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holding firm United boss Ralf Rangnick rejects rift claims and backs captain Harry Maguire to find form

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Manchester United assistant manager Chris Armas (left) and manager Ralf Rangnick on the touchline at Old Trafford, Manchester. Photo: Martin Rickett/PA Wire

Manchester United assistant manager Chris Armas (left) and manager Ralf Rangnick on the touchline at Old Trafford, Manchester. Photo: Martin Rickett/PA Wire

Manchester United assistant manager Chris Armas (left) and manager Ralf Rangnick on the touchline at Old Trafford, Manchester. Photo: Martin Rickett/PA Wire

Manchester United boss Ralf Rangnick has backed Harry Maguire to continue as captain after admitting the club has struggled with the atmosphere in the dressing-room this season.

Maguire issued an angry statement denying a power struggle with Cristiano Ronaldo over who leads the team, with Rangnick confirming he would not strip the England centre-back of the armband.

Rangnick also says he has seen an improvement in the atmosphere in United’s squad following the departure last month of players such as Anthony Martial who were not getting in his team. Marcus Rashford has also spoken out over claims of disharmony, and Rangnick expects his players to prove their unity.

“I can only tell you from my personal experience in the last 12 weeks. Yes, there were players unhappy, the squad was too big, players realised they wouldn’t get game-time, and the atmosphere is better than it used to be a couple of weeks ago for all those reasons I spoke about,” the German coach said.

“For us, it’s about performing well, showing togetherness on the pitch, winning games. Those are the things we can influence, all the other things we can’t.”

Maguire was understood to be upset by claims of a power struggle with Ronaldo and friction over mentoring younger players.

“I’ve seen a lot of reports about this club that aren’t true and this is another,” Maguire wrote on Twitter. “Not going to start posting about everything that is written but I needed to make this one clear. We’re united and focused on Sunday.”

Rangnick has disclosed that he has not spoken to players about a change in captaincy and that Maguire will be keeping the armband.

“This is absolutely nonsense, I have never spoken with any player about a possible change of captaincy, this has never been an issue for me,” he said. “It’s for me to decide who’s captain. Harry is our captain and will stay our captain until the end of the season, and there is nothing else to that. I’m not frustrated at all because it’s not true. I told you about Harry being the captain, it’s not an issue, never has been. All the other things I don’t listen to as my focus is on the team.”

Maguire is poised to lead the team out at Leeds tomorrow when United play at Elland Road in a Premier League fixture with supporters in the stadium for the first time in 18 years. Rangnick said he was not aware of the rivalry between the two clubs until recently.

“I didn’t know that until a week ago, but most of my colleagues have indicated this is one of the biggest rivalries in the Premier League. I also had quite a few of those in Germany – Schalke against Borussia Dortmund, and quite a few others. But our team and players have so much experience playing against teams like that in this atmosphere and hopefully will rise out of this performance.

“It’s great, everybody prefers to play in a sold-out stadium and it’s good, we’re looking forward to that game.”

Raphael Varane has recovered from illness after withdrawing from the team who beat Brighton on Tuesday, but Edinson Cavani is still out. “Cavani’s still having some problems with his groin and his stomach, the same is true with Tom Heaton,” Rangnick said. “Everybody else seems to be available. Nemanja Matic is back, maybe available for the next two games, and then we will have to see.”

Rangnick faces Marcelo Bielsa for the first time in the Premier League, with the United manager expecting to come up against the quickest tempo of the season. “They are playing in a very special way in the two aspects,” Rangnick said.

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“They are trying to play fast, transitional football, give and go, whenever they pass the ball they try to increase the tempo of the game. This is probably a team that plays with the highest amount of tempo momentum, and it’s important we don’t allow them to play like that.

“They concede a lot of goals. We will try to prepare the team for 94 minutes and stick to the game plan.”

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