Thursday 22 February 2018

Old Trafford stalked by pessimism and fear

Manchester United Manager David Moyes
Manchester United Manager David Moyes


It would not take Saatchi & Saatchi too long to come up with a slogan to sum up Manchester United's torrid season.

'David Moyes isn’t working’ would be a remodelling of something they have produced before but, as the home supporters drained out of Old Trafford at the end of a 3-0 humiliation at the hands of Liverpool, enough were raging against their sinking manager to suggest that those four words would perfectly encapsulate the mood.

Whichever way the former Everton manager may attempt to spin the situation he and his team are now in, his methods clearly are not working and neither are his players. Five home defeats in 14 league games this season, drifting among the dead-men in seventh position and now ripped apart by the club’s most bitter rivals – a defeat which could propel Liverpool towards their first title in 24 years – there are no positives on to which Moyes can cling.

A 3-0 victory against Olympiakos on Wednesday, which would put United into the Champions League quarter-finals, is perhaps the only result which can now save Moyes.

But with pessimism and fear now replacing cocksure self-belief at Old Trafford, the prospect of the Manchester City juggernaut inflicting another ninety minutes of pain and suffering next Tuesday is what many suspect, and dread, will lie around the corner.

Had Moyes been employed by any other footballing superpower and presided over such a disastrous run of results, his tenure would have been cut short weeks ago. His survival at United is based on the club’s determination to give the manager time to reshape the squad and team in his image, reduce the average age of the squad and promote from within.

However, too many fingers have been pointed at Sir Alex Ferguson for bequeathing an ageing squad and therefore leaving Moyes with a bad hand. There is no escaping the fact that Ferguson left a squad in need of renewal, but that team was handed over as Premier League champions, one which won the title by an eleven point margin.

With Liverpool emerging from Old Trafford with three goals and three points, the swing from United to Liverpool from last season to this now stands at 43 points.

So what is wrong? How have United become football’s equivalent of Ian Baker-Finch, the Open champion who could not hit a green from the moment he lifted the Claret Jug in 1991? The concern for United’s owners, the Glazer family, is that Moyes himself has no answer.

“It’s difficult to explain it,” Moyes said. “I felt as if the players were in good shape and good fettle going into this game, but we didn’t get to the standards required to beat Liverpool. I just think that Liverpool played well and we didn’t play as well as we can. We’ll work to make that better.”

Failure to beat Liverpool extended United’s record of securing to just one victory against a top-nine team this season – the 1-0 home win against Arsenal in November – but Moyes could also not explain that conundrum. “It tells you that we’re not doing as well as we should be,” Moyes said. “We have to play better and we’re going to have to make ourselves harder to beat, harder to play against and we’re also going to have to make sure we’re creating more and taking more of our opportunities so we’ve got a lot to do to do both of those things. The job was always going to be hard. Is it harder than I imagined? Yes, I would say so. Yes.”

There is an argument to suggest that Moyes has made the job harder than it needed to be, by clearing out Ferguson’s backroom team in favour of an unproven group of coaches from Goodison Park.

His strange omission of Ryan Giggs in recent weeks, a player whose composure on the ball was badly needed against Liverpool, is another issue. There are also question marks over his decision to sign Marouane Fellaini and his inability to get anything approaching the best from Juan Mata, a £37.1m January signing who hardly arrived with the credentials to solve the team’s most pressing issues.

Moyes, however, has no time to consider regrets or mistakes with Olympiakos bringing the first of three games in six days which could shape Moyes’s fate. The patience of the fans is beginning to wear out and Wednesday might see it evaporate once and for all. “Results will always dictate that,” Moyes said. “But I can only tell you what I’ve seen today and the supporters were terrific.

“Everybody wants to win whatever game they play and we’re all desperate to put things right and make sure we play better and give the supporters something to shout about. They shouted plenty and we hadn’t given them anything on the field.”

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