Season of Misery: Whom to blame for Manchester United`s debacle?

Last Updated: Wednesday, March 12, 2014 - 23:33

Rishabh Mishra

It was in May 2013, the reign at Old Trafford changed its guard to bid goodbye to one of the greatest manager and its aftermath was dreading, as no one in this world would have dreamt of United hitting such a monumental low. There was always an air of suspicion regarding Moyes whether he was the right choice, considering the fact that all the top clubs were headed by managers whose CV boasted of medals in the footballing world.

The only positive about Moyes being an obvious choice at Old Trafford was the fact that he had been a faithful servant at Goodison Park and had done a fantastic job with limited funds. But unfortunately, under Moyes it has become a routine for the club to take one step forward, to revert it to two backwards, which is hurting many including the decision makers at United.

It all started a bit shakily for Moyes with Cesc Fabregas deal going to the live wire, and ending up with an expensive Fellaini. It was soon forgotten when United won their first game convincingly, with van Persie starting where he had ended last season and Rooney doing just what was expected from him. But then there was a surge of tsunami to hit Moyes and his men, and even in their dreams, anyone wouldn’t have imagined that the team which had won the title for the 20th time last season, would barely get a chance to get their legs into the top four. Unfortunately, the fans have been suspiciously seeing the future of Red Devils, and are left wondering whether the giants would find their momentum, ever again.

Just a week before, when United’s only hope of a silverware was hit hard by Olympiacos in UEFA Champions League, it was none other than Moyes who at the press conference took the blame for the lacklustre display by the team. You may feel for Moyes who is running out of excuses this season, but even United’s hierarchy would know it’s not Moyes who is to be blamed for the kind of performance his team has displayed.

The players have not delivered even when Moyes has played through the same tactics deployed by Sir Alex Ferguson, and this is what makes many wonder where are they going wrong. If there needs to be an analysis of the way United have been playing, someone with an astute knowledge of football would be able to pin point some definite pattern where the team has been lacking.

Moyes has preferred six players on the back-line this season - Patrice Evra, Chris Smalling, Nemanja Vidic, Rafael, Johny Evans and Rio Ferdinand. Starting with Patrice Evra - the left back has been off-colour for most part of this season. There has been nothing wrong in delivery of crosses through his end, but he doesn`t synchronize with the actual job of a left back. It seems age is taking its toll on him and he has lost the feet to go back and do his job as a defender.

This explains the very obvious reason why most of the attacks against United have been manufactured from his guarding flank. Rio Ferdinand - the 35-year-old veteran of United, was one of the biggest asset at the back line, but the fact that he is lacking the agility to come forward to block a forward attacker, shows that it is time he should let the guard down, or United start looking for a formidable option.

Heading to Chris Smalling, he is just the kind of player who is trying his level best to become a true United player. He works hard and that shows on the field but there is a serious question on his composure, when put under stress. But with the known fact that he is still young and all the great central defenders had been given chances during their younger days, it’s essential to give playing time to Smalling as well.

Rafael - the Brazilian doesn’t have a typical body habitus which would fit into the lines of world class defenders, but the point that he does has pace and the urgency to sense back the danger and return back for the tackle, has lead Moyes to include him to guard the right flank. The problem Rafael faces is, because of his height, at times he faces difficulty clearing long crosses – something which is a matter of concern for United strategists.

Johny Evans along with Nemanja Vidic are the most formidable defensive duo United have had this season. Vidic has been phenomenal sensing the right gaps and tackling just at the right moment to keep the side out of danger, but unfortunately, this is his last season with the team. Evans, with his clearance, has shown how he has become a reliable and competent defender, but when it comes to tactically avoiding the panic from other pace lacking defenders, he looks incompetent to cover them.

Wingers have been the most important aspect of United`s game in the past. Leaving apart Januzaj and Valencia, both Young and Nani have lacked that attacking agility and accuracy to send as many crosses, as the waiting strikers would have wanted. Valencia is not one of the best wingers in the world, but he gives the option of chasing back on the counter attacks, and creates the kind of width required for a midfielder to get into the spaces. He is the kind of player who gives more than 100 percent on the field and for many fans, he has been the most consistent performer for United this season.

When it comes to Young, the only thing which drives the England international, seems to be the criticism he has received from the fans. Whenever he has been criticised, he has delivered, but at this level, consistency is what matters the most. Young seems to be the kind of talent, who wants to perform well, but only in spurts just to keep his place in the playing XI.

No one can forget the immense talent Nani showed during his early days with United, while he was paired with compatriot Cristiano Ronaldo. But as time passed, Ronaldo improved to become a super-star, while just the opposite happened with Nani. The Portuguese has been given a five-year contract booster at United, which is mystifying, considering the kind of form he has displayed till now. It seems the only definition of being a winger for him, is to whip that ball into the box, but that too without any aim.

