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Ralf Rangnick: Man Utd boss defends Harry Maguire and Raphael Varane and says team must improve

When asked about Raphael Varane and Harry Maguire's displays against Newcastle, Rangnick said: "I don't think it makes sense to speak about the individual performance of players. We need to get better as a team"; Edinson Cavani in contention to start versus Burnley after long injury layoff

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Ralf Rangnick rejects criticism of the performances of Raphael Varane and Harry Maguire in their 1-1 draw at Newcastle and says Man Utd 'need to get better as a team'

Ralf Rangnick has rejected recent criticism levelled at centre-back duo Harry Maguire and Raphael Varane, maintaining that the focus should be on Manchester United improving "as a team" rather than on individuals.

Varane, returning from 10 games out with a hamstring injury, was at fault as Newcastle took the lead against United in their 1-1 draw at St James' Park on Monday, losing possession before Allan Saint-Maximin scored for the home side, while Maguire looked vulnerable at the back as United gave a poor first-half showing.

On Monday Night Football, Sky Sports' Gary Neville lambasted United's first-half display, describing their performance as "a mess" and said Maguire "is the captain but he doesn't feel like the captain".

But speaking ahead of Thursday's clash with Burnley at Old Trafford, interim manager Rangnick, whose side remain unbeaten under his tenure, shielded the pair from the scrutiny they have faced, and said his side must improve collectively.

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FREE TO WATCH: Highlights as Manchester United fought back to claim a draw against Newcastle in the Premier League

Rangnick said: "I mean, I don't think I mean, Raphael hasn't played for the last five or six weeks and even before the Tottenham game, he was injured.

"So in total in the last three months, he hasn't played that many games. Yes, he made a mistake before the first goal that we conceded. But apart from that, I think he was OK.

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Rangnick was unhappy with Manchester United's performance in their 1-1 draw with Newcastle

"I wouldn't say that he was outstanding, and the same with Harry, but they did OK.

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"Our problem was, again, that we allowed too many transitional moments, and this is not only a problem of the centre of the centre-backs, it's a problem of the whole team that it starts up front. And you can speak also about the role of the No 10 in that kind of formation.

"So I don't think it makes sense to speak about the individual performance of players. We need to get better as a team."

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Rangnick: Covid has impacted our progress

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Interim manager Ralf Rangnick says disruptions caused by Covid-19 have hampered his desired progress since taking charge at Manchester United.

Like many clubs across the top flight, coronavirus cases within Rangnick's first-team squad and backroom staff have had an impact upon training and games, but the 63-year-old revealed his side are "almost back to full strength".

United's Carrington training complex was shut and games against Brentford and Brighton were postponed because of an outbreak.

Rangnick has previously indicated that reinstating the five substitutes rule would alleviate some pressure placed on squads because of Covid issues and a hectic winter playing schedule.

Manchester United interim manager Ralf Rangnick
Image: Rangnick has not lost a game so far during his time as Man Utd interim boss

When asked if he felt he has made as much progress as he had hoped after a month as interim manager, Rangnick said: "Of course not. I mean, [for] every coach, every ambitious coach, there's no difference between other coaches and myself in that, [everyone] wants to take faster steps and larger steps forward.

"But in order to do that, you need to be able to train. And as you know, we had to close Carrington for four days. Before that, we had eight or nine field players in training directly after the Norwich game and they only came back in small bits and pieces.

"So in the last three days, we were almost back to full strength with regard to the size of the squad, but we couldn't do that much in training.

"On the other hand, in those two or three training sessions, the team look good… It was, in Monday's game, a negative surprise the way that we played with regard to game speed, tempo and physicality."

Manchester United's Edinson Cavani celebrates scoring against Newcastle
Image: Cavani could be in contention to start against Burnley

'Cavani is ready to start'

Edinson Cavani scored United's second-half equaliser on Monday, his first game since finding the net in the 3-0 away win at Tottenham on October 30, with the Uruguayan having been absent for nearly two months because of a tendon injury.

The 34-year-old has been restricted to just nine appearances this term due to injuries and knocks, with seven of those coming as a substitute, but Rangnick thinks the centre-forward is now fit enough to play an important role for United in the second half of the campaign.

Edinson Cavani equalises for Manchester United at Newcastle
Image: Cavani equalised for Manchester United at Newcastle

When asked if Cavani is fit enough to face Burnley, he said: "Yeah, actually, in the last two days, I was also considering to play him from the start.

"I spoke with him yesterday and the day before yesterday, and he didn't feel comfortable to play from the beginning and because he didn't know how fit he really was.

"But after being one down at half-time [against Newcastle], it was clear to me that we have to take more risks that we need to change something, and that's why we decided to bring on him and Jadon (Sancho) at half-time."

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