David Moyes needs to make right call before transfer window shuts
Manchester United in need of a suitable midfielder if their gameplan is to bear fruit
Manchester United manager David Moyes during his side’s deafeat at Anfield. Photograph: PA.
Within hours of Manchester United’s defeat to Liverpool, David Moyes received another reminder of how different his new job is from his old one in the shape of a message from the self-styled “most naturally gifted athlete the world has ever seen”.
In a video posted to Instagram, Usain Bolt declared: “David Moyes, we need a creative midfielder. One that can pass and create opportunities. Right now!”
We know that Moyes agrees with Bolt because United spent so much time this summer in the failed pursuit of Cesc Fabregas. And all the players United have been linked with in recent days are midfielders: Marouane Fellaini, Anders Herrera, Mesut Ozil, Daniele de Rossi. Losing to Liverpool increases the pressure on Moyes and United to force through at least one of these signings before the transfer window closes at 11pm tonight.
However, it seemed curious that even though Wayne Rooney missed out because of a facial injury accidentally inflicted by the boot of Phil Jones, there was no room in yesterday’s matchday squad for Shinji Kagawa. Moyes explained that he had been faced with a straight choice between Nani and Kagawa for a place on the bench, and he chose Nani.
Nani and Kagawa are, of course, very different footballers. Nani is a dribbler who likes to start out wide, take on defenders, whip crosses into the box or shoot at goal from long range. Kagawa is a combination player who does his best work in central positions just outside the box. He’s good at spotting angles for one-twos and playing precisely-weighted passes into the space behind the defence.
Since Rooney has usually been the preferred option at number 10, Kagawa hasn’t had much of a chance to show what he’s capable of in his favoured position. In May, Kagawa’s old coach Jurgen Klopp lamented the player’s exile to the periphery: “Shinji is one of the best players in the world and now he plays 20 minutes at Manchester United – on the left wing! My heart breaks. Really, I have tears in my eyes.”
Klopp buttered Kagawa up so much that nobody was surprised when it emerged a few weeks later that Dortmund had made an approach to take him back. Klopp revealed that Kagawa had told him he was still determined to succeed at United.
Moyes preference for Nani yesterday suggested that the Japanese might have his work cut out to get into the team. United’s strategy yesterday was to get it wide and sling crosses into the box. They rained 32 of them on Liverpool’s defence – nearly twice as many as in the 2-1 win at Anfield last season – but many of these were diagonal balls from deep positions, and only six found a United player. United seldom tried play through the centre of Liverpool’s defence.
Kagawa won’t be much use to a team whose gameplan is primarily based on crosses. Neither, it must be said, would Ozil. If that’s how Moyes wants United to play, then Marouane Fellaini, with his height and power, looks the logical choice.
Meanwhile, for the first time in a few seasons, Liverpool seem likely to emerge from the transfer window substantially strengthened. For most of the summer, it did not seem to be a priority for Brendan Rodgers to improve a defence that last season conceded two or more goals in nearly half of their league games. Liverpool seemed more interested in making bids for star attackers like Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Willian rather than in sorting out the problems at the back.
The presence in the stands yesterday of Mamadou Sakho and Tiago Ilori should therefore come as a relief to Liverpool fans. Even if Martin Skrtel departs for Napoli or elsewhere, they finally have some quality defensive cover.
Also in the stands was Luis Suarez, who now looks set to stay at the club at least one more year. No doubt he has been pleasantly surprised at the form shown thus far by the club he wanted to leave. That form has given rise to the question: are Liverpool, in fact, a stronger side without him?
The logic is that Suarez is an individualist who tries to do everything himself, and that once his shot-happy, ball-hogging ways are taken out of the equation you are left with a better-balanced team.
It’s true that Liverpool have made a spectacular start to the season, considering what they had achieved last year with a similar squad. Last season it took them 38 league games to amass three 1-0 wins, and they had not kept three consecutive clean sheets in the league since December 2011.
Rodgers knows how tight the margins have been. His team has faded in the second half of each of their three games so far, and they appeared to miss Suarez’ energy, his quality on the counter-attack, and his ability to take the game to the opponent.
Liverpool look like they are on the verge of becoming a good side, but they are not yet so good that they could take injuries to players like Steven Gerrard or Daniel Sturridge in their stride.
The target Rodgers has set his side is simply to compete for fourth place, or rather “to be in that conversation as long as we can”. If Suarez returns in the same form he showed last season, that conversation could be longer than expected.