Mid-season report 2013/14

David Moyes

The post-Sir Alex Ferguson era. Even six months after the dawn of a new époque in Manchester United’s history the words sound strange. The king is dead, long live the king. But Moyes will live long – a six-year contract handing the Scot security of tenure that seems anathema in modern football. This is a clear message to those on the terraces and the fourth estate doubting Moyes’ suitability for the United job. Like it or not, Moyes is United’s present and future.

Yet, doubts there have been, starting with the former Everton manager’s dubious credentials for one of the top jobs in world football. After all Moyes had won nothing – nada, rien, zilch – in more than a decade on Merseyside. Then there is the perception of caution, both in the transfer market and on the pitch, and the paranoid counter-productive approach to media relations. That’s without mentioning an agricultural brand of football Everton often adopted under Moyes. His is not a CV all would have chosen for Old Trafford.

Some of this preconception has played out; it is not simply a projection of supporters’ prejudice. The summer transfer market was a disaster of unmitigated propositions, with United paying perhaps double Marouanne Fellaini’s true value while missing out on five identified targets with an embarrassingly slapstick approach to the market. United might have been prepared to spend on Cesc Fabregas, Ander Herrara, Thiago Alcantara, Leighton Baines and Gareth Bale, but the club did not come close to securing any of the quintet. Not all of this was Ed Woodward’s fault.

Then there has been United’s on-the-pitch performances, which have been laboured bordering on ugly, with the percentage game all too often at the fore. After all, the Reds’ performances against Swansea City, West Ham United and Leverkusen have proven to be an exception. Rarely has United come anything close to the rich history of attacking, creative and exciting football that so many supporters have feasted on over the decades. Yes, this is a period of transition – from a great manager, to his hand chosen successor – but the jury remains out on whether it has been a success. The foreman is not set to return a full verdict inside the next 18 months. 5/10

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David Moyes
So much of the judgement passed on United’s season is wrapped in an assessment of the new manager. Moyes wasn’t everybody’s choice for the United post and in that context has taken on an operose challenge at which he may never succeed. Certainly, Moyes could have helped himself – the omnishambles of a summer, Moyes’ negative tactics, United’s functional football, and tendency towards foot-in-mouth public relations has been at least partly of Moyes’ making. However, there are growing signs that United’s players are finally fighting for Moyes’ cause, if not performing at their peak. 5/10
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David de Gea
It is a marker of de Gea’s status in world football that there are now so few goalkeepers on the continent that come close to the young Spaniard’s standard. True, the Guardian’s list of the top 100 players in world football omits United’s number one in favour of Manuel Neuer, Gigi Buffon, Thibaut Courtois, Hugo Lloris, Petr Cech, Victor Valdes, Federico Marchetti, Samir Handanovič, and Asmir Begovic. But whatever that jury was smoking it seems best to steer clear. None of the above, with the exception of Neuer, have performed better than de Gea in 2013. 8/10

Anders Lindegaard
It is only a year since Lindegaard harboured genuine hopes of becoming United’s senior stopper permanently. That desire destroyed, the Dane faces a clear choice: remain at Old Trafford in a purely reserve capacity or move on in search of full-time football. Lindegaard remains a reasonable back-up, but little more than that. 4/10

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Patrice Evra
Moyes aggressive search for a new left-back in the summer appeared to signal the end of Potty Paddy’s Old Trafford tenure – and what a period it has been. For a time Evra was the world’s finest left-back and the first half of the campaign has offered a few glimpses of Evra’s peak. Yet, defensively Evra presents a problem in Moyes’ preferred tactical system, although there can be little doubt about the Frenchman’s enduring quality – not least in the dressing room where the 32-year-old is a genuine leader. 7/10

Rafael da Silva
This has been a frustrating campaign for da Silva, whose outstanding performance last season has regressed under Moyes. Injury and a suspicion that the Scot under-rates the young Brazilian abound – Rafael may just have to prove himself all over again. Yet, the former Fluminese player adds real balance to both United’s defence and attack. Rafael is a crucial component of Moyes squad, but does the Scot realise it? 6/10

Rio Ferdinand
In Gary Neville’s case West Bromwich Albion brought the curtain down on a fine career; the full-back’s performance so abject that he retired shortly after a 2–1 United victory at The Hawthorns. Perhaps the cruelest assessment of Ferdinand’s season is that his ‘West Brom moment’ has seemingly come in repetition. That Rio did not even make United’s squad for the Red’s victory over Hull City says much – his time is up, retirement probably overdue. His has been an outstanding career. 4/10

Jonny Evans
The northern Irishman has many commendable facets, not least a growing maturity that befits the 25-year-old. After all, Evans is reaching a prime – a period in his career when the best performances should come. For the most part Evans remains United’s most consistent and reliable central defender. Yet, the suspicion endures that there is always a mistake waiting to happen; too many for an élite player. It is a difference between Evans and the very best in his position. 7/10

Phil Jones
Progress has come through an injury-free period and a more consistent starting berth in which Jones has impressed in both central midfield and defensive positions. Fans have come to expect the bombastic – it is maturity that is now the watchword for Jones. Can the Englishman develop into the world-class central defender many believe resides within? And can that happen if he is consistently deployed in a central midfield role that does not always suit? 7/10

