity work at the age of just 24. He is also an elite footballer who has produced far too many uninspiring performances in the past year, whose form only seems to be getting worse, who has only played a full game on two occasions all season and who caused astonishment in the Stretford End when he gave up chasing a loose ball in the penalty area in the FA Cup win over Aston Villa.

For United interim manager Ralf Rangnick, Rashford is potentially one of his greatest assets. Right now, his form – and his mood – represent one of his biggest problems.

Rash-flow problems

Rashford started 2021 in promising fashion, with six goals and five assists in 20 starts in all competitions beginning with one of each in an FA Cup win over Liverpool at Old Trafford. Soon came a seven-game run in which United went into pragmatic mode, keeping clean sheets in all but one match but scoring only four times. Rashford then netted in consecutive games and looked to be firing again.

He would only score another four goals for United all year.

Some important context is needed. Rashford went through some personal upheaval last year that would have been hard simply to shrug off. He also spent much of 2021 playing through injury: ankle and shoulder problems were a big hindrance when he was on the pitch, and the latter required an operation following Euro 2020, a tournament to which even he admitted he probably shouldn't have gone. He did go, of course: he played 83 minutes, all as a substitute, failed to score and missed a penalty in the final shoot-out. He did not then appear in 2021-22 until October 16; he marked his return with a goal, but it came in a 4-2 defeat to Leicester City that spelled the beginning of the end for his manager. This was hardly the smoothest of years.

Part of the reason Rashford played through pain for so long was he embraced being Solskjaer's Mr Reliable. He played 135 games under the Norwegian, more than any other United player. In that time, he also scored the most goals – 55, 11 more than Bruno Fernandes – and provided 22 assists, a tally behind just Fernandes (33) and Paul Pogba (23). In the nearly three years Solskjaer was in charge, both as caretaker and permanent boss, only seven Premier League players scored more goals than Rashford in all competitions.

Like many managers, Solskjaer had his favourites. It gave his team a consistent structure and meant that, when things were going well, good habits and good spirits could permeate the side. But when it started to go wrong, when players kept their places even as their form took a nosedive, the scrutiny and pressure to improve grew exponentially. This took its toll in real time: Harry Maguire went from England rock to a running joke; Fernandes looked more forlorn with every flail of his arms. And Rashford, as former United star Rio Ferdinand pointed out, has looked like he has the weight of the world on his shoulders, running himself further into the ground with every insipid display.

From April 9 until the end of 2021, Rashford scored four goals in 23 games in all competitions. Among Premier League players, he had a worse strike rate than Burnley's Jay Rodriguez (five goals in 23 games) and Leicester defender Jonny Evans (four in 21). Former Red Devil Danny Welbeck scored the same number in just 14 Brighton and Hove Albion appearances.

Over the same time frame, Rashford managed three assists, as many as Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg and Joshua King, and one less than Conor Gallagher. That left him on seven direct goal involvements, while midfielders John McGinn and Declan Rice managed eight. Rashford created 19 goalscoring chances, marginally more than Leicester's close-season signing Patson Daka (18) and Chelsea centre-back Antonio Rudiger (17). Rashford (45) had only two more shots than Rudiger over that time, with just 14 on target, the same number as Liverpool right-back Trent Alexander-Arnold.

On average, Rashford was involved in 0.41 goals per 90 minutes; among United players with at least two goals in that time, only three come off worse. One is July signing Jadon Sancho, a 21-year-old trying to adapt to a new club, new systems and new expectations. The others are Fred and Scott McTominay.

Running for Ralf

Just after his appointment, Rashford spoke positively about Rangnick's attention to detail.

"He's done a good job because prior to him coming in he spent a lot of time analysing the team and analysing individuals and he knows what our strengths are," he said to Sky Sports.

"We've got a lot more together, we've obviously been working on pressing and we'll still improve on that, but the main thing is just doing everything together as a team, whether we are attacking or defending."

For his part, Rangnick doesn't appear outwardly worried about Rashford's form, even though he was at a loss to explain it. Speaking after the win over Villa, he said: "Of course it would be good, for example, for Marcus if he could score a goal but as long as he's trying, as long as he's training well, I don't see that much of a problem."

