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Who's to blame now? Ronaldo-less Man Utd underwhelm once more in Burnley draw

22:30 GMT 08/02/2022
Bruno Fernandes Manchester United 2021-22
The Red Devils slipped out of the Premier League's top four with a draw at Burnley as they yet again lost their way despite taking the lead early on

Match statistics: Burnley 1-1 Man Utd

One of the many problems with Manchester United at the moment is that they are so predictable. 

On Tuesday, in a severe case of deja-vu, Ralf Rangnick’s side dominated the first half against Burnley, only to concede shortly after the break, and from there lost all confidence as they squandered their chance of victory. 

Think you have heard this story before? That is because you have, just four days ago, against Middlesbrough.

What looked like it should have been a straightforward evening for United against the Premier League's bottom side ended with them dropping out of the top four, as their 1-1 draw at Turf Moor allowed West Ham to leapfrog them following the Irons' own win over Watford.

To add perhaps further confusion to the matter, Cristiano Ronaldo was not even on the field for most of the evening, meaning that the blame has been put on him in recent weeks will now have to placed elsewhere.

In truth, those who have called out Ronaldo saw their arguments given extra fuel in the first 45 minutes. The Portugal international was dropped to the bench here, and the front three of Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Edinson Cavani were far more fluid and dangerous without him.

It if were not for Nick Pope in the Burnley goal and two debatable decisions from the officials to chalk off a Raphael Varane header and a Ben Mee own goal, then the Red Devils would have gone in with a healthy lead at the break.

Like against Middlesbrough, they were dominant, and Paul Pogba's first goal in 384 days was the least they deserved.

But here lies the problem: they seem incapable of producing that level of performance over 90 minutes.

The same thing happened at Aston Villa, where they squandered a two-goal lead, and again after going 1-0 up against Middlesbrough.

The finger of blame can be pointed at missed chances and a lack of clinical finishing before the opposition strike back, but this team should have enough talent and will to win within it to fight back from the disappointment of conceding an equaliser.

Instead, they struggled to create many chances of note in the second half, registering no shots on target after the break, and instead David de Gea was suddenly called into action on multiple occasions having been a spectator for much of the first half.

Perhaps the most obvious problems in this game lied in the defence, where Harry Maguire had a night to forget.

Having first been penalised for the foul that led to Varane's goal being disallowed, he then over-committed in trying to challenge Wout Weghorst moments into the second period, leaving space behind him that eventually led to Jay Rodriguez's equaliser.

That was Burnley's first home league goal against United since 2009, and just the third goal they have scored in their last 731 minutes of football, with two of those having now come against Rangnick's team after Aaron Lennon's strike at Old Trafford in late December.

Maguire was also fortunate to avoid a red card after blocking off Rodriguez when he looked like he might have a free run on the United goal, and Rangnick certainly needs to find a way to shore up his backline going forward.

At the other end of the pitch, having kissed his shinpads on his bench, Ronaldo was thrown out into the wind and the rain for the final 22 minutes.

He could only manage a couple of off-target headers, however, with the 37-year-old now on his longest goal drought for a decade having gone five games without a goal.

As is becoming his trademark, he stormed straight off the pitch at full time, showing no acknowledgment to anyone on the pitch or the away support behind him.

But while questions will continue to surface regarding Ronaldo's attitude, the on-the-field failings at United cannot rest solely on his shoulders.

He has not been named in the starting line-up on just four occasions in the Premier League since his triumphant return in September, and not one of those games has ended in a win (four draws).

Tuesday night highlighted that Ronaldo might be a problem, but not the problem for Manchester United. If they cannot work out the a solution to whatever the problem is, then their new permanent manager could yet be taking charge of Europa League matches early next season.