Wayne Rooney called it a nightmare. And he wasn’t far wrong. You cannot help feeling sympathy for Moyes. Is it just a case of being out of his depth, or out of ideas? It was a performance which highlighted the problems at United, both defensively and offensively.
Let’s first assess the defensive issues. United have suffered all season because of these defensive lapses, moments of frustration and simply a lack of leadership, organisation and control. De Gea has made basic errors, Ferdinand has been woeful, the list goes on. Perhaps only Evans can come out with any credit, this is a major concern for the club.
To concede three penalties in the game showed the team’s lack of discipline; with all three of the guilty players highlighting their rashness. Rafael and Phil Jones are young, energetic and completely lacking in discipline and control. They are liabilities for a defence as they make poor decisions which smart forwards can exploit. They require lots of coaching to help them develop into top players.
Nemanja Vidic on the other-hand has proven this season that not only is he past his best in terms of defending yet he has shown his frustrations with the new regime at the club, notably his frustrated violent challenge on Hazard versus Chelsea and this recklessly mis-timed and the stupid challenge on Sturridge (yes there was no contact yet Vidic’s decision to commit gifted the chance to fall).
And yet wasn’t this what Moyes was supposed to come in and improve? United conceded 43 goals last season, the worst in the top four and an incredible amount for a championship winning side. Moyes was supposed to help this improve, bring back some solidity to the defensive line. And yet this season they look even worse.
The reason for this can be down to the ageing of the world-class players in the side; Ferdinand, Vidic and Evra (all of who peaked by 2010). Their successors in Smalling, Jones and Evans have simply not been good enough to step in and prove they are capable of becoming United’s starting defence. This is where Ferguson can be blamed.
Not buying a suitable left back when clearly Evra’s best days are long behind was also poor management. It has meant the changing of the back line too often, which has shown a lack of cohesion, understanding and solidity. And yet Moyes did not go in search of a defender last season. He instead focused his efforts on the attack. He got his priorities wrong and is suffering for it now.
Build a strong defence and results will come
Let’s compare this to what Mourinho has done at Chelsea. It is important notably because United would have had the option to bring in the Portuguese coach in the summer yet opted against.
Mourinho has focused on Chelsea’s defensive shape, structure and organisation. It is what he does at every club he arrives at. He builds from the back. He knows the value in defence and believes in a deep block and counter attack style (he is now building the team to press higher) and through his methodical tactical periodization Mourinho structures a plan to build his side over the season.
Chelsea’s progression this season tactically in terms of defensive shape is evidence of great coaching and precise planning and execution. Mourinho has coached his side to near perfection. Quite simply he knows what he wants and educates his players to execute.
Inner philosophical battles
Compare this to Moyes and you see the problems. He has no vision, no plan about what he wants to achieve. Those who say he is new to the job cannot use this argument when both Pellegrini and Mourinho have had the same amount of time and achieved so much more. When you watch City and Chelsea you see what they are seeking to achieve, when you watch United it is hard to see what they are trying to do. And the players are showing this on the pitch.
It would appear that Moyes was reluctant to come in to the club and stick with his own beliefs, which as people know were based on strong defence and cautious play. Perhaps he felt that United needed more, they needed a stronger focus on attack. Yet was happened is that all season he has been in a philosophical battle with himself.
He has sought to change who he is to suit the club’s philosophy, a decision which has cost him and the team. Did he give in to the fans, did he think he needed to prove something? What brings the fans around is results, performances are just an extra.
Would Mourinho had changed his philosophy? No. He would have seen that United last season were poor in defence and come in to makes sure it was improved. From that base he would have been able to give his attack the knowledge that 1-0 was always going to be possible. Moyes however seems to neglected defending for attacking. And yet if he focused on the attack then he has failed here also. In attack they look as clueless as they do in defence. Which points to the question, what has Moyes achieved this season?
When Brendan Rodgers came in at Liverpool he had a vision of what he wanted. His possession based style brought criticism by some, many believing he was not cut out for such a club. However he was clearly building something, he had a vision and this is bearing fruit this season. Yet Moyes appears to have nothing of a plan.
The purchase of Fellaini appeared a desperate attempt to make a purchase in a summer which was quite a calamity in terms of rejections and failed attempts. On reflection it would have been better to not have wasted £28m on the Belgian because his best role is not defensive midfield but as a target man centre forward. Was that a role which was needed to improve? No. Thiago would have been a great acquisition, or Cabaye. Yet it just didn’t seem as though Moyes knew what he really wanted. Many said he must hav a plan, just give him time. Yet the signing of Mata proved that he didn’t know what he wanted.
