With the news that David Moyes has been sacked as Manchester United manager, many are pointing to the failure of his tactics and the manner of the defeats, rather than just the results in his short tenure at Old Trafford.
Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but looking back at the appointment last May I’m not sure any United fans could tell me how you would have expected the team to play this season, which is actually far more worrying than ever suggested at the time. Looking at other managerial appointments that have gone on to be successful; Brendan Rodgers and Roberto Martinez have both taken over bigger clubs with far greater expectations than they were ever used to but were able to implement their style of play onto a team. When comparing the job these two have done in the Premier League to Moyes’well documented failure, there are clear differences for the two men that are thriving in current employment. It took Rodgers a year to really get Liverpool to compete, but even in his first troubled season at Liverpool you could still see the passing philosophy that won him so many plaudits at Swansea. Martinez worked much faster at Everton, not only implementing his well established philosophy in his first season, but getting impressive results right throughout the season, most recently completing the double over United. Whereas Moyes has never really had a discernible style as such, and certainly never displayed the attacking football that is associated with Manchester United. The hope was that he would take his resilient, hard-working and hard to beat Everton team and apply that to United, and the flair players in the team would be more than enough for Moyes to work with. We weren’t expecting a title this time around, but we certainly couldn’t even contemplate seventh.
I could take you through every single defeat and point out the tactical mistakes that have cost him his job, but I’m sure we all remember enough of it and don’t need to be reminded of it. There are however a few key moments throughout the season that showed a man who didn’t know what he had taken on, and certainly didn’t know how to handle it.
Chelsea (H) 26th August 2013
Moyes’ first home game. He came in on the back of winning silverware at Wembley and thrashing Swansea City 4-1 on the opening day at the Liberty Stadium. Confidence was high, belief and support for the new manager was unwavering, and there was a banner in the Stretford End celebrating his appointment. This was the time to make a statement. Mourinho arrived at Old Trafford without a recognised striker, set his team up to counter attacked and played for the draw. Ferguson would have gone at Chelsea that night, most managers worth their salt would have taken the opportunity to dent the challenge of a potential title rival and send out a clear message that Old Trafford was still a fortress. Instead, United gave it a go of sorts, created a few chances and could have snatched the win on another day. It was hardly a convincing show of strength from the Champions, and was a sign of things to come at Old Trafford this season.
The season had not started fantastically in the league, defeats to Liverpool, Manchester City and most disappointingly West Brom had left United in a bad way by the time Southampton came to Old Trafford. There wasn’t much to fault with the majority of the performance. United took the lead and were fairly comfortable throughout, despite the odd scare from the visitors. It wasn’t a dominant display by any means but it was the same story under Ferguson last year against the Saints, and don’t forget they had already won at Anfield. A win, no matter how it came, would have been a good result against an impressive Southampton outfit. However as full time crept closer and closer, United started to sink deeper and deeper towards their own penalty area, desperately trying to hold onto the win. Now this in itself is understandable, the side was devoid of any confidence and needed a win, but this is where the manager needed to step up. Instead of ordering his team up the pitch and trying to regain a grip on possession, he replaced Wayne Rooney with Chris Smalling. Albeit just for the final minutes, but setting up a back five at home to cling to the points is not the hallmark of a Manchester United manager. Inevitably United conceded in the 89th minute, surrendered two points they should have wrapped up with ease, and heaped more pressure on the squad and the manager.
