Manchester United appear to have lost crucial fear factor

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Since David Moyes was significantly rewarded for his years of persistent toil and graft at Everton with the manager's job at Manchester United - perhaps the most illustrious club of them all - the Scot has endured a torrid time.

Succeeding compatriot and managerial icon Sir Alex Ferguson in the Old Trafford dugout was always going to be an immensely daunting and complicated task, but, even with a degree of leniency afforded to him due to the unprecedented success and unrivalled longevity of his legendary predecessor, Moyes' opening few months at United have been largely woeful.

Eager to bolster a squad deemed not to be one of the Red Devils' strongest despite the ease with which they strolled to their 20th top-flight title last season, Moyes tried and duly failed to land a number of high-profile transfer targets after a number of protracted pursuits.

Although the summer was an enormous source of frustration for United fans, it was nothing compared to the evident anger and disbelief that has seemingly engulfed the club after their persistent shortcomings in the Premier League during the early stages of the 2013/14 campaign.

As well as a resounding defeat suffered at the hands of local rivals Manchester City and a narrow loss sustained to fiercest foes Liverpool in August, Moyes' United have also been unduly troubled by a number of the division's so-called 'lesser sides'. It is these latter results that should be treated with the most immediate concern.

As well as suffering an embarrassing defeat at home to Steve Clarke's West Bromwich Albion, United have also laboured to a very narrow and arguably undeserved win at strugglers Sunderland and on Saturday were held 1-1 at Old Trafford by Mauricio Pochettino's impressive Southampton outfit.

Now, whilst not wishing to underestimate or indeed patronise the likes of Southampton and West Brom, these are teams that one would commonly expect United to brush aside with consummate ease in their quest for further glory.

Under the tutelage of the iconic Ferguson, United possessed a very real fear factor which resulted in so many of these clubs positively dreading fixtures against his side - whether at home or away.

Such a factor seems to have totally evaporated since Moyes assumed control, though, with his uncertain tactics and inconsistent lineup seemingly handing real belief to supposedly lesser opponents.

During Saturday's disappointing draw with Southampton, for example, Moyes replaced the in-form Wayne Rooney with versatile defender Chris Smalling with three minutes of normal time remaining.

Two minutes later, the visitors secured a well-deserved point when Dejan Lovren's header was steered in with the faintest of touches from Adam Lallana. Now, while I am not claiming that this goal arose purely as a result of that aforementioned substitution, it must surely have galvanised Pochettino's men.

What message does it send to opponents when a team of United's supposedly superior strength and reputation are not confident in their own abilities to maintain or even extend a slender advantage inside their own stadium?

United desperately need to rediscover their traditional fear factor if they are to have any chance whatsoever of retaining their title - that much is painfully apparent.

Whether that is a genuine and legitimate possibility with Moyes still at the helm, however, I just do not know. 

Perhaps a string of high-profile and utterly formidable January signings will do the trick. Perhaps not. 

United need to find a way to restore their fearsome reputation because rather than viewing a trip to the North West with any sort of trepidation as they might have done in the past, supposedly inferior teams are increasingly seeing clashes with United as winnable. 

That simply has to stop.

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