David Moyes' bid to save job entering final phase
Under-pressure boss facing decisive five-game period as he looks to finish off season of woe on positive note
David Moyes is entering the most decisive period of his reign as Manchester United manager with five games over the next month to banish doubts over the safety of his position.
Such is United's attention to detail off the pitch and determination to remain one step ahead of the rest commercially, a finely tuned operation now enables them to monitor social media to gauge the perception of their brand and leading figures.
It could be argued that, with Twitter, Facebook and a whole raft of websites now being watched by United, the noise and chatter of the Twittersphere is one thing that Moyes does not need to concern himself with as he attempts to survive, and then rebuild, at Old Trafford this summer.
With United's campaign of woe now reduced to five end-of-season games battling for the dubious prize of a place in the Europa League after the Champions League elimination against Bayern Munich, Moyes' future as manager will not become certain until the dust has settled on his first season in charge.
Whether he will be trusted by the Glazer family to invest in excess of £120m on new players following such an unimpressive debut campaign at the club remains to be seen, although the odds are slightly in his favour.
Results and performances over the remaining fixtures will be central to Moyes' prospects, but supporter apathy and hostility is rarely a positive combination for any under-pressure manager.
The social media reaction to United's defeat in Munich suggests the Scot is in danger of becoming a trending topic for the wrong reasons. Moyes' tactics and public comments have regularly been used as a stick with which to beat the 50-year-old this season, but his decision to play Wayne Rooney for 90 minutes in the Allianz Arena on Wednesday, despite subsequently admitting the player was struggling to strike the ball properly due to the pain of a toe injury, prompted anger among supporters.
In response to a tweet from United's official Twitter site, saying, "David Moyes says 'small errors' cost pounds mufc vs Bayern Munich on Wednesday night", the response was an avalanche of cutting replies such as "the only error was appointing him," "the bigger error was his appointment" and "Sir Alex's biggest error was picking him."
Moyes rode the storm when a small group of supporters hired a plane trailing a message for him to go last month and successive league victories against Aston Villa and Newcastle have restored calm following calamitous home defeats against Liverpool and Manchester City.
While Moyes' players raised their game in both legs of the quarter-final against Bayern, the forthcoming fixtures against Everton, Norwich, Sunderland, Hull and Southampton are a return to grim reality for United. End the season well and Moyes is likely to be trusted to continue the job he has started, but his position will again come under scrutiny if the campaign ends badly. Behind the scenes, there is admiration at senior levels for the work Moyes has undertaken at United in modernising areas such as scouting and analytics. Such achievements may appear trivial to the supporter interested only in seeing United win, but with the club being run, in the words of one senior figure, "like North Korea" by Alex Ferguson, Moyes' modernisation is regarded as a crucial element of his job.
Moyes' detractors among the club's supporters – and there also remain players who have misgivings over his approach – cite his style of play as being alien to United's tradition.
With players such as Bayern Munich's Toni Kroos, Southampton's Luke Shaw, Paris St-Germain forward Edinson Cavani and Sporting Lisbon midfielder William Carvalho identified as leading targets, Moyes would argue that his team, with his players, would enable him to produce an outfit with the flair and ambition of previous United sides.
United midfielder Darren Fletcher admits the club's players, as well as their manager, also face a month that could make or break their Old Trafford careers.
"We now have five or six league games left with nothing really to play for and that is a unique experience for us," Fletcher said. "We are disappointed and hurting, but we have to go into these games and win them.
"If you get a chance to play, you have to go and impress the manager and show him that you are capable of being here next year. He will definitely look back on this season and realise it was a disappointment, but I fully expect there to be some signings. So it is time to show the manager that you deserve to be at this club."
Meanwhile, United's pre-season friendly against Real Madrid in Ann Arbor, Michigan, on August 2 has been declared a 109,000 sell-out – understood to be the biggest attendance for a United game – on the first day of tickets being placed on sale. (© Daily Telegraph, London)