Newcastle (H) 7th December 2013
Following draws against Cardiff and Spurs away from home and losing at home to Everton, United needed a win at home to Newcastle. Despite the dire performance and ANOTHER home defeat, my main issue with Moyes is not necessarily the performance or the tactics, but his handling of Robin van Persie. Don’t get me wrong, the performance and tactics were awful, but that’s not what I’m focussing on. van Persie had just recovered from injury to play against Newcastle, and before the game Moyes confirmed a plan to substitute him after about an hour. Sensible decision given the hectic Christmas period that was coming up. However, after falling behind after an hour, Moyes clearly bottled his decision regarding RVP. You could even hear him asking the Dutchman ‘Are you gonna make it?’through the microphones on the touch-line. United lost the game anyway, but with van Persie playing 90 minutes he was overworked following his injury and injured himself in the next game against Shakhtar. He missed eleven matches, the entire Christmas period and cost United far more than just one defeat against Newcastle. Now you could argue this is bad luck, but when Moyes had planned to sub him before the game, why would he change his mind? To compound things he admitted he only did so because he didn’t want to upset the fans. When a manager is suddenly too scared to make big decisions at a club like United, then the writing is on the wall. It was a far cry from the strong-willed man at Everton, and showed he was out of his depth.
There is a common theme emerging with the games I have picked out to analyse here. United’s home form was simply unacceptable this season, and this was once again evident against a struggling Fulham side in February. Many jokes and snide remarks have been made about the 81 crosses United had in this game, and the way they attacked Fulham. In my eyes there was nothing wrong with that plan against a side that planned to sit so deep and try to frustrate United. It would have been impossible to play through them so crossing the ball into the area was a solid alternative. Even falling behind was no disaster. The problem came once United went 2-1 in front. At that point United were massively on top, and Fulham were on their knees. A smart side would have gone for the throat, scored a third and played out the final moments comfortably with no danger whatsoever. The game was there for the taking there’s no doubt about it. However, once again under Moyes United sat back and tried to protect the lead they had wrestled back. Almost inevitably Fulham equalised in the final moments and snatched a draw. For me the blame has to lie with Moyes. He was managing the Champions of England and yet felt it necessary to try and sit deep and protect a result against the side that was bottom of the league. His mindset had not changed from his time at Everton and it was costing him points. Tactically you may have wanted something different, and the performances weren’t fantastic, but it wasn’t all sunshine and roses under Ferguson either. The difference was United never went into their shell so often in the dying minutes, and this was further evidence that the manager was out of his depth.
I have grouped these three games together because my complaints, along with every other United fan, will apply to every single one of these performances. Big games and big atmospheres at a crucial part of the season and Moyes failed in every single one of them. No matter the team selection, the tactics were wrong each time. He failed to nullify the threats of the opposition, control the possession and dictate the pattern of the game or threaten the opposition goal. It is not an exaggeration, Manchester United did not look like scoring a single goal in any of the three games. For this club that is simply unacceptable. Liverpool and City didn’t need to get out of second gear to beat us, and we were deservedly beaten. What makes things worse is that Moyes labelled Liverpool the favourites before the game, and claimed we aspire to be at City’s level following the derby. Comments like this have no place in the press conferences of a Manchester United manager, and made you wonder if Moyes even understood the job he had taken on. He may have been saved in the return leg against the Greeks by a wonderful Robin van Persie hat-trick, but the damage had been done. Shambolic performances in games as big as these were beginning to show the world that Moyes did not have the tools to do the job.
I could have picked out another 10 matches and scrutinised Moyes for each of those. It seems our only good performances came away from home against sides with nothing to play for. Against any of the top sides we looked slow, sluggish, tactically inept and offensively impotent. My reasons for wanting a managerial change were because after 10 months, there was no sign of improvement, no sign of a philosophy being put in place like the other managers I’ve mentioned had done at their clubs. It was getting worse, and there was nothing being done to stop the rot.
Moyes was in charge for 51 matches, and he named 51 different starting XI’s. It is no wonder the tactics and performances were so inconsistent, and so poor more often than not. I have nothing against Moyes. I think he did a fine job at Everton, and will do a good job wherever he ends up next, but I feel the Manchester United job was too big for him. I think it was most eloquently summed up by Henry Winter on Twitter, following the rumours yesterday; “End of the road for Moyes at MUFC: the plea from start of the season was for him to be bolder, to be a real United manager. He hasn’t been.”
By Adem Berkay
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