Manchester United Manager David Moyes has struggled to raise much fire from The Red Devils with the start to his tenure (no pun intended). The transfer of Chelsea playmaker Juan Mata would clearly be a statement of intent, but is that all United need to kick start their inconsistent campaign?
Although topping their Champions League group, it has been the erratic Premier League form that has many fans concerned about whether the former Everton boss should have been the choice to succeed the legend that is Sir Alex Ferguson. On Wednesday, Moyes missed out emphatically on a faint chance of redemption as his side were defeated in the Semi Final of the Capital One Cup by struggling Sunderland, in what some are already dubbing as the worst penalty shootout of all-time. Even if United made the final, it would not have papered over the blatant cracks that are as obvious as Moyes’ resemblance to Moe Szyslak from The Simpsons.
In fact, the blanket that you can easily use to put out the lack of flames that Moyes has produced as United boss, is the same blanket that can be thrown over his limited choice of formation. Everton were not expected to win anything while he was in charge. So as he led them to Champions League qualification in 2005, (though Everton were almost relegated the following season), anything he accomplished on Merseyside was seen as an overachievement. Therefore his tactics were not under fierce scrutiny as they are now. His United team are conceding goals and lacking a persistent goal threat that we have not been accustomed to in recent times. To make matters currently worse, Everton are playing with a freedom that they seldom showed under the Scottish manager, with Roberto Martinez now at the helm.
Moyes though working with a new set of players at United has remained cautious and out of desperation, has heaped savage creative responsibility on the shoulders of 18 year old starlet, Adnan Januzaj. To relieve this pressure he has targeted last season’s leader in assists in the Premiership, Juan Mata, who although being Chelsea’s best performer for the first two seasons that he has been there, has found himself frozen out by returning Chelsea Manager Jose Mourinho.
Moyes obviously feels the Spaniard can almost perform a similar uplifting role to the squad that happened at Arsenal when Mesut Ozil was bought at the start of the season. The question remains does Mata signing solve the most urgent of United’s concerns. Although United are not scoring as regularly and clearly lack creativity, surely the centre of midfield is where United’s deepest problem lies. Marouane Fellaini has almost been non-existent since following Moyes over from Everton for a hefty 27 million pounds. To be quite frank, since Roy Keane retired, United have not prominently filled that void in the middle of the park. Michael Carrick gives them positional quality and good passing, but he is not dominant in the tackle and lacks the strength to impose himself, as Cheick Tiote for instance does at Newcastle. While in charge, Ferguson bought the likes of Anderson who has just recently been loaned to Fiorentina. Before him there was Kleberson, Eric Djemba-Djemba and wait for it…Liam Miller on a free and all failed miserably.
Such is United’s need for quality in the engine room, that Darren Fletcher, recently returned from a chronic bowel illness that many thought would retire him, has stepped almost straight back into a starting berth, whereas you would have thought he would have been eased in slowly over a longer period.
The defence is also a cause for concern, when you review the goals United are conceding. We are not seeing 30 yard thunderbolts, rather they are simply getting out hustled in the penalty area. Nemanja Vidic does not seem to be able to command the penalty area like previous years. Rio Ferdinand is well only Rio Ferdinand when he is well and let’s face it Ferdinand has not often been too well recently. Chris Smalling seems to have taken two steps back and Jonny Evans seems to be four steps behind him. Phil Jones who has great potential is sporadically used in his natural centre back position, due to the aforementioned central midfield crisis.
There are mild rumours around that United could be making a move for Bayern Munich’s Brazilian centre half Dante. Now that would be an outstanding purchase. However, why he would like to swap the European Champions and Treble winners for Manchester is beyond me.
Some will question why Mata is joining what seems at the moment, a potential sinking ship at Old Trafford, but on his behalf the move makes sense. He is an upgrade on Shinji Kagawa and so he will have regular first team football before the World Cup, giving him a better chance of making the highly competitive Spain squad. He is far too good to be warming anyone’s bench, and though his technical ability is undoubted, United have looked most dangerous at pace counter attacking, this is not necessarily Mata’s usual game and perhaps could be the only hindrance to Mata settling in.
On Chelsea’s side of the fence, they are selling a quality player to the Champions of England, which does not seem logical. However the decision can be analysed like this; with the Fifa Fair Play Rules kicking in, the apparent 37 – 40 million pounds coming in helps to balance the books after they for instance just spent £22 miliion on Nemanja Matic from Benfica. Mohamed Salah’s arrival from Basel for 11 million pounds confirms Mourinho’s preference for pacey direct playmakers and will provide cover for his go-to player in the hole Oscar. The move also means the ‘Special One’ has more than likely completely dismissed United’s title challenge, otherwise doing business would not make sense.
It has been suggested Chelsea initially contacted United over a possible swap deal for Wayne Rooney, with United obviously declining, so therefore receiving £40 million for a player that the manager has seemingly no time for is superb business, you have to say, though ironically there is surely an element of short-termism.
On Wednesday evening, Spanish Correspondent Sid Lowe tweeted, ‘Seen a few comments along the lines of Mata will play against Chelsea’s rivals so it’s a genius move from them. Very short term genius, no?’ (Source: Twitter). As diabolical as some of United’s performances have been, they are clearly not as far behind as they should actually be, as this season is highly competitive. They trail fourth placed Liverpool by six points. If Moyes learns to not be so passive and Mata clicks, United could have a good ending to the season and more importantly, a running start into next season with Mata already bedded in. The title is out of the question, but qualifying for the Champions League certainly is not. Qualification would never be more satisfactory as United dropped out of the top three biggest-earning clubs for the first time. United’s revenue stood at £363.2 million for the 2012/13 campaign, with Bayern moving above them into third behind Real Madrid and Barcelona, (Source: Deloitte Football Money League).
The players were asked to get behind Moyes by Ferguson. Whether it’s a lack of respect towards Moyes by the players or the fact he cannot motivate certain individuals in the squad remains to be seen. What we do know is that something needs to change. There is a lack of heart from the same players who won the League in May and no one of significance was sold. The team has not had the ‘wow’ factor since Cristiano Ronaldo left, but under Ferguson’s tutelage remained a force. No one said Moyes had to win the League in his first season, but the gulf in class with United and the frontrunners is evident. Application is missing from their performances and the team has not shown any sign of a potential identity. The game plan at the moment is to get the ball to Januzaj.
Ferguson indicated in his Autobiography that he asked Moyes to keep some of the backroom staff, Moyes did not choose to do this and maybe bringing in his own staff, who are not renowned to have won anything substantial, has proven an arrogant step too far. Mata is a great player and the signing can only boost United, especially when Rooney and Robin Van Persie return from injury, but it will not be enough and Moyes must continue to over spend in order to upgrade rapidly in defence and central midfield. However in my humble opinion the real matter is with Moyes.