David Moyes can’t win. Certainly not off the pitch where the Scot has been repeatedly criticised for his bizarre approach to media relations this season. Little over a week ago Moyes publicly mused that Liverpool was favourite to emerge victorious at Old Trafford, and the former Everton boss took more than a little heat for the overly deferential approach.
It was a little strange, then, that Moyes should be quite so brazen about mocking the media in the wake of Manchester United’s Champions League victory. “Nearly everyone,” said the Scot on Friday, “asked me about my inexperience in the Champions League. None of you asked me about that the other night; it must have slipped your minds.”
It was, perhaps, just a little too cocksure from a manager who has presided over 12 defeats in all competitions this season, although one can hand Moyes a little slack in the wake of victory last Wednesday. United’s win was indeed fine as the Reds dispatched Olympiakos to earn a tie with Bayern Munich in the Champions League quarter final.
Yet, there has been so little consistency this season that Moyes’ confidence must hang by the most slender thread. One victory – another false dawn after the darkest night – is so often followed by further defeat.
United’s strange kind of European glory on Wednesday might just be followed by another ignominious reverse as the Reds travel to West Ham United on Saturday evening. Prediction is indeed a mug’s game this season.
Moyes is at least a manager who now appears to realise that contrition, rather than yet more excuses, is the only path forward in what has been United’s most calamitous campaign for more than two decades. Honoured with the job at one of the world’s biggest clubs, where so few believed he had earned the right, Moyes’ fortune has not even been tempered by a dismissal that would have come almost anywhere else.
“In some of the games I have felt ashamed because we haven’t played well enough and I have not got a team out that has got a good enough result,” said the 50-year-old on Friday.
“I think the big thing on Wednesday was that I could look at the supporters in the face after the game. We had given them something to shout about. There was nothing to be ashamed of about our performance. There is no guarantee that one good result will lead to another, but you would rather have a good one than a bad one.”
United’s record on the road this season is surpassed, in the Premier League at least, solely by Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur. And with West Ham suffering six defeats at Upton Park since August, Moyes’ squad should travel to east London in good spirits.
Yet, the team heads south without Robin van Persie after the Dutchman was ruled out for between four and six weeks with a knee injury suffered on Wednesday night. Given the striker’s reluctance to return from injury early, especially in a World Cup year, it might well be a surprise if van Persie returns for United at all this season.
In van Persie’s stead Moyes has the opportunity to deploy Juan Mata is the Spaniard’s natural role behind the main striker, moving Wayne Rooney to ‘number nine’. History, however, suggests that United’s manager will eschew the creative approach, pushing Mata into a wide role once more, with Rooney shadowing Danny Welbeck.
Nor will Chris Smalling, Jonny Evans, or Antonio Valencia be available at Updon Park, while captain Nemanja Vidić serves the first of a two game suspension for the red card earned in defeat to Liverpool last weekend. Phil Jones and Rio Ferdinand are likely to continue in central defence, with the Reds seeking to extend a fine run in east London that stretches to seven years unbeaten in the league.
Meanwhile, the Hammers will be without Joey O’Brien and Marco Boriello through injury, although striker Andy Carroll is available to test a United back four that has conceded 34 goals this season.
Manager Sam Allardyce has come under fire for the Londoners’ direct approach, but with West Ham six points above the relegation zone it is criticism that the 59-year-old will gladly take. Still, with West Ham having lost two away games on the spin, Allardyce needs a positive result on Saturday evening.
“Our efforts at home are what I’ve been focusing on with the players, the fact that we’ve won the last three home games on the trot and we have to try and maintain that if we can to overcome this little blip,” said the Englishman.
“We’ve had two away games in which we haven’t picked anything up in, so the focus is to maintain our home results and try our best to pull off a big result.”
However, the Reds are unbeaten in 10 league games against West Ham home and away in recent seasons, although United has not lost as many games on the road at this stage for four years. The one stat that counts the most – points garnered – is the lowest at this stage since 1992.
Indeed, while victory over Olympiakos has secured Moyes’ job for the remainder of the season, according to some commentators at least, defeat at West Ham may simply erode whatever confidence has been gained in the past four days.
Manchester City’s visit to Old Trafford on Tuesday night means weekend defeat is a scenario Moyes cannot accept. And with two legs against European champions Bayern to come, the trip to West Ham takes on renewed importance, even if United’s league position is such that European football is unlikely next season.
“We have to use this as a springboard to bounce on,” said defender Jones.
“We can’t drag our heels and think about the next round. We have to prepare right for the next game, against West Ham, and go and get a result. We have to show what we’re capable of in the league. We have to go to West Ham and win.”
It is a sentiment with which supporters can agree. Whether words turn into action is another question.
West Ham United v Manchester United, Premier League, Upton Park, 5.30pm, 22 March 2014
West Ham (4-2-3-1): Adrián; Demel, Collins, Reid, McCartney; Noble, Taylor; Downing, Nolan, Jarvis; Carroll
United (4-4-1-1): De Gea; Rafael, Jones, Ferdinand, Evra; Mata, Carrick, Cleverley, Januzaj; Rooney; Welbeck
West Ham: Jääskeläinen, Nocerino, J Cole, Tomkins, Diamé, Armero, Spiegel, Johnson, Razak, Diarra, C Cole, Vaz Te
United: Lindegaard, Büttner, Fletcher, Giggs, Kagawa, Nani, Fellaini, Valencia, Hernández
West Ham 42 Draw 26 United 59
Referee: Lee Mason
Assistants: S Bennett, J Collin
Fourth Official: M Jones