Ronaldo again drew a blank against Watford but Ralf Rangnick has little choice up front with Edinson Cavani calling the shots over his own fitness
With 86 minutes on the clock on Saturday afternoon, Manchester United were piling forward into Watford’s box looking for a late winner only for Cristiano Ronaldo to be dispossessed.
It wasn’t the first time it had happened to the 37-year-old across the 90 minutes at Old Trafford but he appeared fed up. He looked up to the skies in exasperation and the visitors cleared again.
Frustrated reactions are at risk of becoming as synonymous with Ronaldo’s Man Utd performances as his famous ‘Siuuu’ celebrations.
And those frustrated reactions have certainly been coming more regularly than the celebrations in recent weeks. Ronaldo has managed just one goal in all competitions this calendar year.
For so long everyone had been used to seeing Ronaldo playing like a man a decade younger. Against Watford it looked like age was finally catching up with him.
But is it all his fault?
This was his fourth game in 12 days and you could tell. He was slow and sloppy and the longer the game went on the more frustrated he became.
When he saw a shot on the hour mark rebound off Anthony Elanga he put his hand on the post and looked at the floor in disbelief.
“That was not the only one [chance]. In the first half we had five massive chances then in the second half we had another three or four. Today we had enough chances to win that game,” United manager Ralf Rangnick said at full-time after a 0-0 draw with Roy Hodgsons side.
“Sometimes we were unlucky, when we hit the post, but we also had a few opportunities one-on-one with the goalkeeper. This is not luck, it is a question of sharpness and efficiency in front of goal.”
If Ronaldo is ultimately dropped then question marks still remain over who Rangnick could replace him with.
The manager said he had dropped Jadon Sancho, Harry Maguire, Marcus Rashford and Luke Shaw to the bench for this Premier League clash due to the number of games they’ve played recently. But here is the oldest player in the squad starting his fifth game in 14 days.
The current situation with Edinson Cavani is making things even more difficult.
The Uruguayan decides himself when he is fit enough to play and he has not been available for selection for the last four league games. And when he doesn’t fancy it, Ronaldo is the one tasked with leading the line.
He is the player who has been caught offside most in the league this season because his pace is not what it used to be. But that desperation to get in behind is somewhat understandable with the pressures being placed on the Portugal captain to deliver.
United’s draw against Watford was not Ronaldo’s fault. He contributed to the problems but the blame cannot be placed solely at his door.
Bruno Fernandes, Elanga and Paul Pogba all had opportunities that went astray; United had 22 shots but only three of those were on target and Rangnick has rightly placed the blame on the players rather than the coaching staff.
“Our job as coaches and head coaches is to help the team create enough chances,” Rangnick said. “If we only had two or three opportunities in the game, we could ask ourselves what we can do to create more, but the number of clear chances we had today have to be enough to win a game like this.”
Ronaldo would have agreed with his manager. When the final whistle went he threw his arms up in disbelief and headed down the tunnel. A goalless draw at home, to a side who have only kept two clean sheets all season and sit in the relegation zone, was not what the five-time Ballon D’or winner came back to Manchester for.
He thought he would be able to get United back into a title battle and instead they have a tough task battling to finish in the top four.