Going back to Mourinho again and his dealing with Mata. He respected the talent of the player yet felt he didn’t suit his system and style. He bought a player in Willian who did and we can see how Chelsea have benefited from that. Once again it was a coach who knew what he wanted. Moyes however has bought Mata without any real idea of what or where he wants him to go. It is already looking like another desperate signing.
When watching United’s attack against Liverpool it appeared to be a 4-2-3-1. Januzaj on the left to start, Mata on the right with Rooney and Van Persie alternating between the 9 and 10 and Fellaini moving forwards to support the attack. However the players didn’t look as though they knew what they should be doing when in possession.
With all this attacking talent on the pitch they looked devoid of ideas, creativity and understanding. It seems as though Moyes ‘masterplan’ is to put all his attacking players on the pitch and simply ‘hope for the best’. The games versus the better sides this season have proven this lack of preparation and tactical strategy. Mata has only added to the problem. Why buy a player who is as classic a 10 as they come in the modern game and play him on the right?
Rooney’s growing interference
There are two issues which appear to be the problem. Firstly, the Rooney situation. There will be those who will praise Rooney as the only player to be working for the team, to be committed. They will look at those around him and ask why they can’t be more like Rooney. Well, for all his endeavour, work rate and commitment Rooney’s influence in the team, both tactically and psychologically has affected the team drastically.
Whether Moyes has given him the licence to roam and quite literally play anywhere or if Rooney simply is doing what he wants is not clear. Yet it is evident that Rooney is affecting the rest of the team.
Last season it was evident that Ferguson gave Van Persie the leadership of the team, in terms of tactics and leadership. Listening to him after games and you could see his influence on the team. Watch him in games and the play was directed through him. Watch him this season and looks frustrated, isolated and no longer the leader of last season. Why? Because the game does not go through him anymore but Rooney. And the problem is that Rooney gets a lot of the ball and doesn’t do a lot with it.
It would have been better had Moyes shipped out Rooney last season (not to Chelsea however, yet perhaps the problem was that no-one else really wanted him, which says something.) The truth is that as the team has become more about Rooney, as his influence this season has grown, the more United look poorer tactically and lacking in ideas in attack. In the game and many others this season Rooney and Van Persie looked as though they both wanted to do the same thing, it was not as much as partnership but a battle for space.
Losing the dressing room
And this is where the second point comes in. The one which many are saying. That quite simply the players don’t respect Moyes, that they don’t listen to what he wants and are playing like rebellious, frustrated schoolboys, acting out against the teacher they didn’t want.
By all accounts the majority wanted Mourinho when Ferguson announced his departure. Getting Moyes instead is quite the let down. So already Moyes was starting on the wrong foot. Therefore he needed to make an instant impression, prove to the players that he was worthy of the role and importantly their respect.
Mourinho would have gained it, would have earned it. He would have got the key players; Ferdinand, Vidic and van Persie on his side. He would won the changing room and therefore allowed himself to develop his style. Moyes however seemed to alienate those key players. Issues of fallouts with Ferdinand, Vidic and van Persie appear to have truth when you see their performances and attitude.
Is it a case of sabotage? Perhaps on a sub-conscious level? Or is just frustration at the man leading them? After so many years working with people with Carlos Quieroz, Rene Meulensteen and of course Alex Ferguson, even Mike Phelan (United’s own Ray Wilkins) to have Moyes, Steve Round and Phil Neville come in to the fold is an incredible step down. Results, performances and interviews have only made the situation worse and it does appear that conflict between players and management is inevitable.
United’s owners have a choice. They either stick with their manager and tell the players that, or they decide Moyes isn’t suited to the job and they move on in the summer. The situation is reminiscent of Milan when Sacchi first arrived. Many were unhappy with his methods and approach, yet Silvio Berlusconi told the players in no uncertain ways that Sacchi was here to stay and that those not happy were the ones who would leave. That support was invaluable and the rest they say is history.
Would the Glazers, or Ferguson be willing to do this? Have they already? Are we to see a mass exodus this summer? A new era for United? It appears likely. Some will say it is just a matter of time, that patience is key for Moyes to prepare his style, develop his own team. United don’t want to be like Chelsea and give in to player power.
However, based on this season, judging the £70m spent on players, looking at the performances of the team and listening to Moyes in interviews, it really doesn’t look like he is the right man for United. His lack of success and trophies is an issue, yet more concerning is his record against the top sides. Compare him to a Mourinho, a coach who has proven to succeed as the underdog time and time again and you see the problem of hiring Moyes. He just isn’t a winner.
One cannot blame him for taking the job, who wouldn’t. Yet the job is too big for him. He looks lost of ideas and growing more scared of the role game by game. It would appear that his players share the same thoughts, they appear to have lost faith in their manager. The longer this goes on, the worse it will be for United.
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