One might hope by now that David Moyes’ confidence was such have that the Scot had grown a metaphorical pair. Not so, with Moyes seemingly more out of his depth with each passing week spent at Old Trafford. Even victory over West Bromwich Albion last weekend – and a comfortable one at that – has done little to lift the former Everton manager’s spirits.
Moyes’ hackneyed qualifiers remain; that United will “try” hard in the coming games, or that the Scot “hopes” to achieve positive results. Or even that his side has “played well”. His players have not, and this is not the Manchester United way.
Little wonder, perhaps, with United having lost 12 in all competitions this season. Out of the running for the Premier League title, out of the FA Cup, out of the League Cup; quite possibly out of the Champions League in the coming days. This has been a campaign of unprecedented failure compared to the last quarter century, with Moyes at times having lost control of events on the field, and perhaps even in the dressing room.
Still, Moyes’ lack of confidence, drive, or the air of a man in control with just 10 Premier League games remaining this season, is deeply worrying. This is, after all, the man who is reportedly to be entrusted with a £100 million transfer budget in the summer.
“Positive results in the games coming up would make a big, big difference and that’s what we’ll be trying to achieve,” said the manager on Friday.
“I hope we can show what we’re capable of in those matches. The players have shown that to me recently and with the exception of the Olympiakos game I actually think we’ve played quite well. If we park that game I think we’ve not been in a bad run of form and have had some good results.
“The players have an opportunity to go and show they’re improving. I think they played well at West Brom and there have been signs that they have been doing better. Our away form has been pretty good, but it’s at Old Trafford where we need to pick ourselves up and play better. We’ve made the opportunities and got into lots of positions to score but we’ve not done it. I hope we can show our best in the remaining games.”
Yet, with in-form Liverpool at Old Trafford on Sunday afternoon there is little guarantee United’s results will show an up-tick in the coming weeks. Not least with Olympiakos, West Ham United and Manchester City to follow before the month is out. It is a run of matches that will surely define United’s season and, potentially, Moyes’ tenure in the job.
However, failure, if it comes, will not be for lack of players, with Moyes boasting a fully fit squad. Full-back Rafael is available despite taking a knock to the ankle at West Brom last weekend, while winger Nani is fit after being sidelined for three months with a hamstring problem. The former Sporting player could make the bench, while Jonny Evans and Javier Hernández should also feature in the matchday squad.
The Scot has a key decision to make in central defence, where Chris Smalling and Phil Jones performed creditably last weekend. Outgoing captain Nemanja Vidić is expected to return, while Marouanne Fellaini should retain his place in central midfield.
“Nani is back. He had a really bad hamstring injury. But he is back and has trained. Hopefully we get him up to speed very quickly,” said Moyes.
“Rafael, Javier Hernandez and Jonny Evans are all coming along. They all have a chance of playing on Sunday. I’m pleased with the young boys. We’ve had great service from Rio and Vida and we’re using them because we need their experience. With the amount of games we have coming up we’re going to need them to be fit and healthy.”
Moyes is expected to pair Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie in attack, despite the Dutchman being hauled off after an hour at the Hawthorns last weekend. van Persie has suffered a frustrating campaign, with whispers suggesting that the 30-year-old is seeking an exit.
However, the striker moved to clarify speculation this week, committing his future to the club. Whether that ‘commitment’ translates into renewed confidence and a visible change in outlook on the pitch remains to be seen.
Meanwhile, Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers is without injured full-back Jose Enrique, who has a knee problem, but Mamadou Sakho and Lucas should be available after playing for the reserves in the week.
“I think it’s the biggest game in the Premier League,” said Moyes of the fixture.
“There has been great history between the two clubs over a long period. Every game of football is important and any game that features United and Liverpool is massively important. [Winning on Sunday] would be a big boost. It would be an important three points. We’ve played them twice this year and they’ve been tight games.”
Still, United has won the last six home games against Liverpool in all competitions, even if each has been secured by just a single goal margin. It should provide at least a modicum of confidence to a team that has lacked so much this season.
Perhaps not the manager though. “Their league position suggests they’re ahead of us and they possibly do come here as favourites,” said the Scot. Indeed, it may be true with United 11 points adrift of the Scousers going into Sunday’s match. Victory for the visitors will surely end all hope that United retains of securing a Champions League place next season.
Now that would be a reason for Moyes to demonstrate a lack of confidence.
Manchester United v Liverpool, Premier League, Old Trafford, 1.30pm, 16 March 2014
United (4-4-1-1): De Gea; Rafael, Jones, Vidic, Evra; Mata, Carrick, Fellaini, Januzaj; Rooney; van Persie
Liverpool (4-3-3): Mignolet; Flanagan, Skrtel, Agger, Johnson; Henderson, Allen, Gerrard; Sturridge, Suarez, Sterling
United: Lindegaard, Büttner, Ferdinand, Evans, Smalling, Fletcher, Giggs, Kagawa, Valencia, Young, Cleverley, Welbeck, Hernández
Liverpool: Jones, Coutinho, Lucas, Sakho, Cissokho, Touré, Kelly, Aspas, Moses, Alberto, Teixeira
United 75 Draw 51 Liverpool 63
Referees: Mark Clattenburg
Assistants: S Beck, G Beswick
Fourth Official: L Probert