Ralf Rangnick praised Harry Maguire for producing a performance befitting the captain’s armband on his return to the Manchester United starting line-up.
The world’s most expensive defender has been under close scrutiny this season, both for his displays in the heart of defence and leadership of the team.
Maguire missed the first two matches of 2022 with a chest injury and was named on the bench against Aston Villa and Brentford as Rangnick favoured Victor Lindelof alongside Raphael Varane.
But the United skipper was restored to the starting line-up against West Ham in the absence of Lindelof, who was supporting his family after a break-in, and produced a solid display in Saturday’s late 1-0 win.
“It was a very good performance from both centre-backs,” interim boss Rangnick said. “Defensively almost without any mistake.
“On the ball, some long balls in the first half, two or three of them, that they would not have necessarily played.
“But, as I said, defensively he was very present. He was vocal on the pitch. He played like a captain should play.”
Marcus Rashford has been another United player under the microscope.
The 24-year-old forward looked devoid of confidence when taken off in the narrow FA Cup win against Aston Villa – a match which extended his goalless run to an 11th game.
But Rashford came off the bench to score in Wednesday’s 3-1 win at Brentford and the sup-sub struck again to seal victory against West Ham.
“We have a lot of wingers, a lot of outstanding players in that position,” Rangnick said.
“Jadon (Sancho) was not available today but we have a lot of players for those two positions and Marcus is one of them.
“Right now, yes, he scored in two consecutive games when he came from the bench but of course his ambition is to play regularly from the start again.
“It’s up to him. If he continuously plays on a high level and keeps scoring goals, of course this is the best way back into the team and to play from the beginning.”
Rangnick is hoping Rashford’s stoppage-time strike can kickstart United’s top-four push, although he believes people “have to see the table realistically”.
The interim boss pointed to the competition for Champions League qualification plus Tottenham’s games in hand, predicting “a race until the last couple of fixtures”.
It currently looks like Rangnick will not have any new faces to help improve the squad before the January window closes, with the likes of Jesse Lingard, Donny Van De Beek and Dean Henderson linked to an exit.
Asked if he expected anyone to leave this month, he said: “I don’t know. I know which players would want to leave.
“I know that there are some negotiations with clubs but I am not involved in that, but I will probably be (kept) posted and made aware if something is happening.
“But, in the end, we will all have to wait and see what will happen.”