Monday, March 17, 2014

Time running out fast for Moyes and United...

In a season of too many lows and disappointments, Manchester United hit rock bottom on Sunday as they lost 3-0 at home to bitter rivals Liverpool. Steven Gerrard converted two penalties and Luis Suárez compounded a thoroughly miserable day for the home fans when he finished off the champions by hammering home the final nail in United's coffin and with it went any lingering hope of finishing in those lucrative Champions League places at the end of the season.

With the game all but won and to add yet more salt into United's gaping wounds, Nemaja Vidic was sent-off after he was adjudged to have tripped Sturridge in the penalty area. Gerrard failed to complete a hat-trick of penalties when hitting the foot of the post from the resulting spot kick.

TV replays suggested that there had been minimal contact,  truth be told, Vidic had been outwitted and beaten for pace; Gary Neville, who normally avoids criticising United players had no sympathy for his former team-mate when he said "when you go down inside the box, you leave yourself wide open".

Liverpool should have been awarded a fourth penalty when moments later Michael Carrick lunged at Sturridge; having already awarded three penalties and having failed to send off Joe Flanagan and Rafael when both should have received their second yellow cards for a succession of professional fouls and handball respectively, referee Clattenburg must have felt he couldn't give an unprecedented fourth penalty against United (who says the visitors never get them at Old Trafford?).

As perhaps to be expected, David Moyes later suggested that the decisions went against his team, but he would say that; what else was he to say after such an embarrassing home defeat against Liverpool, of all teams?
As a team, both individually and collectively, United were a total shambles from start to finish. In contrast, Liverpool looked confident from the start and were always on the front foot as they pressed whenever a United player had the ball. Perhaps worst all, there was too little effort and a distinct lack of passion from those entrusted to wear the famous red shirts. United were clueless pretty much throughout this one sided encounter, that sadly is the brutal truth of the matter.

From pretty much the first minute, too many United players were too slow to react as they dithered on the ball and predictably lost possession cheaply. Fellaini was perhaps the worst culprit and as the game progressed, his performance didn't really improve. To compound matters, Mata wasn't in the game and nor was Januzaj, both had been detailed to occupy United's flanks - but that tactic hasn't really worked and it didn't work against a well organised Liverpool team. Frustratingly, and on paper at least any way, a forward line of Van Persie, Rooney, Januzaj and Mata looks as though it should be good enough to at least give any visiting team a few headaches - but as borne out by a succession of unacceptable home performances.

Granted, Ferguson left Moyes with plenty of issues to resolve when he finally retired, but it's hard to believe it was just over 12 month's ago that the former United manager uttered the following words .."The options we've got now all round the park, if we can keep everyone fit, are as good as I've had in my time here". For the record, that was January 26th, 2013, United had just dumped Fulham out of the FA Cup.  In truth, only the gullible believed what Ferguson said back then about the squad. Many United fans are of the opinion that midfield has been an area of concern ever since Roy Keane left the club under a cloud. For whatever reason, Ferguson failed to address those midfield concerns; instead he 'made do' by squeezing every last drop out of veterans Scholes and Giggs.

Whatever we think of Moyes, surely few would argue that IF Ferguson was still in charge of the same players, the team would not find itself facing the prospect of missing out on Champions League football next season and would the same players have capitulated so badly against Liverpool and without so much as a whimper? One can of course point to the 6-1 thrashing by City at Old Trafford on SAFs watch, but in the context of his tenure and his trophy winning record, Ferguson has no case to answer - other than the suggestion that he insisted that Moyes retained the nucleus of his squad for 12 months following his retirement - if indeed that is true.

Having splashed out the best part of £65m on Fellaini and Mata, and having secured Rooney's future, the worry is Moyes does not appear to have a tactical plan for the future. The team are not creating enough quality goal scoring opportunities at Old Trafford. The defence and central midfield are in need of serious surgery. Fellaini looks completely out of his depth and Mata hasn't gelled with his new team-mates.

With so much work to do and based on the money invested so far and with no real direction, is it fair to ask would you trust Moyes to spend £200m on new players?

Also consider Moyes judgement on Fellaini - a player the manager knew very well from their time together at Everton. Fellaini should NOT have been a gamble, but it looks like it's a case of £27m flushed down the transfer toilet. I sincerely hope I'm wrong on that score and Fellaini comes good, but will he?

If Moyes is lucky, he might be given until next Christmas to justify Ferguson's faith in him, but given the recent spineless performances against Liverpool and Olympiakos and with City on the horizon, you have to wonder if Moyes will be replaced in the summer if not sooner.

If Moyes stays, many changes need to happen. Carrick is not the long-term answer in central midfield, and Fellaini looks out of his depth in the United engine room. Januzaj and Mata need to either improve the defensive side of the game, or else Moyes needs to find a system that suits both of them and one that includes Rooney and Van Persie. Wherever you look in this United team, you see problems and it's going to take a lot of money to put matters right.

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