Coming out of a phenomenal era of success under Sir Alex Ferguson, every football fan has come to expect the best from Manchester United and to be disappointed when they lose against another top team, let alone a mid-table side.
Obviously this is not the same team as a year ago in more ways then personnel, but all the same it came as a big shock when they lost to Olympiakos last night, as the performance summarised everything that is going wrong for them since the arrival of David Moyes.
First of all, there is the obvious problem of the squad not being good enough to challenge for anything, with every player who was performing well last season being disappointingly mediocre this time out, especially the older generation with the examples of Nemanja Vidic, and Patrice Evra prominent to say the least.
The younger contingent seems to be lacking quality too but this time not because of their age, simply because they are not the kind of players that make a team great.
Tom Cleverley, for all his claims that his “Spanish style” of play is not being appreciated, just isn’t good enough to lift his teammates up and provide them with what they need to do well.
This is not a new problem, as the squad fielded by Moyes every week is more or less the one which won Ferguson the title, but they all seem to have a dropped a notch in quality while United have ailed to bring in good players to replace the ones who are struggling.
Juan Mata is a possible exception, but has not yet fulfilled his potential when you consider his first two seasons at Chelsea.
The transfer window is the second area where United are going wrong. For all the financial power they have thanks to their status as one of the biggest clubs in the world, the only real signings they have made are Marouane Fellaini from Everton in the summer and Mata, which is just not good enough when having to rebuild a team pretty much from scratch to be able to compete Europe and the Premier League’s top clubs.
However, beyond the lack of quality and depth in the squad, there is also the problem that the players just do not seem to care about winning any more, they seem completely resigned to their continuous decline, as showed the first goal of the Olympiakos game, where the ball got cleared to the edge of the box and, instead of rushing out to block the shot which was clearly coming, all the United players just stood back and watched, leaving Dominguez onside to flick the ball past a flailing David de Gea.
After that, when the final whistle had gone, the reaction from the Mancunian players wasn’t that of a team who had just been completely outplayed by game’s outsiders, but more of players who will get paid whether they do well or not, the same going for Michael Carrick’s post match interview, described by Roy Keane as reflecting “United’s performance tonight: flat, with no urgency”.
Moving to the tactics employed by Moyes, particularly during this match in Greece, they display a lack of self-assurance and to a certain extent, cowardice to take on the status quo at United.
Shying away from changing the 4-4-2 formation has been a mistake, which has been in place for years, to accommodate players such as Mata who need space in the middle to rule the play.
Obviously it is difficult to modify a system which has worked for so long, but every coach has their own tactics which work best with a particular formation, as show the examples of Mourinho at Chelsea or Sherwood at Tottenham, who have found a formation that suits them and applied it repeatedly. This way of playing clearly isn’t working for Moyes like it did for Ferguson, so it must be time to change it, but the Scotsman doesn’t dare do that.
Even the player management at the club is going wrong, with the new contract for Wayne Rooney acting as a slap in the face to most players who have been playing better and more regularity this season that the former Everton youngster, especially after last night’s lacklustre performance.
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