Manchester United were held to a frustrating 0-0 draw at home against Watford. The Red Devils put in a terrific display and thoroughly dominated the game. However, a string of missed chances paired with a resolute Ben Foster meant that United dropped points for the 3rd time in 5 Premier League games.
Rangnick reinstituted Aaron Wan-Bissaka to the right-back spot, with skipper Harry Maguire dropping onto the bench. Luke Shaw also made way for Alex Telles. Anthony Elanga, the hero against Atletico Madrid, replaced Jadon Sancho in the frontline.
The Red Devils started the game with all guns blazing. The backline looked composed against a lukewarm press by the Hornets. The hosts were constantly able to find Elanga, Pogba and Fernandes in space in the attacking half, and translated possession into chances too.
In a flexible 4-2-2-2 set-up, Manchester United were able to efficiently press Watford higher up the field to regain possession. On the ball, they resembled a 4-1-3-2, with Nemanja Matic dropping back as the lone DM behind Fred, Bruno and Pogba.
Ronaldo did well to control a cross from Wan-Bissaka and turned his shot onto the post within the first five minutes. Another lovely team move in the twelfth minute should have opened the scoring, but Bruno had his attempt saved after deciding to go for goal with Ronaldo open. The hosts did put the ball into the net once too, but Ronaldo’s finish off a Telles cross was correctly ruled out for offside.
United continued to stir up the Hornet’s nest, and Bruno turned a Ronaldo cross wide in front of a gaping goal. United looked tidy in possession, and appeared threatening, especially down the right flank. Watford looked woeful in possession and posed little threat to the Manchester United backline.
The Red Devils headed into the break in a situation they have often found themselves in this season. They were dominant but somehow had not killed the game yet. At half-time, Rangnick’s men had 66% of the ball and out-shot the visitors by 10 attempts to 4. However, only one of United’s attempts were actually on the goal frame.
Neither manager introduced any new players for the second period. Watford began with more intent and caused Manchester United problems in the first few minutes after the restart. The home team settled into their stride again and forced the Hornets to retreat deep into their own half. The Red Devils let another massive chance go begging when Elanga somehow placed the ball wide after latching onto a brilliant backheel by Pogba.
Rangnick introduced Jadon Sancho for Fred after the hour mark. Crystal Palace manager Roy Hodgson responded by making a double change of his own – Ken Sema and Christian Kabasele coming on for Joshua King and Jeremy Ngakia.
Sancho looked bright in his 30-minute stint. But the introduction of an additional attacker at the expense of United’s midfield workhorse affected the team balance. Paul Pogba was forced to drop deeper more often, limiting the Frenchman’s influence in the final third. More spaces opened up for Watford and the game became more end-to-end.
United remained the better side, and Foster was forced into action to thwart Ronaldo and Pogba. As the game wore on and the players got more tired, the hosts lost the structured approach that made them so dangerous in the first half. Rangnick removed Telles and the influential Matic to bring in Luke Shaw and Marcus Rashford. Watford introduced Juraj Kucka to replace former United man Tom Cleverley.
With the clock ticking, the Red Devils appeared more and more desperate. Watford themselves began to fancy a win and strung together a couple of threatening counter-attacks. Fernandes had an effort saved in the dying minutes, and on the break, Ismaila Sarr blazed an attempt of his own wide.
The final whistle brought an end to another disappointing result for the Red Devils. A misfiring frontline allowed Watford to snatch a valuable point while costing Manchester United an expensive couple. Only 3 of United’s 22 shots were on target, with Ronaldo, Elanga and Bruno all guilty of spurning quality opportunities.
Manchester United Player Ratings Against Watford:
David de Gea (GK) – 5/10: Largely a bystander for 90 minutes. Had to make two saves, and made them with minimum fuss. However, the Spaniard was poor in distribution and completed only 3 of his 6 long passes. Gave the Reds one player less while building out of their own half. In a game where United had 2/3rds of the ball and defended very little, De Gea’s poor distribution was more evident.
Aaron Wan-Bissaka (RB) – 7.5/10: One of the biggest winners from the Manchester United vs Watford game. Wan-Bissaka was unfortunate not to finish the game with an assist when Ronaldo turned his cross onto the post. The former Crystal Palace man was solid in defence and allowed Watford forwards very little space.
