Moral victories may be as good as it gets for Moyes as Mourinho marches on
In a season of constant soul searching for supporters at Old Trafford, midweek offered another painful reminder of what might have been.
On Tuesday night Jose Mourinho recreated similar touchline scenes to that of his iconic celebrations at Old Trafford in 2004 when his unheralded Porto knocked the hosts out of the Champions League with a dramatic late goal.
Stamford Bridge witnessed another Houdini act as Demba Ba broke Parisian hearts, though The Special One claimed subsequently he was merely delivering instructions to his strikers with the game nearing its conclusion.
The Special One is focused on a third Champions League triumph, and victory with his beloved Chelsea would be the sweetest of the lot.
In order to fuel his own ego and also undermine the work of previous manager Rafa Benitez, the Portuguese native was quick to point out the improvement this season of the Blues.
Title hopes may be fading, but the Blues are still in the mix and certainly will not finish 14 points behind the champions, as was the case last year. Perhaps only Arsene Wenger would take last year’s Europa League success over a Champions League semi-final.
Should Atletico Madrid edge past the Blues to reach the penultimate stage of Europe’s premier competition, they will do it the hard way.
Patrice Evra offered more than a glimpse of hope for United’s European aspirations at the Allianz Arena when for the second time in a week, they took the lead against the reigning champions.
However a rapid-fire equaliser and the game-plan fell by the wayside. United were set-up to spoil and chasing a team has proven difficult against lesser lights domestically, never mind Europe’s kingpins.
As has been the case so often this season, Evra’s strike was a case of one step forward followed by three steps back as Bayern demonstrated the gulf in class to run out comfortable winners. Comfortable was the theme over both legs as Moyes’ men averaged less than 35 per cent possession over 180 minutes of action.
Even the sternest critics of the former Everton boss have allowed for caveats. An ageing squad, the lurking figure of Ferguson, financial constraints, vast improvements of Premier League rivals and a horror show in the transfer market last summer. That should not distract from some clear failings that may prove irreversible.
An alarming trait is Moyes’ complete aversion to risk, regardless of the circumstances. He is reactive, the polar opposite to Mourinho, who conceded that it was a big gamble adding Torres and Ba to the fray to chase down PSG's lead. In the 2-0 defeat to Olympiakos, Javier Hernandez was rooted to the bench while an away goal could have eased the pressure in the return leg.
The Mexican striker saw a total of 19 minutes of action in the quarter-finals. Adnan Januzaj, so often one of United’s few sources of comfort this season, saw even less action. Moyes is reluctant to throw caution to the wind no matter the situation, operating as if he is still managing the away team at Old Trafford. Dissenting voices at Old Trafford are adamant that a leopard cannot change its spots.
Moral victories were never part of the Ferguson DNA but that too has changed. Anyone who missed the scoreline but tuned in for analysis of the 1-1 draw at home to the German champions could easily have been forgiven for thinking the Red Devils were travelling to Munich in the ascendancy such was the positive spin.
Downbeat sound bites, a questionable outlay on Marouane Fellaini and an implementation of direct football are some of the many criticisms hurled at Moyes. That Roberto Martinez has transformed Everton with their brand of football as they challenge for a Champions League spot is merely rubbing salt in the wounds. Yet lest we forget this was Ferguson’s choice.
The role of player-coach Ryan Giggs is another head-scratching issue. The Welshman was used very sparingly after Christmas, followed by a positive contribution when drafted back into the first-team, including a highly influential performance at Old Trafford against Olympiakos. Thrust into the starting line-up to face Bayern in the first leg, he lasted until the interval and didn’t feature at all in the return leg.
After 17 seasons in the competition, the competition's all-time record holder most likely ended his European career on the bench.
We might never find out why Mourinho was snubbed by the Scot. Misgivings from the board were the first signs that a return to the Premier League would not be to Manchester.
One of the counter arguments to Mourinho succeeding his fellow vineyard enthusiast was that he would leave the club in chaos after his term was up. An ageing squad would be left for the next manager with little foundations to build on, regardless whether there was silverware in the cupboard.
The irony may not be lost on The Special One.
He is now left to calculate another assault of the Champions League, with Lisbon the venue adding to the significance. A victory over high-flying Liverpool at Anfield could also reignite domestic ambitions.
Moyes and Mourinho took up office last summer with different squads, contrasting ambitions and deviating football philosophies. The outspoken Portuguese has improved his club significantly, as he reminds the public at every opportunity. That will remain the case should the Londoners end the campaign empty-handed. The same cannot be said for his United counterpart.
“If you're a schoolboy, you're told not to concede a goal straight away after scoring,” the Manchester United boss said after Bayern’s rapid-fire equaliser in the Allianz Arena.
Using the educational analogy, Moyes should be cognisant of the fact that when there is a problem with one schoolboy, it is easy to pawn it off as a poor reflection on the child.
When there seems to be a widespread problem with the entire class where results have regressed dramatically, then it is the teacher who remains largely culpable.