Manchester United had 30 shots and seven big chances created against Middlesbrough in the FA Cup fourth-round. You’d think that would be enough to bypass the Championship club and go into the next round of the competition. Seven big chances missed, including a Cristiano Ronaldo penalty, meant that it it wasn’t that simple.
The hosts had a dire evening in front of goal. A multitude of chances fell to the likes of Ronaldo, Bruno Fernandes and Marcus Rashford, and they failed to execute each and every shot.
Even Jadon Sancho‘s opening strike, which was the first time he found the back of the net at Old Trafford, took a slight deflection on it’s way past Joe Lumley.
The pick of the bunch, though, had to be Bruno’s miss after 72 minutes, where the goal was absolutely gaping, but his side footed effort found the post rather than the lead for The Reds. That was the moment where you sat there and thought, ‘this isn’t our night’.
This unfortunately wasn’t an anomaly for Ralf Rangnick‘s side. While they’ve tightened up their defensive ship since he came in, United have not been the same ruthless team in attack that we saw throughout long periods under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
Often under the Norwegian, United would be under the cosh and looking likely to drop points, but then when they did go forward, it would often lead to goals, even if there wasn’t many chances. This kind of clinical nature dried up for the former United legend and his team towards the back-end of his tenure, which is why we saw many low-scoring draws with the other top teams; the defence were doing their job, but the clinical nature in transitions was fading away.
Then, it all kind of went south at the beginning of this season, and that brings us to the Rangnick era.
An era where we are seeing less defensive blunders and mistakes than at the start of the season, but also one where the players are struggling to find their mojo in the final third. An era where eleven games have been played, and United have only scored more than once in three of them.
You’d assume that this is the same boredom that was suffered under Louis van Gaal at times, where chances for the team were hard to come by despite having the lions-share of possession, but it’s actually the complete opposition, the opportunities in the final third are there, but either are not getting converted in chances, or those chances are largely being wasted.
I wrote about how United’s long-ranged shooting was a problem against Aston Villa last month, and this is still an issue in which we are not always looking to get the best chance of scoring. However, with 22 shots inside the area against Chris Wilder‘s men, the only excuse is poor execution, and also the rulebook, but that’s another discussion.
The FA Cup was Manchester United’s only realistic chance of lifting a trophy this season. That chance is now gone, and with the Reds 19 points behind Premier League-leaders Manchester City, hopes of avoiding a fifth year of no silverware lie on United providing a miracle in the Champions League. Stranger things have happened, but if we have to be even a tiny bit realistic… that isn’t going to happen.
A top four finish is unfortunately the objective this season for United, and in order to complete that objective, these players need to find that clinical nature which was so prominent in previous seasons once again. If they do that then there is a chance that the next permeant manager could take on a team that is gradually improving.
If the defensive improvements keep coming, and there’s a click in attack, where the likes of Bruno, Ronaldo and Rashford start showing clinical finishing, then there will be delusional fans like myself who will talk a certain European miracle into existence.
If not, then let’s fast-forward until next season.