Sunday 21 January 2018

Mark Ogden: Moyes must act to prevent setback turning into crisis

Mark Ogden looks at five key areas of concern for United boss as he bids to pick up pieces after City mauling

David Moyes
David Moyes

London Daily Telegraph

Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic were once the bedrock of United's defence, playing back-to-back games on a regular basis, but this season is the first time in almost four years that their workload has been so intense.

Ferdinand and Vidic have started all six of United's games this season, whereas in the past they would have been rotated and rested by Alex Ferguson.

Rafael da Silva's hamstring injury has led to Phil Jones and Chris Smalling being deployed at right-back but, with Jones sidelined through injury, Moyes has resisted the opportunity to play Jonny Evans in place of Ferdinand or Vidic at centre-half.

The failure to sign Leighton Baines from Everton has left Patrice Evra without top-class cover, so three 30-somethings have been asked to play every game so far this season.

Against Manchester City, Ferdinand and Evra appeared to be suffering from fatigue, while Vidic struggled against the power of Alvaro Negredo.

Further forward, Michael Carrick has also started every game, but United risk key players burning out in March and April if they are overworked now.

2 No Fergie, no fear

Although Moyes has been embraced and supported by United's senior players, there are fewer fearful glances to the new manager on the touchline from the players on the pitch.

Ferguson insisted that fear alone was not enough to cajole the crucial extra 5pc of effort from players, but during 27 years as manager, the Scot's track record of ruthlessness ensured instant respect – and fear.

Just three months into the job, Moyes cannot expect to have the players looking nervously over their shoulders as they would have been under Ferguson.

Until he faces down a big player and wins – like Ferguson did with Roy Keane, Ruud van Nistelrooy, Paul Ince and many others – Moyes must motivate the players with other qualities.

It is too early for Moyes to seek a sacrificial lamb – Ferguson waited two years before axing stars, the underperforming Norman Whiteside and Paul McGrath – but those players letting the manager down will not want to be the first victim.

3 Weak in midfield

From his first day in the job, Moyes had made it a priority to strengthen his midfield options with the recruitment of at least two players.

Ultimately, he was only able to sign Belgian international Marouane Fellaini, but it is anticipated that United will return for Athletic Bilbao's Ander Herrera in January and potentially target a third midfield recruit.

Against Manchester City, Moyes' concerns over his midfield department were exposed by the mobility and efficiency of Fernandinho and the buccaneering power of Yaya Toure.

United were repeatedly over-run, with Fellaini struggling to get involved and Michael Carrick once again left isolated.

Liverpool also dominated United's midfield at Anfield last month, while Chelsea have consistently overpowered them in the same area.

Midfield is the engine room of any team, but United are running like a 1.6-litre Ford Focus against the Jaguars and Bentleys of their main rivals.

4 Much too cautious

Ferguson claimed earlier this month that a key ingredient of his success as a manager was his gambler's instinct and a readiness to be bold.

So when Moyes chose to keep faith with the ineffective Ashley Young at half-time during the 4-1 defeat at City, and then replace him with a midfielder in Tom Cleverley six minutes into the second half to push Fellaini forward, it jarred with Ferguson's 'fortune favours the brave' ethos.

Moyes has yet to prove his credentials as a risk-taker – the substitution of Danny Welbeck for Ryan Giggs in the 0-0 draw against Chelsea last month also hinted at a safety-first approach.

At times, Moyes was criticised at Everton for cautious tactics and substitutions – perhaps unfairly considering the lack of game-changers at his disposal – but the expectancy created by Ferguson at United ensures that the supporters will demand the manager to be on the front foot in every aspect.

Ferguson was not immune to criticism over tactics, with the Scot's selection of Ji-Sung Park in a 4-5-1 formation for the derby defeat against City proving decisive in United's 2011-12 title failure.

5 No creativity

United's lack of creativity in the final third prompted Moyes to pursue Cesc Fabregas and Herrera during the transfer window, yet the failure to sign either has left the team without a genuine attacking midfielder.

As a result, United are struggling to break opponents down to the extent that they have now failed to score from open play in the league since the opening-day victory at Swansea.

Two Wayne Rooney free-kicks and a Robin van Persie penalty are the sum total of United's goals in the four league games since Swansea, with no goals scored against Chelsea or Liverpool.

With a growing clamour from the terraces for Shinji Kagawa to be handed the chance to revitalise United's attacking play, Moyes may be forced to find a way to accommodate the Japanese playmaker in order to boost his team's goal threat.

In Kagawa's only start so far this season, United scored four goals in the Champions League victory over Bayer Leverkusen, where his presence enabled Rooney and Van Persie to find extra space. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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