"Trying" doesn't seem to be an issue. Rangnick, we know, is a stickler for hard running and high pressing, and only Cristiano Ronaldo (93) has made more sprints than Rashford (85) in the Premier League since the German was appointed in late November (including the 3-2 win over Arsenal, when Michael Carrick was still in caretaker charge of the side). Similarly, only McTominay (82) has contested more duels than Rashford (53), and nobody has attempted more dribbles (22). 

Going back to the start of last year, Rashford has recorded 500 sprints in the Premier League, the fourth-most among United players at a rate of about one every four and a half minutes. The only United attackers to play at least 10 times with better rates are Sancho (4.35) and Dan James (3.11), now at Leeds United. Ronaldo, if you're interested – and let's face it, you are – averages roughly one sprint every five and three-quarter minutes, which is more frequent than Fernandes, who is closer to one every six minutes.

On and off the pitch, you can't fault Rashford's endeavour. The story of the past year hasn't been one of attitude, but aptitude. Rashford runs, but not always at the right moments; he dribbles, but in the wrong areas; he finds an opening, and he makes the wrong choice.

Rash converters

You don't need to look too closely to see that Rashford's output is below par this season, but the deeper you dig, the starker that reality becomes.

His career average for minutes per goal is 207; this season, it's 282. His dribble success rate is 38.6, down from 42.5 on average. His shooting accuracy is 53.3, down from 57 on average. His crossing accuracy has more than halved from 15.8 to 7.1.

Across all competitions since January 1 last year, Rashford has attempted 207 take-ons, way more than any other United player (Mason Greenwood is next on 170), 178 of which have been in the opposition's half. His 21 drives into the box are at least 10 more than anyone else at United, he is joint-top for take-ons with a shot (seven, with Greenwood) and top for take-ons with a chance created (four). He is also United's attacking player with the most progressive carries in which he has moved with the ball 10 metres or more towards the opponents' goal (158). However much the Villa incident suggested otherwise, there's no obvious lack of effort.

Yet there is a verifiable, worrying lack of efficacy in these attempts to make things happen. Looking at the Premier League alone, only five players since last January 1 have attempted more take-ons in the opposition half than Rashford (128); the man top of that list, Adama Traore (184), is the only player with more drives into the box (26 to Rashford's 16). But the Wolves winger, so often derided for end product, has 11 take-ons with a shot and 14 take-ons with a chance created, 14 more than Rashford when you combine the two.

Over the same period, Mohamed Salah (41) had the most carries to end in a shot, with Greenwood second alongside Harry Kane with 38. There are 25 players who had more than Rashford (18). When it comes to a carry ending in a chance created, Traore is top of the table with 36; Rashford, with 10, is below 49 other players.

It reflects a recurring concern: that when Rashford runs at defenders with the ball, it's less a calculated attacking move and more one of hope, or desperation. It's a symptom of both Solskjaer's system, which relied on the spontaneity of the individual, and of Rashford's own conviction that any problem is just waiting for him to solve it. He tries to play like a man who has earned the famous United number 10, a superstar performer in a squad bursting with talent. In reality, the shirt looks heavier with every passing minute.

In some ways, Rashford is emblematic of United's wider problems. He desperately needs not only a morale boost, but a tactical one: he needs hardline instructions, and to play in a system in which he feels confident as well as competent. Ironically, he is one of the few for whom the Solskjaer-Rangnick transition should be simplest since both Ole's 4-2-3-1 and Ralf's 4-2-2-2 offer the kind of wide left attacking role Rashford likes best.

Whatever the root cause of his malaise, he will be desperate for things to change, and change quickly. Perhaps they will. Perhaps he'll light up Villa Park on Saturday, kick-start his return to form and United's road to redemption.

After all, U-turns are a Marcus Rashford speciality.

Mikel Arteta may be confident that his side can still recruit any player in the world, but Arsenal may have to wait if they are to sign Dusan Vlahovic from Fiorentina.

The in-demand Serbia international is the joint-fourth highest scorer in Europe's top five leagues this term and is wanted by an array of clubs across the continent.

While a January move has been touted, however, Fiorentina appear to be playing hardball when it comes to the future of the 21-year-old striker.


TOP STORY – FIORENTINA DEMANDS PREVENTING ARSENAL'S VLAHOVIC PURSUIT

Arsenal are reportedly willing to match Fiorentina's €75million (£62.62m) asking price for Vlahovic, which would make him the second-most expensive player in their history.

