Sport Soccer

Thursday 14 December 2017

Moyes must invest in creativity to restore Red Devils' old aura

Alan Hansen

Theories abound as to what Manchester United lack this season compared to under Alex Ferguson. In a word, it is a sense of 'inevitability'.

You could see how games were going to unfold under Ferguson. When United took the lead in fixtures such as yesterday's in Cardiff, they'd ease their way to three points.

If they were behind, you'd see that typical surge in the closing stages, a 10-minute spell of incessant attacking where their supporters came to expect victory to be snatched from the jaws of defeat, and rivals were left to shake their heads at the sheer predictability of another late comeback.

David Moyes' task is to recreate that force of nature – call it an aura if you like – where the players never know when they are beaten and feel when they take the lead it is going to take something particularly extraordinary to beat them, or at least stop them winning.

The worry for United in the early stage of this season is they are giving away so many sloppy points and they no longer possess the ruthlessness of old.

In some ways, I feel a bit sorry for Moyes because the warning signs were there before he took over. For the last three years we've analysed this United squad and argued it was not comparable to the great sides Ferguson built.

Winning the title twice in three years – it would have been three in three but for Manchester City's last-gasp victory in 2012 – seemed to undermine this argument. If you win the title, you have the right to say you're the best. Some of us were told we'd got it wrong highlighting the weaknesses of United's squad this time a year ago.

The truth is, last season, United were the most effective and efficient team with the best manager, but they did not have the best players.

At times United played extremely poorly in games – particularly in the early months – giving away stupid goals and finding themselves in situations where they'd have to launch one of their traditional comebacks.

They consistently got themselves out of trouble and that won them the league, especially as their nearest challengers offered so little resistance.

That was never going to last and those who forewarned of improvements being needed under new management were correct. There is no great surprise that the vulnerabilities noted during the last two years have become more prevalent now.

United will go into the January transfer window needing the creative midfielder to replace Paul Scholes they failed to sign last summer, which means the transfer deadline day purchase of Marouane Fellaini will continue to prompt scrutiny.

Fellaini does not yet look what you would call a typical United player. He is struggling since making the step up.

For Everton, his game was all about getting himself in the final third, showing great physicality, aerial prowess, winning high balls and showing a deft touch for one so tall.

United do not play like Everton did last season. You need to be more technically gifted in central midfield to play for a team like United, able to use your right and left foot to create openings for your strikers, as well as contributing goals of your own.

Fellaini is not the replacement for Scholes – a virtually impossible task for most players in the world anyway. Instead, he looks like a Plan B. An alternative if you need a tactical rethink because the usual United strategy of passing through teams is not working. United will go into the transfer window still searching for the midfielder who will execute Plan A.

It was a surprise when United signed Fellaini at the end of the transfer window because, having chased Cesc Fabregas for so long, it was clear the type of midfielder they knew they wanted. Instead, they paid £27m for a different type.

At a club of United's stature, the judgment is swift and brutal. You have to deliver quickly to prove you're worth your shirt.

Some have suggested United's top-four position is in jeopardy. That is ludicrous. There is no way United won't finish in a Champions League spot and, for all their early-season problems, they're still only seven points behind. It's hardly insurmountable.

A Champions League place will represent a solid start for Moyes, but he's at a club which does not settle for second best, let alone fourth. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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