There was more than a sense of irony within David Moyes’ post-match interview as he brought forward excuses for his side’s 2-1 loss to Tottenham.
It was not in the fact that United’s fourth home defeat of the season meant that they have already dropped more points than they did in the entirety of the last campaign. Nor was it in David Moyes himself, who had worked his way up through the managerial ranks for more than 15 years only to be beaten by the young scallywag Tim Sherwood, who was enjoying only his fourth match in charge in professional football. He hasn’t even got his proper UEFA qualifications yet; an examination which Moyes completed in the previous century.
It was, instead, in the sense of injustice that Moyes felt at the ‘scandalous’ referring of Howard Webb, who failed to award United a penalty when Hugo Lloris scathed down renowned diver Ashley Young. The irony lies in the fact that now even Webb-so long the butt of many ‘United’s 12th man’ jokes-seemed to have deserted a United without Ferguson.
For Moyes, it would make sense to remove himself from the attack on Webb that garnered so many back pages. Rather than allowing himself to become distracted what will linger as a side-show for a few more days, Moyes needs to instead focus on the January transfer window; a few weeks that will be his most important at the club.
The failings of United in the summer transfer window should not be heaped on Moyes. To plan for summer signings usually takes months of planning (indeed, at Everton, Moyes was known to plan his transfers in and out of the club almost a year in advance in a room which players were, unsurprisingly, barred from entering.) Not only is intrinsic detail of the incoming players required, but an intimate knowledge of the current squad is also a must-have. Moyes had neither of these things when he arrived, which explains the rather desperate attempts to sign both Leighton Baines and Marouane Fellaini that ended with United paying way over the limit for the Belgian's services.
He is not in the same position as we enter 2014, however. There can be no excuses for the Scot’s short-comings in the transfer market this time around if United fail to bring in players that they so desperately need.
Indeed, that United need players is in no doubt. Although the Championship winning side of 2013 is still in the majority, the other teams have caught up and raced beyond them and, in the process, made United’s own failings plain to see. While much of the focus and attention in the press will be on their pursuit on a player that can bring some spark to the United midfield, another key area that Moyes’ needs to target is the defence.
Not a single one of the defensive quartet who played against Tottenham on Wednesday would make the starting-line up of a club in the top six, as Spurs exposed the fragility of a back-line that was once the most feared in the land. Age has caught up rapidly with Nemanja Vidic and Patrice Evra, Jonny Evans looks like just another Wes Brown or John O’Shea; a good option on the bench but not the man you want to have to rely on. Antonio Valencia at right-back - the less said about that move the better.
The next few weeks will define Moyes as a manager. Although January usually isn’t the happiest-hunting ground for bargain transfers, United have no other option if they want Champions League football next season. Rather than get frustrated by poor refereeing, Moyes needs to quickly move on and assess what players he can realistically pursue this month. If he fails to bring in any more, it will not be long before he begins to bear the brunt of United’s failings this season.
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