Ralf Rangnick reaffirmed his faith in Manchester United’s medical department and insisted he could not select a player who felt unable to play after the high-profile absence of Cristiano Ronaldo in Sunday’s defeat at Manchester City.
Rangnick confirmed Ronaldo, who did not travel with the United squad to the Etihad Stadium, was ruled out of the 187th Manchester derby with an injury to his hip flexor.
Sky Sports pundit Roy Keane questioned the veracity of Ronaldo’s injury before kick-off, saying: “We talk about Ronaldo being a machine and very rarely getting injured… it doesn’t add up to me.”
Ronaldo’s sister, Katia Aveiro, also appeared to question the 37-year-old’s absence before the match by liking an Instagram post claiming he is not injured and was dropped by Rangnick.
Speaking after the United’s chastening 4-1 defeat to City, Rangnick responded to Keane’s claims.
“I have to believe my medical department,” the United interim boss explained. “My doctor came to see me on Friday morning before training and told me Cristiano Ronaldo cannot train because of some problems with his hip flexor and the same was true on Saturday and that’s why he couldn’t be part of the squad.”
Rangnick, who deployed Bruno Fernandes and Paul Pogba in a false-nine position in Ronaldo’s absence, also faced questioning over the availability of striker Edinson Cavani.
Rangnick: I cannot force a player to play
The Uruguay international was missing for the sixth successive game, with Rangnick voicing his frustrations pre-match after being informed by the player he did not feel he could play. In his absence United delivered a toothless attacking display, failing to register a single effort in the second half.
“What does it help if I tell you it’s frustrating?” Rangnick added. “It’s just a fact, if players tell the doctor and the medical department that they are injured and cannot play. I have to accept it as a manager.
“I cannot force a player to play if he thinks he’s not available because he has an injury.”
Asked if Cavani decides when he plays, Rangnick continued: “Edi trained in the last three days, he trained well, but he still felt after those three training sessions that he is still not fit to play.
“This is a fact and as a manager, I cannot force a player to play if he doesn’t feel fit or well enough to play.”
Defeat – United’s second under Rangnick and first away from home since Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s final game as manager at Watford – saw City restore their six-point lead at the top of the Premier League, thanks to doubles from Kevin De Bruyne and Riyad Mahrez.
The chasm between the champions and their cross-city rivals stands at 22 points. The scale of task United have in bridging that gap was not lost on Rangnick, although he refused to be drawn on the precise areas where improvements are needed.
“The second half showed that if they [City] have momentum, and are 3-1 up, that it’s almost impossible to keep them away from your own goal, at least for our team,” he added.
“Look, I’m still the manager of this team for another 10 games in the Premier League and hopefully a few more games in the Champions League.
“It doesn’t make sense now to start speculation about how many players would we need and in what positions, this is my issue. Right now it’s about preparing the team for the Tottenham game and after that, for a very important game against Atletico in the Champions League.
“Right now, I am happy with the players we have, this is clear. For us it is important to look ahead, to develop the team, which we have in the last couple of weeks and months.
“We don’t always play against Manchester City, we have shown are capable to win other games. This is my major job in the next two and a half months.”
Pep hails one of City’s best performances
City’s emphatic, dominant victory was the perfect response to Liverpool cutting their lead at the top to three points with victory over West Ham.
Pep Guardiola hailed the performance as one of the best of his tenure, and called for more of the same as the champions bid to repel the best opponent the Spaniard has faced during his managerial career.
“In the first half we struggled to get going, but we felt from the first minute of the second half that we had the game in our hands,” Pep Guardiola said.
“I’m so demanding, but I know my players’ limits. If the second half wasn’t our best level then I don’t know what we have to do.
“The biggest success for this team is to have is to be there again to fight the best opponents I have ever faced in my life in Liverpool.”