Man Utd 0-0 Watford: Where the game was decided - missed chances, Pogba’s position and second-half slump
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The Premier League fixture at Old Trafford was one of frustration for Ralf Rangnick’s side, who were the dominant force in the game but failed to turn that into goals.
It means the Red Devils and Watford shared the points in an encounter that could have a huge impact on the Champions League places and the relegation places.
But where was the game decided and what factors determined its outcome?
Let’s start with the obvious; United’s profligacy in front of goal is what ultimately cost the Red Devils on Saturday. United registered 22 shots throughout the afternoon, but only three were on target.
Among the biggest chances spurned were Bruno Fernandes’s one-on-one effort in the first period, an opportunity where Cristiano Ronaldo was forced wide of goal by the onrushing Ben Foster, while the Watford goalkeeper had to scramble across his line in the second half to keep out an effort that last deflected off Ronaldo.
The Portugal international, who again struggled, also hit the post in the first period when he really should have found the target, while Ronaldo had a goal ruled out for offside early on.
This isn’t a standalone incident for United where they’ve failed to kill off games after a strong first half showing, and should they miss out on a Champions League spot that will ultimately be the reason why.
While Ragnick’s side were wasteful in front of goal, there was no issue with United’s creativity. In fact, the Red Devils’ shape caused Watford real issues in the early stages of the game.
United operated in a 4-2-3-1 shape against Watford, with Paul Pogba playing from a wide left position. However, the Frenchman rarely stayed there, and he habitually floated inside and into the advanced areas in the opening 45 minutes.
It created plenty of space for United’s players to move into, with Alex Telles, Fernandes and even Ronaldo at times shifting out there.
The system meant it was difficult to pick up Pogba and stop him finding passes at Old Trafford, although it ultimately was to no avail.
It’s been a constant theme since the turn of the year that United are struggling to perform as effectively in the second half after a solid first period.
That was partly the case on Saturday, with the Red Devils certainly creating their better chances in the opening 45 minutes.The likes of Aaron Wan-Bisska, Fernandes and Ronaldo also weren’t as effective after the break.
However, this problem wasn’t as evident as in recent games against Middlesbrough, Burnley and Brighton & Hove Albion, where the opposition created more attacks and scoring opportunities.
Rangnick’s in-game substitutions have been transformative in each of the last two matches, but that wasn’t the case on Saturday.
In particular, the decision to take off Fred on 62 minutes didn’t benefit the team, and they did lose a little bit of energy and pressing in the middle after he was withdrawn.
While Jadon Sancho, who replaced Fred, did impress, the substitution saw Pogba push into the centre after he had been so effective cutting inside from the left. He failed to have the same impact through the middle.
Luke Shaw and Marcus Rashford were also brought off the bench late on but neither made a telling contribution to the game.
Stopping the breakaways
Although it was United who created the majority of the chances at Old Trafford, Watford did offer a threat themselves.
The speed of Emmanuel Dennis and Ismaila Sarr caused United issues on the counter-attack at times, and they were forced into a few good moments of defending.
Victor Lindelof put in a great slide tackle to stop Dennis’s dangerous run in the first half, while Raphael Varane intercepted a cross and blocked a shot from the Watford striker within a few seconds during the second period.
But over the course of 90 minutes, United’s defenders were rarely called into action and saw a lot of possession against Roy Hodgson’s organised side.