January offers David Moyes chance to stop the rot
Manager’s ideas still have to take root as answers from within are sought
Manchester United’s manager David Moyes after defeat to Tottenham Hotspur on New Year’s Day.
The January transfer window has long been earmarked as a fresh start for David Moyes at Manchester United, the panacea for a campaign that has featured more dropped Premier League points by New Year’s Day than in the whole of Alex Ferguson’s final, title-winning season.
That may prove to be the case, but it cannot detract from the internal problems behind United’s slide from champions to outsiders for Champions League qualification inside seven months.
Officially at least, the word from United was remarkably upbeat on Wednesday considering the consequences of Tottenham Hotspur’s triumph at Old Trafford. Both Tom Cleverley and Jonny Evans spoke of an unjust result against Tim Sherwood’s men, the fourth visiting team to leave Old Trafford with victory in the Premier League this season, with the midfielder following his manager’s example in blaming the erratic performance of referee Howard Webb for the 2-1 reverse.
“The way we lost left a sour taste in our mouths,” said Cleverley. “We didn’t deserve to lose the match. There were some poor decisions and we didn’t get the rub of the green.”
Evans, however, did look for answers within, and the defender’s assessment of a defeat that leaves the reigning champions 11 points adrift of the leaders, Arsenal, suggests Moyes’ ideas have still to take root after 30 games in charge. United have collected 14 points from a possible 30 at home compared to 20 points on their travels. The fear factor that Ferguson cultivated at Old Trafford has diminished – even a fledgling manager such as Sherwood remarked on Wednesday that United are “there for the taking” – and, while the hosts showed character late on against Spurs, the quality was again found wanting.
“Our home form hasn’t been good, our away form has and we have to get the balance right,” Evans admitted. “It’s hard to explain. We left ourselves too open to the counterattack against Spurs and they caught us on the break twice, whereas away from home we’re a bit more defensive in our setup. We want to entertain our fans and score goals. I think that’s to our detriment a bit – maybe we should be a bit more patient.”
Moyes was renowned for defensive organisation at Everton and, while his 11 years at Goodison Park produced more impressive attacking displays than he was credited for, Ferguson-like adventure and entertainment were not his forte.
Nor was he used to shopping at the higher end of the transfer market at Everton which, when combined with the similarly inexperienced vice-chairman Ed Woodward, resulted in a damaging first transfer window as United manager and the squad’s glaring midfield problems addressed only by Marouane Fellaini.
A fee of £27.5 million was spent on a player Moyes knows well but whose best position at Old Trafford has yet to be determined, and United’s prospects of enticing Koke from Atletico Madrid, Marco Reus from Borussia Dortmund or Ander Herrera from Athletic Bilbao are not enhanced by residing five points outside the Champions League places. The persuasive powers of the United hierarchy must improve greatly this month. Moyes takes responsibility for the summer’s transfer policy, the difficulties in the tactical transition and for parting company with Ferguson’s coaching team, having been hand-picked by the Scot as his chosen successor.
But he would be justified in lamenting the slow development of players such as Danny Welbeck, Cleverley and Chris Smalling, who could represent a promising English spine, the inheriting of an ageing defence and an attack that, in the absence of the injured Robin Van Persie, was carried by an unfit Wayne Rooney against Spurs. “If I could rest him, I would,” said Moyes of Rooney on Wednesday.
Period of instability
Ferguson’s retirement after almost 27 years as United manager guaranteed a period of instability. It has also offered a convenient excuse for passing responsibility for underachievement solely on to his successor and away from players.
There is sufficient experience at Old Trafford to ease the creative burden that was on 18-year-old Adnan Januzaj against Spurs, when it fell to Rooney to drop into and improve United’s midfield with the home team chasing the game. But belief at Old Trafford, as with arguably the appetite that Rooney continues to embody, appears to have been hit harder than many imagined following Ferguson’s departure.
A five-point gap is hardly cause to dismiss United’s Champions League qualification prospects but their form compared to the sides above them does not bode well. January offers United a chance to buy fresh impetus but there should be more coming from within.