Talking about Januzaj, since his debut at the Stadium of Light, he has been the light of the team so far this season. It may seem too undermining of his talent, but United cannot always rely on the young shoulders of a 17-year-old to make most of their attacking moves, while trailing against a team. But then, this just shows the kind of exceptional talent Januzaj has. He is one of the best wingers in the making, and might prove to be the right owner of jersey No. 7.

A lot has been said about United’s midfield this season. Considering the options United have – Fellaini, Carrick, Cleverly, Mata and Fletcher. For majority of these stars, it seems, ball retention is sufficient enough to warrant a place at the core of one of the biggest football clubs in the world. The midfield creativity of this club was never going to be at the level of Bayern or Barcelona, but it was counteracted by the exceptional wing play.

With current wingers performing sub-par, the midfield has been exposed. Carrick and Fellaini have looked a lot static when receiving the ball. It’s surprising to see how much room Cleverly has, but instead, he is left looking around for attacking options to drop deep into the space to take the passes. Fletcher has looked a lot better option and he is getting into the likes of the so called box-to-box midfielders, but it’s surprising that Moyes hasn’t trusted him enough, to give that required playing time.

Juan Mata - the 37 million buy, is just the addition United would have wanted, as his inclusion has brought a lot of energy. He is just the kind of modern midfielder, as he has several strings to his bow. The current midfielders being on the scrawny side, isn’t much helping the team on the ball winning and tackling fronts, which are also important aspects of any midfielder. The problem Rafael faces is, because of his lower height, at times he faces difficulty clearing long crosses, which is probably a worrying part for United strategists.

When we talk about the strikers, no team has the depth in their striking departments when compared to what United have. If we look at teams like Chelsea, Tottenham and Arsenal; there is a cry for a decent striker in each of these clubs. It’s not hard to imagine, where these teams might land with any one of the options Moyes has. It’s ridiculous how United have been struggling to score goals with Rooney, van Persie, Welback and Hernandez in their side.

Talking about star players, Rooney has been phenomenal this season, winning balls, relentlessly chasing the defenders, providing defense piercing passes, finishing off and controlling the tempo of the game. Rooney is going to become one of the greatest United players, and has rightly been granted with an extension of contract.

Last season’s top goal scorer, van Persie, with his recent tint of mentioning his fellow mate occupying his space on attacking areas, and criticising manager’s training sessions is a matter of concern. He is now on the verge of becoming a bad influence to other members of the team. It was with Rooney, twice attempting to leave the club, which had been a concern in the previous seasons, but now it seems, Robin has fallen on the same line. Welback just doesn’t seem to be as good a finisher, and sadly Hernandez hasn’t been used much and seems a surplus to the requirement at United.

If we see United’s performance this season, this team is more than capable of winning games with the players like Mata, Januzaj, Rooney, van Persie and many others. But surprisingly, they have struggled throughout the season. At some point, you have to look on Moyes` tactics, which seriously requires questioning. Against Stoke, when Moyes found Jonny Evans and Phil Jones injured, it was very surprising to find Fletcher not being substituted if Carrick was to be shifted from midfield to defence.

There is also a question on Moyes, for sticking with the traditional tactics of 4-4-2, when he has got different sets of player as compared to older days. If we see the current well performing clubs, they have mostly followed the 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1 combination, which can be easily reverted back to 4-5-1 formation. With the current players in his team, 4-2-3-1 is what makes a more suitable option - with Mata, Rooney and Januzaj interchanging positions and getting all the passes, while Fletcher and Carrick taking care of the box-to-box midfield role.

Another important aspect which is lacking in Moyes` tactics, is the counter attacking option. This is an important instrument while playing against teams which dominate through an aggressive approach.

If he was with any other club in the world, Moyes would have been sacked. But this is United, which follows a set philosophy, which was the reason why Moyes was granted a six-year contract. With Sir Bobby Charlton and Sir Alex Ferguson at the helm, it’s hard to imagine Moyes being fired after just one season.

But all being said, time and excuses are running out for Moyes. With fans already having to accept a drought this season and the loss of Champions League spot, they will be spiralling out of control if United suffer a defeat against their neighbours Manchester City, and eternal rivals Liverpool in the coming weeks. If that happens, it would be very difficult for the top management to defend their decision of backing Moyes.

Unfortunately for David Moyes, he is no Sir Alex Ferguson. And above it, he doesn`t have a squad which although has won many trophies, seems to be lacking any motivation to be called as the ‘King’s of Comebacks’ for which they were once famous for.



First Published: Sunday, March 9, 2014 - 23:55

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