Manchester United’s own profligacy in front of goal infuriated Ralf Rangnick as his side meandered to a 0-0 draw at home to Watford.
The Red Devils grabbed control of the game early on and seldom let up on the throttle, but they couldn’t find the decisive touch in front of the goal.
Cristiano Ronaldo’s bad luck continued as he hit the crossbar early on before finding the back of the net only to be disallowed by an offside flag.
The hosts were well on top and dominated the first half as Watford fought to keep up, but they couldn’t get the first goal before the break.
In the second half, the home team continued to create chances without really challenging Ben Foster in the Watford goal.
In the second half, Anthony Elanga and Paul Pogba both came close, while Rangnick brought on Jadon Sancho and Marcus Rashford in quest of a late winner.
However, failing to score against the relegation-threatened team would feel like two points missed and will have a significant impact on their chances of finishing in the top four.
What Rangnick got wrong
Man Utd lacks a killer instinct.
Rangnick would have had mixed feelings as he walked into the locker room at halftime. In one regard, his team had excelled, playing the flowing, fast-paced football he has expected from day one.
Despite this, they were unable to get past Ben Foster in the first half, doing everything but scoring.
Ronaldo was unlucky rather than wasteful, hitting the post and having a goal ruled out for offside. Fernandes should have taken advantage of his two big chances, while Anthony Elanga was a creative threat with his direct runs at the Watford defense.
But, after a lovely flick from Pogba, the 19-year-old should have grabbed his chance, only to blast wide from 10 yards out.
At this time in the season, outcomes count more than performances, especially given that Manchester United is in a four-way tie for fourth place with Arsenal, Tottenham Hotspur, and West Ham.
And, following their most recent failure to win at home, they can’t afford to keep blowing great chances like the one they had tonight if they want to compete in the Champions League next season.
Ronaldo’s ambitions were once again dashed.
Earlier this week, speculation centered on Cristiano Ronaldo’s future and whether the Portuguese superstar would be able to continue playing at the highest level for much longer.
The 37-year-old answered defiantly, implying that if the Red Devils fail to challenge for honors, he may have to go, such is his desire for greater success.
Rangnick chose to keep the striker as the main point of his 4-2-3-1 formation, with Bruno Fernandes, Paul Pogba, and Anthony Elanga switching roles behind him.
And Ronaldo wasted little time in making an impression, using a fantastic first touch to deflect Elanga’s cross before hitting against the post.
Then, just after the quarter-hour mark, the veteran star could not have been more than half an inch ahead of play when he tapped home from Fernandes’ cross, only to have the offside flag raised rightly.
He kept striving to find the opening goal, being passed through on goal and rounding Ben Foster before unselfishly crossing to Fernandes, who headed over the bar.
He threw everything he had at Watford, but he couldn’t get the goal that would have given himself and his team a much-needed boost. However, this served as a reminder that Ronaldo’s abilities are no longer what they once were, and he may need to acknowledge this.
Substitutes are ineffective.
Rangnick ripped up the tactics book and threw the kitchen sink at Watford, bringing in Jadon Sancho, Marcus Rashford, and Luke Shaw late on to find a winner.
However, the result was desperation on the home side, paired with groans from the home crowd.
Sancho and Rashford were unable to enter the game, and Shaw lacked the same enthusiasm as Alex Telles down the left.
Rangnick got it right
Lindelof is at ease with Maguire’s absence.
Call it rotation or a message. Rangnick kept captain Harry Maguire out of the starting XI against Watford because of the central defender’s inconsistent performances recently.
Victor Lindelof, on the other hand, has shown indications of improvement recently and earned his spot. There is a school of thinking that believes the Swede complements Raphael Varane better as a defensive partner because of his speed — and their performances suggest the hypothesis has some validity.
Watford had no chance in the first half as Varane and Lindelof remained on the edge of their box, though United’s apparent dominance of the ball was also a factor in the visitors’ lack of a goal threat.
When Watford made a rare excursion into their half late in the first half, Lindelof made a critical challenge on Emmanuel Dennis, and the tackle was met with a big cheer from the home crowd.
Clearly, his inclusion was well-received by the home crowd — and Maguire may face a battle to reclaim his starting spot at this pace.
Fred repays trust
Rangnick’s inability to sign a new central midfielder in January was viewed by the club as a dismal failure. However, recent performances by Brazilian midfielder Fred suggest that their decision was warranted.
The 27-year-old can be volatile and unpredictable, but he gives energy and a dogged work ethic in the center of the park that Nemanja Matic and Paul Pogba just do not have.
With Scott McTominay injured, it was up to Fred to gather the ball from deep and move it forward as the link man. He expertly patrolled the spaces in front of the back four, eradicating the majority of the danger in his path.
It undoubtedly helped to have a conservative Matic next to him, allowing Fred to burst forward at will while McTominay generally fills that role in the side.