However, The Independent reports that the Serie A side want the majority of that money paid upfront, whereas Arsenal intend to spread the cost over the next four years.

The Gunners may therefore have to wait until the end of the campaign, at which point Vlahovic will have a year to run on his contract, before renegotiating with Fiorentina.

 


ROUND-UP

– It is shaping up to be a busy conclusion to the January window for Arsenal as Goal reports that the Premier League side have made contact with Juventus over a loan move for midfielder Arthur Melo, while Leicester City's Youri Tielemans is another potential target.

– L'Equipe claims that Paul Pogba remains a target for Paris Saint-Germain as he nears the end of his Manchester United contract. The midfielder has not featured since November due to injury and is not expected to return until next month.

– According to The Mail, Man Utd are eyeing a move for Brighton and Hove Albion's Tariq Lamptey as an upgrade on Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Diogo Dalot. Interim boss Ralf Rangnick is said to be a big fan of the right-sided player's versatility.

– Sticking with Rangnick and United, the German coach has put Ajax boss Erik ten Hag's name forward as the best option to replace him when his interim spell at Old Trafford ends in June. That is according to Le Parisien, with the French outlet also suggesting PSG's Mauricio Pochettino still remains in the frame.

– Ambitious Newcastle United have already brought in Kieran Trippier this month and more players look set to follow. Tuttomercato suggests that Roma's Chris Smalling could be lured to St James' Park as the Magpies desperately attempt to strengthen at centre-back.

Freiburg's Nico Schlotterbeck is attracting plenty of interest this month, with Bayern Munich and Real Madrid among those being linked. Bayern appear to be leading that particular race if reports from Spain are anything to go by, with the defender supposedly keen to stay in the Bundesliga.

Cristiano Ronaldo is confident Ralf Rangnick will do a "good job" as interim manager, but the Portugal forward will not accept Manchester United aiming for anything less than third place.

Rangnick's appointment – until the end of the season before taking on a consultancy role – was initially praised as evidence United were attempting to modernise as a club, implementing a brand of football and identity that has been so successful elsewhere.

The German had been deemed the so-called "godfather of gegenpressing" and was seen by many as a shrewd hire given his reputation of developing clubs in the past both as a coach and a director.

But, even though United have only lost one of his seven matches in charge across all competitions, their performances have left a lot to be desired, and the idea of a collective and concerted pressing effort appears to remain foreign.

Prior to Rangnick's first game, United averaged 7.6 high turnovers per game in the Premier League – in his first two matches they recorded 12 and 11, respectively.

A trend emerged there, as the only occasion this season United had previously recorded more than 12 (13) was in Michael Carrick's first match against Chelsea. It would seem to be the classic 'new manager bounce' as they soon fell back into their old ways.

United's high turnover average under Rangnick in the league remains virtually identical (7.6) to what it was before, while they managed just three in Monday's fortunate 1-0 FA Cup win over Aston Villa, suggesting his ideas in that regard simply are not getting across.

But Ronaldo is calling for patience, telling Sky Sports: "Since he arrived five weeks ago, he changed many things. But he needs time to put his ideas across to the players.

"It takes time, but I believe that he is going to do a good job. We know we aren't playing the best football, but we have many games to improve.

"Since he arrived I think in some points we are better, but he needs time. It's not that easy to change the mentality of players and the way they play, the culture, the system like that. I believe that he is going to do a good job.

"We have to be together. We're in the same boat. We have to believe that it is possible but like I said we have a long way to go."

United face Villa again on Saturday in the Premier League – a victory could potentially see them end the weekend three points behind fourth-placed West Ham, who have played two extra games.

Missing out on the top four would be a major blow to United given the amount of money spent in pre-season, though Ronaldo feels even fourth would be unacceptable.

Asked if they can reach the top four even without the correct attitude, Ronaldo said: "Impossible – I think it's the main point.

"I don't accept that our mentality be less than being in the top three in the Premier League.

"I think to build up good things, sometimes you have to destroy a few things. So why not – new year, new life and I hope that we can be the level that the fans want. They deserve that.

"We are capable of changing things now. I know the way but I'm not going to mention it here because I don't think it's ethical on my part to say that.

"What I can say is we can do better – all of us. Manchester United belongs to important things, so we have to change that.

