Manchester United’s top-four hopes now unrealistic, accepts Ralf Rangnick

United host Chelsea in the Premier League on Thursday.

Ralf Rangnick knows Manchester United’s Champions League destiny is out of their hands (Martin Rickett/PA)

By Simon Peach, PA Chief Football Writer

Interim manager Ralf Rangnick knows Champions League qualification is unrealistic as Manchester United prepare to take on Chelsea without a swathe of key players.

Harry Maguire and Jadon Sancho have joined the Red Devils’ lengthy list of absentees for Thursday’s rearranged Premier League clash with Thomas Tuchel’s Blues.

There is talk of further protests as United return to Old Trafford wounded by back-to-back away losses at Liverpool and Arsenal, which have all but ended any faint hopes of reaching the Champions League.

“I don’t think it makes sense now to still speak and speculate about the Champions League,” Rangnick said. “We need to be realistic.

“Even if we win all four games, it’s still not in our own hands. But what is in our own hands is the way that we play, the level of performance.

“Even for the next season it’s important to finish this season on the best possible note.”

Asked about the impact of Champions League qualification on United’s summer transfer business, he said: “Of course it would be better if we play Champions League next season, but this also affects other clubs. This is not a problem that only Manchester United has.

“The renewal of the contract of Bruno (Fernandes) showed that it’s still possible – this club is an attractive club and with a new manager (Erik ten Hag).

Harry Maguire will miss the clash with Chelsea (Zac Goodwin/PA)

“With a new approach with a new manager and the way he wants to play, this is still a massively interesting club.

“I am looking forward to help both Erik and the club, and everyone at the club, to get the best and to change the whole approach again next season so that Manchester United can be a top club again.”

For now, though, the focus is on facing Chelsea without a number of key players.

Paul Pogba, Edinson Cavani and Luke Shaw remain absent against Chelsea, so too does midfielder Fred after a negative reaction upon returning to training.

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Aaron Wan-Bissaka is also a doubt for a match that captain Maguire and big-money summer signing Sancho will also miss.

“Fred is unfortunately not yet available,” Rangnick said. “He tried to train yesterday but afterwards I had a long conversation with him and he just told me that he doesn’t feel fully fit. He’s not at 100 per cent.

“With a player like Fred, who is always committed to give his very best, I don’t think it make sense with the muscular injury that he had to play him too early because that would mean we take the risk of a re-injury and this is something I don’t want to do.

“So, he won’t be available unfortunately tomorrow and apart from that we have Harry Maguire, who is not available tomorrow.

“He has some issues with his knee, not a big thing, some niggle in his knee, but he hasn’t been training yesterday or today so he won’t be available.

Fred is not ready to make a return from injury (Zac Goodwin/PA)

“Paul obviously, Fred, Edinson, Luke Shaw and Jadon is ill. He has had tonsillitis since yesterday, couldn’t train today and will also not be available tomorrow.”

Such injury issues mean Rangnick will lean on United’s youth system.

Hannibal Mejbri, 19, featured at Liverpool and 17-year-old Alejandro Garnacho has been on the bench recently, with Alvaro Fernandez, 19, another pushing to be involved.

“We will try to play the best possible team of those players that are available,” Rangnick added.

“Right now that means we have 14 of our own professional team without the youngsters that are available and probably three or four of those young players will be part of the squad.”

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