Whoever finishes fourth in the Premier League this season will do so by tripping over the finish line in a hilarious manner rather than racing through the ribbon.
Despite their dismal start to the season, Manchester United may have already clinched the place, yet recent performances have highlighted why they are on their third manager of the season.
The weekend drew with Watford summed up everything.
Every time this United team appears to be turning a corner, they end up going in circles, quickly changing hope into misery as more points are dropped inconceivably.
Under interim manager Ralf Rangnick, creating opportunities has not been an issue, as they have recorded an amazing xG of 10.99 in recent games against Middlesbrough, Burnley, Southampton, and Watford.
However, instead of scoring over 11 goals and winning four games comfortably, United only managed to score three times, drawing three games and losing the FA Cup on penalties to Boro.
When Cristiano Ronaldo said he had “unfinished business” to attend to after re-signing with Real Madrid last summer, he did not mean adding the Europa League or Conference League to his trophy collection. However, given his own wastefulness in front of the goal, they both appear to be plausible options.
Ronaldo wasn’t such a worry at the start of the season since he was scoring goals, a worthy compensation for the lack of cohesion and selfishness he brought to the United frontline.
But as the season has progressed, the goals have dried up, and the 37-year-old is beginning to show his age.
Ronaldo has not only been wasteful in front of goals, but he also appears to have lost confidence, which is extraordinary for a player who has patented his own goal celebration and still poses topless on social media whenever the occasion arises.
This season, no player has been caught offside more than Cristiano Ronaldo in the Premier League. This season, the Portuguese has been penalized by linesmen 25 times, six times more than any other player in the division. It spoke a lot that he didn’t even celebrate when he appeared to have netted on Saturday afternoon, knowing that the flag would be raised soon after.
United had previously planned to recruit a new striker during the summer transfer window, but the name of that target may have to change following Ronaldo’s latest dismal performance.
In a perfect scenario, United would have bought a raw offensive talent at the conclusion of the season, a young player who would be allowed a year to learn from Ronaldo on a daily basis before taking over next year when they’ve had time to settle.
However, with the five-time Ballon d’Or winner now appearing a little lost, the significance of a new forward signing has only grown, especially with Edinson Cavani due to leave at the end of the season and the Mason Greenwood situation unresolved.
If United’s results continue to deteriorate and they fail to qualify for the Champions League, Ronaldo may opt to leave the club early as well, given his personal desire to compete in the world’s top championships.
This might leave United with three strikers at the end of the season, heightening the need for someone who can step in and perform a job right away.
Rangnick has advised the club to re-enter the transfer market for Erling Haaland, who snubbed United in favor of Borussia Dortmund in 2019, albeit Manchester City and Real Madrid remain the frontrunners to sign the Norwegian, whose €75 million release clause becomes activated in the summer.
United’s interim manager has already stated that a younger forward is required at the conclusion of the season, even though the club acknowledges that the midfield is the ‘greatest weakness’ in their roster.
Against the top sides in Europe, United frequently falters in midfield but considering that their recent troubles against smaller opponents have been due to poor finishing, there is now an argument that a new striker should be the priority, given that it is costing them more points.
Even if Ronaldo rediscovers his scoring touch, United will need to sign a first-team-ready striker by the end of the season. If he appears to have lost them for good, that striker must be world-class as well.