"I don't want to be here to be in sixth place, or seventh place, or fifth place. I'm here to try to win, to compete.

"I think we compete but we are not yet in our best level. But we have a long way to improve and I believe if we change our mind, we can achieve big things."

Ralf Rangnick believes Scott McTominay could be Manchester United captain in "a couple of years" and hailed the "outstanding" David de Gea following a 1-0 FA Cup win over Aston Villa.

McTominay scored the only goal of the third-round contest at Old Trafford on Monday, heading home midfield partner Fred's inviting whipped cross after only seven minutes.

That was enough for the Red Devils to set up a fourth-round tie at home to Championship side Middlesbrough, but Villa were unfortunate to crash out as they were the better side.

Danny Ings had a goal ruled out for a foul by Jacob Ramsey on Edinson Cavani following a lengthy VAR check, referee Michael Oliver eventually making the decision after being told to check the pitchside monitor.

Ollie Watkins struck the crossbar in the first half and also had a goal disallowed due to Ings being offside soon after his fellow striker's goal was chalked off.

Amid talk of unrest in the United dressing room following a 1-0 defeat to Wolves, there was relief for Rangnick after a fortunate victory.

The interim Red Devils boss picked out McTominay and De Gea for praise after an unconvincing display from his side.

Asked about McTominay's contribution, he told BBC Sport: "He is an academy boy, his energy is amazing. He now also starts scoring goals and also with some leadership skills.

"I wouldn't be surprised if in a couple of years he would be the captain of this team."

He added: "We have to develop the team into a clean sheet team and that was another one today but still David de Gea was outstanding again for me today.

"I would have wanted him to have less saves in total, I think we had four or five shots on goal but again we can still improve even in that area."

Despite United being second best for the majority of the game, Rangnick said there were signs they are improving.

Asked if he had seen progress in the performance, he replied: "Yes. To say that this was a perfect game, nobody would believe that of course it was not.

"We still have quite a few things we can get better at, but the clean sheet was important today and we worked together. There are still a lot of things to improve but it is easier to do that with a 1-0 win."

Manchester United players have been told by interim manager Ralf Rangnick that embracing his ideas on pressing is the "only way" they can compete in the Premier League.

Rangnick was hired last month until the end of the season, at which point he will move into a consultancy position.

His appointment was initially praised as evidence United were attempting to modernise as a club, implementing a brand of football and identity that has been so successful elsewhere.

Rangnick had been deemed the so-called "godfather of gegenpressing" and was seen by many as a shrewd hire given his reputation of developing clubs in the past both as a coach and a director.

But, even though United have only lost one of his six matches, their performances have left a lot to be desired, and the idea of a collective and concerted pressing effort appears to remain foreign.

 

Prior to Rangnick's first game, United averaged 7.6 high turnovers per game in the Premier League – in his first two matches they recorded 12 and 11, respectively.

A trend emerged there, as the only occasion this season United had previously recorded more than 12 (13) was in Michael Carrick's first match against Chelsea. It would seem to be the classic 'new manager bounce' as they soon fell back into their old ways.

United's high turnover average under Rangnick remains virtually identical (7.6) to what it was before, suggesting the German's ideas in that regard simply are not getting across.

 

"This is the only way we can compete in this league and at that level," Rangnick told reporters on the subject of pressing ahead of Monday's FA Cup clash with Aston Villa.

"Whenever you watch games, even if it's not the top teams, they play with intensity, they play with physicality, they play with energy and they sprint. This is what we have to do. We have to develop into this kind of team.

"As I said after the first game against Crystal Palace, we showed at least in the first half a lot of those things and it's about implementing this into the team in a sustainable way. This is our job.

"We have to do it together with the players and we have, obviously, to develop the players, identify for each game, the players who are willing and able to do that and to deliver exactly what we spoke about.

"I've only been here now for five weeks. Yes, the pressure is on at a club like Manchester United. I'm pretty sure that the players are aware of that.

"In the end, it's still about showing up when we play in front of 75,000, and we showed that against Burnley. We also showed it against Crystal Palace.

"The team is able to dominate games, to win games. Both games against Burnley and Palace, that was the case and this is exactly what we have to achieve in the next weeks to help the team develop into a dominating team.

"This can only be done in possession and out of possession they do things together."

One player who was initially deemed a good fit for Rangnick's system was Edinson Cavani, given his work rate and application when on the pitch.