The English right-back was also heavily involved in attacks, and his overlapping allowed Elanga to cut in and move closer to the goal. A strong performance that makes a case for the 24-year-old full-back to reclaim his spot in the starting line-up.
Victor Lindelof (CB) – 7/10: Lindelof was barely tested, but looked solid when called upon. Was dominant in the air and allowed little to get past him. The Swedish international looked far more comfortable in his natural role as compared to an unfamiliar right-back position that he played against Atletico Madrid.
Raphael Varane (CB) – 6.5/10: A strong performance from the Frenchman, who is slowly finding his feet at Old Trafford. Varane stepped out of his line well to track Dennis, and covered space when Lindelof advanced. Rangnick would certainly want to try out this centre-back pairing more often.
Alex Telles (LB) – 6/10: Solid, if not spectacular. A decent performance from the former Porto man. Telles was often the lone outlet on the left as Pogba drifted in-field. The Brazilian looked solid defensively and was constantly an option in attack too. Had an excellent assist correctly chalked off for offside in the first half.
Nemanja Matic (CDM) – 8/10: Arguably, the Man of the Match. The whole game seemed to flow through Matic, as the Serbian distributed possession excellently. Matic was also excellent defensively and provided cover for his centre-backs well. A performance that reinforces just how important a defensive midfield signing is for the Red Devils right now.
Fred (CDM) – 6/10: The Brazilian was unfortunately hooked off early as Rangnick desperately sought a winning goal. Fred was present all over the pitch and constantly offered his teammates an option in attack. His energy off the ball was also crucial in disrupting the Hornets’ attacks. Fred affected 7 recoveries, 2 tackles and one interception in his one-hour stint. Another encouraging performance by the 28-year-old midfielder, who has been impressive ever since the German manager took charge.
Bruno Fernandes (CAM) – 6.5/10: An average game by the Portuguese’s lofty standards. Bruno was involved in everything United did in the attack but was guilty of missing some great chances to put the Red Devils ahead. His decision-making in the final third was questionable on several occasions, and only 2 of his 8 shots were on target.
Fernandes also created 3 shots for his teammates with little to show for it. A performance that would have been regarded as a ‘masterclass’ if he had a goal to show for it. Nevertheless, Bruno remains one of United’s most important players this season.
Anthony Elanga (RW) – 7.5/10: Elanga was easily the brightest spark in United’s attack. The 19-year-old was a menace down the right flank and tried to create something every time he touched the ball. Elanga was at fault for missing a gilt-edged chance in the second half but put in a well-rounded performance yet again. The Swedish forward has gone from strength to strength this season and will want to forget the glaring miss and focus on building from the rest of his impressive showing.
Paul Pogba (LW) – 7/10: Pogba started on the left but had the freedom to roam the field. He played a role similar to that of an attacking midfielder as United’s shape resembled a 4-2-2-2 on the ball. Pogba’s skill and panache were on display throughout the game, as he mesmerized defenders with his quick feet and silky technique. However, his influence waned in the second half as he was moved deeper to accommodate Jadon Sancho. Unlucky to not finish with at least one assist against his name.
Cristiano Ronaldo (CF) – 5/10: Ronaldo had an inspirational first half, and looked eager to get his name on the scoresheet. However, the 37-year-old struck a forlorn figure as the game wore on. Ronaldo was often disconnected from the rest of the team and tried to do too much by himself every time he received possession. The former Real Madrid forward also contributed a bare minimum defensively, forcing Bruno and Elanga to overextend while pressing. Overall, a poor performance that has many fans doubting whether Ronaldo should be an automatic starter under Rangnick anymore.
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Jadon Sancho – 6.5/10: Came on in the 62nd minute and looked lively. Combined well with Pogba and Telles on the left flank. Sancho’s growing importance in Rangnick’s system is growing more and more apparent with each passing game.
Marcus Rashford – 6/10: Came on in the 74th minute and had little impact. For the moment, Rashford seems to have lost his place in the team to an impressive Anthony Elanga.
Luke Shaw – 5/10: Came on in the 74th minute, and like Rashford, struggled to make an impact. Lacked urgency while the rest of the team were pushing hard for a late winner.
What did you think of United’s performance? Do you agree with the player ratings? Let us know in the comments.
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