Man United control fails to lead to goals against Watford as their grip on the top four weakens

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MANCHESTER, England — Manchester United finished their game against Watford on Saturday with Cristiano Ronaldo, Bruno Fernandes, Paul Pogba, Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Anthony Elanga on the pitch and still have not found a goal.

Saturday’s 0-0 draw at Old Trafford dented their hopes of a top-four finish, particularly ahead of a series of league games against Manchester City, Tottenham and Liverpool over the next three weeks. United manager Ralf Rangnick had to answer questions about how his side managed to have 22 shots on goal and only hit the target three times, but this was one of those occasions when it had nothing to do with him.

– Report: Man United rue missed chances in Watford draw

United played well from start to finish, but Ronaldo, Fernandes and Elanga all missed golden chances. Ronaldo squandered the best after just five minutes when he twisted in the penalty area and hit the post when he should have scored. In the ensuing 85 minutes, the Portuguese striker – who scored more than 800 goals in a remarkable career – looked like a shadow of the player United supporters hoped would have arrived from Juventus last summer. . It’s now a goal in 10 for the 37-year-old.

“It’s again like two lost points that we should have easily won,” Rangnick said afterwards. “We did everything but score, we had enough chances in both halves to win this game, but we didn’t and, not for the first time, we lost two points in a game. Very important.”

The last time United played Watford they lost 4-1 at Vicarage Road and it cost Ole Gunnar Solskjaer his job. There have been changes since under Rangnick, but despite being more organized and better defensively, scoring goals is a problem.

In 17 games under the 63-year-old German, United have scored two or more goals five times. They only needed one against Watford, but after 93 minutes of wasted chances, Ben Foster, at 38 years and 329 days, had become the oldest visitor goalkeeper to keep a clean sheet at Old Trafford. For context, 19th in the table Watford have the third-worst defensive record in the league behind only Leeds United and Norwich and on Wednesday they were beaten 4-1 at home by Crystal Palace.

“We had enough chances, in the first half we had four clear chances which are normally enough to score at least one or two goals and the second half was similar,” Rangnick added. “In the end, it’s a question of efficiency, of being clinical in front of goal, and it’s not the first time unfortunately.

“Other than that we were totally in control of the game, we dominated the game. In the last five minutes they had one or two transitional moments, and other than that we completely dominated the game.”

Rangnick’s frustration will be that there was a lot to like about United’s performance, but without a goal it means very little. He wants his teams to control games, and he got it on Saturday. He likes clean sheets and gets it too: it’s the first time United have kept consecutive home clean sheets in the league since 2020. Rangnick remains convinced his football is attacking enough to win games, and he was telling afterwards he seemed to place blame for the result against Watford at the feet of the players rather than a failed game plan.

“Our job as coaches and head coaches is to help the team create enough chances,” Rangnick said. “If we only had two or three chances in the game, we might wonder what we can do to create more, but the number of clean chances we had today must be enough to win a game. like this one.”

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United should have been home and watered down after just 20 minutes. After Ronaldo hit the post with the best chance of the game early on, Fernandes had a shot saved by Foster after being played in by Elanga, Ronaldo had a goal ruled out for offside and Fernandes pushed wide after an inviting cross from the left by Pogba. .

Watford manager Roy Hodgson, a two-time winner at Old Trafford as Crystal Palace manager, has said damningly the way his side defended “wasn’t rocket science”.

It says it all about the form of United’s attacking players that 19-year-old Elanga was by far their best player and had a few others shown the youngster’s movement and urgency Rangnick might well have ended the afternoon in speaking of a vital victory in the race for Champions League football. Instead, the interim coach would be forgiven for looking nervously at the fixture list.

United take on Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium next weekend before a home game against Tottenham on March 12 and a trip to Anfield to face Liverpool on March 20. Rangnick’s side are fourth although Arsenal, two points behind and with three games less, will feel it is in their hands. United cannot afford many more missed chances.

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