It was a day of frustration and disappointment for Manchester United fans, who saw their team come away with just a point against Watford, despite dominating for the vast majority of the afternoon in a 0-0 draw.
How did United set up?
Ralf Rangnick seemed annoyed after the Atletico Madrid showing, claiming that he wished “a few other players would take Elanga as an example” in light of some dismal individual showings. His frustrations were voiced loud and clear today in the team selection.
It was a case of a British exodus, with Harry Maguire, Luke Shaw, Marcus Rashford and Jadon Sancho all dropped to the bench. With that being said, Aaron Wan-Bissaka started the game after looking lively in midweek.
The starting personnel led some to believe that Rangnick would opt for a diamond formation with four central midfielders, but it looked like a 4-2-3-1 as the game endured.
Here was the starting lineup and substitutes:Embed from Getty Images
Starting XI: David De Gea (GK), Aaron Wan-Bissaka (RB), Victor Lindelöf (CB), Raphaël Varane (CB), Luke Shaw (LB), Nemanja Matic (CDM), Fred (CM), Paul Pogba (CAM) Anthony Elanga (RW), Bruno Fernandes (LW), Cristiano Ronaldo (ST).
Subs: Dean Henderson, Phil Jones, Harry Maguire, Luke Shaw, Diogo Dalot, Juan Mata, Jesse Lingard, Jadon Sancho, Marcus Rashford.
How it went down
It was a lively start from United, epitomised when Ronaldo dragged an effort beyond Ben Foster and onto the post in the 5th minute. A few minutes later, he was left frustrated once more, with Fernandes failing to square it to him when one-on-one with the Watford keeper, with the chance, easily saved.Embed from Getty Images
Ronaldo was involved yet again in the 15th minute, this time tucking the ball in the net from Telles’ cross, but replays showed the 37-year-old to have been half a yard offside in the build-up.
Just before the half-hour mark, with the home side dominating the proceedings, Elanga threaded a hopeful pass into the path of Ronaldo, who managed to poke it beyond Foster and cross it to Fernandes, but the latter sent a wasteful header over the crossbar in what was a true head-in-hands moment.
A long-range strike from Fred and a wayward Telles free-kick was about as good as it got for United as the remainder of the half played out, but despite the scoreline not flattering his team, Rangnick would not have been too displeased.
United had 10 shots and 2 clear-cut opportunities in the first half but were far from clinical. The second half played out in a familiar manner, with Pogba shanking a first-time volley wide having received the ball from a delightful pass in the air.Embed from Getty Images
Both fans and players alike thought that Ronaldo had done enough to win a penalty in the 55th minute; Pogba’s deflected shot spun towards Ronaldo, who got their ahead of the Watford defender, subsequently going to ground, but Kevin Friend and VAR didn’t see it as a foul in spite of the clear contact.
Elanga had a moment to forget just before the hour mark. The Swede started off a slick move with his direct run inside, and after Pogba set him up with a sublime flick, the youngster sent his effort wayward, with the pace of the attack perhaps too fast for him to compose himself.
Fernandes found his way beyond a defender and along the byline just minutes afterwards, managing to pick out Ronaldo when pulling it back, but the shot was a tame one and it was cleared off the line comfortably.
Sancho, Rashford and Shaw were introduced in place of Fred, Matic and Telles respectively- indicative of the attacking intentions of the manager- but the game faded away swiftly. The best opportunity came from Sancho when he cut in from the left, but his curled effort edged over the bar, with the Old Trafford faithful baffled as to how their team faulted against Roy Hodgson’s Hornets.
Final score: Manchester United 0-0 Watford
Man of the matchEmbed from Getty Images
Making his first start in six weeks, Nemanja Matic showed his class on Saturday afternoon in a game where his team dominated possession throughout.
Operating as the deepest of the United midfield, the Serbian veteran looked like his old self, completing multiple cross-field passes that drove his side forward. Bar some slower moments in the first half, he was efficient in transitioning the play across the majority of the game. He created a chance for Pogba on the volley that was one of United’s best of the game, proving that he still has something to offer when fit.
Now in the latter stages of his career, the 33-year-old can no longer play the number of games that fans would like him to. He is the only specialist holding midfielder at the club, a frustrating fact for many fans.
One thing is for sure with Matic- when fit, he is the best option for Rangnick in the defensive midfield position.
The bigger pictureEmbed from Getty Images
Despite firing blanks all game, United’s performance was one of the better showings of the season in regard to attacking play and chance creation. Pogba, Fernandes and Ronaldo looked full of intent today, but the trio were all culpable for missing guilt-ridden chances that they simply had to do better with.
It is tough to point the finger at Rangnick, as the tactics were fine today, but player quality let him and supporters down. He showed desperation to win the game when throwing on two wingers in place of Fred and Matic, but very few would have disagreed with his attacking mindset as United looked to grab the victory.
22 shots and just 3 on target highlights the big issue in the team at the moment.
The race for Champions League football now looks bleak. Arsenal, with three games in hand, are only a couple of points behind the Red Devils, and the Gunners are definite favourites for 4th spot considering they aren’t in Europe.
Next up for United is a trip to the Etihad, where Rangnick’s Reds take on Manchester City in the derby. The game takes place next Sunday, kicking off at 16:30 (BST).