Ralf Rangnick keeping focus on Spurs showdown amid debate over leading stars

The interim manager deflected questions about Cristiano Ronaldo and Marcus Rashford.

Ralf Rangnick is concentrating on Manchester United’s next game (Mike Egerton/PA)

By Simon Peach, PA Chief Football Writer

Ralf Rangnick is not wasting energy worrying about Cristiano Ronaldo’s travel itinerary or Marcus Rashford’s long-term future as the interim manager focuses on Manchester United’s must-win clash against Tottenham.

Saturday kicks off a make-or-break Old Trafford doubleheader as top-four rivals Spurs come to town before the Red Devils host Atletico Madrid on Tuesday in the second leg of their Champions League last-16 tie.

Rangnick’s immediate focus is on a Premier League match that he admits fifth-placed United “have to win” given Arsenal in fourth are not just a point better off but also boast three games in hand.

Ralf Rangnick has deflectted questions about and Cristiano Ronaldo’s future (Martin Rickett/PA)

Last weekend’s 4-1 humbling at rivals Manchester City was the worst possible preparation for the Spurs clash, but they will be boosted by Ronaldo’s return after he missed the Etihad Stadium encounter with a hip flexor complaint.

The 37-year-old is reported to have surprised some team-mates by flying back to Portugal at such a key time for the team, but Rangnick is not getting distracted by such background noise.

“Well, I don’t know, I haven’t asked him if he’s happy at Manchester and at this club,” the United boss said.

“For me, it’s important that he’s fit again and that he resumed training yesterday. We will see with which formation and with which line-up we are going to play the game tomorrow.”

Raphael Varane is set to return for Manchester United (Mike Egerton/PA)

Having previously turned down the chance to clarify whether he or the club were aware of Ronaldo going to Portugal, he said: “Well, as I said, it happened last week.

“I didn’t know anything about that trip and therefore it doesn’t make sense now to waste energy and deal with it because the games that we have to play now are too important.

“Therefore I decided to put my focus on the upcoming games and not waste any energy with things that happened in the last six or seven days.”

Edinson Cavani and Raphael Varane are set to return with Ronaldo but Luke Shaw remains out and Scott McTominay also looks set to miss out on Saturday, when Rashford will be hoping to make an impact from the start.

Reports emerged that the 24-year-old was considering his future having been named among the substitutes at City, where he would underwhelm as a second-half introduction.

In my 25 years of professional football, I have been deciding not to take too much notice of things happening in the media

Ralf Rangnick

“I spoke with him yesterday and the day before yesterday so I don’t know anything about that,” Rangnick said.

“In my 25 years of professional football, I have been deciding not to take too much notice of things happening in the media.

“He didn’t say anything to me. He said to me that he’s still happy and that he wants to perform on a high level here for the club. He didn’t mention a thing about not being happy here.”

Rangnick is only interested in making sure Rashford “gets the best version of himself”, saying any talk about his future can wait until the summer with his deal – which includes a one-year extension clause – expiring in 2023.

“I don’t think that he’s not had enough game time,” Rangnick said. “In those 13, 14 games that I’ve been here now, he played more games from the start than he didn’t play from the start, so I don’t think that this is an issue. He never said anything about that when we spoke yesterday.

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“But again, I mean, the window is closed right now. Even in case suppose he and his agents or his family at one stage of the summer think about maybe going to another club, well then he can do that but in the summer.

“Now the window is closed and it’s got nothing to do with tomorrow’s game or the game on Tuesday.”

Rangnick faced a variety of questions in Friday’s pre-match press conference, from United’s decision to overlook current Spurs boss Antonio Conte to a potential summer move for Thomas Tuchel given Chelsea’s situation.

The German said: “It doesn’t make sense at all to even think or speculate about that.”

Asked if sees these games as a potentially defining period in the season, Rangnick added: “Yes, but we don’t think like that because we think that if we win both games it could be a massive turnaround again.

“Then we would have all the chances in the Champions League and in the Premier League, so right now let’s play the game tomorrow. Full focus on the game tomorrow.”

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