With pressure piling to get some points on the board for the top four race, a home tie against opponents Watford, who obliterated Manchester United 4-1 at Vicarage Road, gave United a great opportunity for sweet revenge and another game against a lower side to secure three points off.
Inconsistencies have been obvious this whole season. United started with intensity and with dominance. Changes to the line-up such as Maguire not starting counted in the Red Devils’ favour, with a high line being played and much more offensive football.
Nevertheless, these inconsistencies remain. Defensively, United looked flawless. Regardless of the level of the opposition, defensive performances have always been lacklustre – this insinuates that the centre back pairing of Varane and Lindelof is actually the best United have, alongside the stellar showing from Matic solidifying the midfield and running the show.
Ninety minutes, 67% possession and 22 shots later. In classic United fashion, it ends in a 0-0 stalemate with United’s frontline putting the emphasis on stale. Ultimately hindering the Red’s top-four hopes and dropping points to a much weaker side. To analyse this fixture, here are five key things to take from the performance to indicate where Manchester United are still going wrong.
1. The high lineEmbed from Getty Images
The dropping of £80m man and club captain – Harry Maguire – may be perceived as squad rotation but in many fans’ eyes, it is a needed use of time on the bench for him, and a chance to see what Varane and Lindelof can offer to the table. They did not disappoint and show potential to have the label of the top two centre backs at the club, yet due to his captaincy and price tag, Maguire may never get dropped.
Watford was held to 33% possession and 10 shots. With only two of these being on target. De Gea had next to nothing to do all game, and star players Emmanuel Dennis and Ismaila Sarr were dealt with appropriately by the back four, contributing to United’s possession of the ball also.
2. Star-studded strikers slackingEmbed from Getty Images
Overall, it was a poor offensive showing even with the amount of talent and experience within the squad. Ronaldo fires at the post early on with Bruno Fernandes also being denied from close range by Ben Foster. Bruno also doesn’t connect on a volley completely unmarked and metres away from the goal. These chances eventually piled up with efforts from Elanga and Sancho as well. None of the players seemed to have their scoring boots on, even with the vast amount of chances (and clear cut ones at that) that players at this calibre should be converting, especially for United’s standards.
3. The need for a Matic successorEmbed from Getty Images
Some performances from Nemanja Matic this season haven’t been as convincing and this reflects how often he has started for Manchester United this season with only 11 starts this season. McTominay and/or Fred usually takes his role but his experience and class on the ball bossed the midfield against Watford. Yet at 33 years old and Matic never being known for his athletic prowess, he is not a player we can rely on to cement United’s midfield for a number of reasons.
The need for a younger replica of Matic is explicit and something United must do something about in the summer. Matic can be a great mentor and role model for the youth and the speculation of United signing a new and talented CDM has been happening for the past few seasons, such a small change can really propel United to where they want to be – defensively.
4. Top four increasingly unlikely.Embed from Getty Images
United this season have showcased an array of performances with similar results. With 8 draws this season to much lower-ranked sides like Burnley, Southampton and Newcastle. Points are consistently being dropped due to petty performances and a lack of desire to actually win and achieve. Within all this are slight glimmers of hope. Elanga’s rise to starting and his scoring ability, Sancho and his stellar form and De Gea constantly showing why he is one of the world’s best. Scenarios like these make us fans believe that United’s goals are possible, but the dropping of points just become too much of a loss and allows other teams to breakthrough. Arsenal have three games in hand and are only two points behind. It will soon be too late to grab the points we need to maintain this top four run.
5. Rangnick’s impactEmbed from Getty Images
The appointment of Ralf Rangnick was never going to be the plaster over the cracks nor the instant fix for the future, hence his 6-month managerial deal. But he is indefinitely showcasing that he is not the answer to United’s problems. Like all managers, he does need time to work on his philosophy of football and how to endorse this into his players after their motivation is seemingly deterred.
Nevertheless, if you field a line-up with players like Ronaldo, Bruno, Pogba, Varane and more exceptional talents coming on like Sancho – A 0-0 draw to Watford just is not good enough. There is the argument that Rangnick himself stated that United just were insanely unlucky, but this cannot happen at this level and it isn’t an excuse for the season United have had. Only time will tell how Rangnick’s united career will pan out but at his current form, it is difficult to say how effective he has been.