While he is the only United forward among those to feature for Rangnick yet to record a recovery in the final third, the manager believes the Uruguayan can have a big impact over the remainder of the season after committing to staying until June despite apparent interest from Barcelona.

"I told him that if it was up to me I would want him to stay and I had a conversation with him," Rangnick added.

"He came to my office and we spoke for almost half an hour and he told me that he will definitely stay, he will want to stay until the end of the season.

"Not only because I told him that he should stay or has to stay, but he did it on his own behalf. He told me that I can rely on him to stay until the end of the season and give his very best, be a role model for the young players.

"He's available and he's happy to play. Even if he's not playing, he will be trying to be the best possible role model for the other players.

"This is, for me, good news because Edi is one of those players – with his vast amount of experience, his mentality, his work ethic – who could really be a perfect role model for all the other players."

Harry Maguire insists Manchester United's players have "full respect and trust" for Ralf Rangnick's methods after a turbulent period at the Premier League giants.

Recent reports have suggested that several United players have expressed their displeasure with Rangnick and his coaches and are considering their futures at Old Trafford.

An underwhelming start to the season saw Ole Gunnar Solskjaer sacked in November and replaced by the German coach until the end of the 2021-22 campaign.

Despite a promising start, a dismal 1-1 draw at Newcastle just before the turn of the year and a 1-0 home defeat by Wolves last time out have sparked talk of a crisis at the club.

However, Maguire is adamant that United's players are behind the interim head coach and says they will do everything they can to turn their fortunes around. 

"His detail and preparation are enormous, we have full respect and trust in his methods," the England international told reporters.  

"He has made an impact. The manager is there to set us up tactically, which we absolutely take on board. We listen to him and his staff. Yes, it’s difficult when the coaching team changes mid-season like it does at loads of clubs.

"But it's down to us as players. The quality and leaders are in the team to ensure we finish the season in the top four and with a trophy.

"This team finished second last year and we have a better and bigger squad this year, so we have to show the right attitude.

"We have big players in the team; leaders. I'm sick of repeating myself but it can’t continue like this – we need to go on a proper run, starting Monday [against Aston Villa in the FA Cup].

"We are all angry and want to do our best, which has probably come across on the pitch at times.

"But the team spirit is good, despite what people say. Being a professional footballer, you have to take criticism on the chin and react well to it. 

"At the same time, you have to ignore the outside noise sometimes and just get your head down [in training]. We know if we can put together a run of results then everything else takes care of itself."

Maguire also said he has had a number of conversations with other players and the management team as United look to return to winning ways.

"I'm the captain and leader in the dressing room, and I've had private conversations with the players and the management which will remain private," he added. 

"Make no mistake about it, I'm here for the fight and I know my team-mates are. I expect them to be and if they're not then there's something wrong.

"We have a big squad. Of course, not all players will always be happy as they are not playing but that's football and we all have to remain professional."

Marcus Rashford has insisted that he has "endless respect" for Manchester United's coaching staff, including interim manager Ralf Rangnick, and reaffirmed his dedication to the club.

Recent reports have suggested that several United players have expressed their displeasure with Rangnick and his coaches and are considering their futures at Old Trafford.

An underwhelming start to the season saw Ole Gunnar Solskjaer sacked in November and replaced by the German coach until the end of the current campaign.

Despite a promising start, an insipid 1-1 draw at Newcastle just before the turn of the year and a 1-0 home defeat by Wolves last time out have sparked talk of a crisis at the club.

However, Rashford took to Twitter on Saturday to reassure United fans that he backs the former RB Leipzig boss and is determined to help the team turn things around.

"We've all been disappointed with recent performances," the England international posted. "We've been as disappointed with the news coverage questioning our commitment to not only the manager and the coaching staff, but the club.

"I have endless respect for both and I'm looking forward to bettering my game under the staff at Manchester United.

"I'm not sulking, I'm not unhappy. Am I disappointed in some of my recent performances? Of course I am. I'm my own biggest critic. It's been a tough start but I'm determined to prove my worth.

"My dedication and my desire to be here should never be in question. I love this club."

Rashford has managed just four goal involvements - three goals, one assist - in 14 appearances for United in all competitions this season.

The Red Devils host Steven Gerrard's Aston Villa in the FA Cup third round on Monday. 

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