Alexander Büttner
Büttner is little more than squad filler. In truth, this has been the Dutchman’s role from the moment he signed for United – to protect Evra’s legs and to serve the greater good. Strange then that Büttner should claim he was promised up to 20 games a season by Ferguson and a long-term transition away from Evra to the Dutchman. It will never happen. n/a

Nemanja Vidić
This is surely the downslope in Vidić’s United career. Still the club’s most natural defender, Vidić has suffered both for injury and inconsistency this season. There is the suspicion that the Serbian’s legs have finally gone – a lack of pace that when deployed in certain combinations dramatically affects United’s tactical approach. Vidić is a fine defender, but he may no longer be the right defender at Old Trafford. 5/10

Chris Smalling
There is so much more to come from the former Fulham defender, but how long can Moyes wait for the finished product to shine through? Smalling has all the physical assets and many of the technical ones to make it at United. Consistency, fitness and a permanent spot in central defence and not at right-back is surely the key. Yet, Smalling is too often found out in possession – he should love the ball far more than he does. 6/10

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Antonio Valencia
There have been times this season when Valencia’s old confidence returned. Such as a pity that these moments have been sporadic, not the norm. True, Valencia has always been a one club hitter, but when it is effective, Valencia’s hug-the-touchline approach is very effective. Yet, the winger’s tendency is now to check his natural instincts; to cut inside rather than beat his man; to hold back and not attack. It is a serious and suspiciously permanent failing. 6/10

United offered Nani a contract extension this summer simply to retain the winger’s transfer value – it is the obvious conclusion five months hence. After all, Nani’s position in Moyes’ squad is little different to that in Ferguson’s, where the veteran Scot had not only marginalised the Portuguese international but sought to offload him to Zenit St. Petersburg last winter. 4/10

Ashley Young
Young has become the poster child for the more disaffected among United’s support. The former Aston Villa winger has done little, bar the irregular goal, to justify his acquisition more than two years ago. The goals, such as those against Stoke City and West Ham United, mask what has largely been a series of mediocre performances. United desperately need an upgrade. 5/10

Ryan Giggs
The Welshman plays on and sporadically provides a reminder of his enduring quality. Giggs’ performance in Leverkusen, for example, could have come at any point over the last 20 years. Too often the veteran is wasteful in possession and a liability in defence. Understandable criticisms given the 40-year-old’s lengthy tenure in the United first team. Remains a key voice in the dressing room. 5/10

Marouanne Fellaini
It is not the Belgian’s fault that United so grossly over-paid, but this is the context in which Fellaini’s performances are judged. The £27 million United laid out should have provided a significant upgrade to the side’s ailing midfield. It has not. After all, for a little more United might have, by way of example, acquired Arturo Vidal or İlkay Gündoğan. Indeed, Fellaini creates little, is a defensively suspect, seemingly muscled off the ball at will, and has proven to be embarrassingly slow. Strange player, stranger acquisition. 3/10

Tom Cleverley
It is disappointing, but a truism that Cleverley has progressed little over the past two years. It is at least a partial explanation why there has been such a negative supporter reaction to ‘brand Cleverley’. Here is a young man whose football should come first; performances taking primacy over promotions. It doesn’t always feel that way, especially in a campaign where Cleverley’s contribution has been so mixed. 6/10

Michael Carrick
Sir Alex has oft asserted that Carrick starts each campaign slowly, coming into his prime only after the autumn has passed. It’s a claim only partly true, although the Geordie has certainly been blow-par this year. In a campaign where United’s midfield has again struggled to match the mediocre, let alone the best, Moyes needs more from his senior midfielder. 6/10

Shinji Kagawa
The Japanese player’s quality during two years at Borussia Dortmund earned a move to Manchester. His performances in the following 18 months have brought only conjecture. Consigned to the bench, then to the left of midfield, Kagawa’s cause appeared lost during August and September. Yet, injury to Robin van Persie in the autumn afforded Kagawa an opportunity in his favoured role at number 10. Success has been only been partial. There is more to come from Kagawa, but it is not certain that it will be at Old Trafford. 6/10

Adnan Januzaj
Januzaj’s rise from academy, to reserves, and then Moyes’ first team has been rapid, but boy has the Kosovan-Belgian taken his opportunity. There is more than a suspicion of future world star status in the teenager’s performances, which have combined a rare maturity with quality in abundance. Januzaj will surely be a huge factor in the second half of United’s campaign. 7/10

Darren Fletcher
It is more than sentimentality that has brought such warmth with Fletcher’s return to the United team – the Reds need him too. It is probably impossible for the Scot to reach former heights, but for the moment another warm body is truly welcome. n/a

The Brazilian is still at Old Trafford, and no this isn’t an April Fools joke. So rarely has a player so expensive contributed so little to United’s cause. It is no different this season where Anderson is little more than red ink on an accountant’s balance sheet. n/a

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Robin van Persie
This has largely been a campaign of frustration for the Dutchman, who has scored 10 goals in all competitions at a fair rate, but has spent too long on the treatment table. Has van Persie’s poor record with injury made an untimely return; is Moyes’ training regime simply too tough on the 30-year-old striker? Either way, United needs the Dutchman fit, in form and scoring goals if silverware is to be secured come the season’s end. 7/10

Wayne Rooney
The narrative surrounding Rooney’s campaign masks some truths. Rooney is not the player he once was, although a sound work ethic has replaced some of the star-quality. That said, Rooney’s happiness under Moyes, who is prepared to push obsequious sycophancy to its nauseating limit, is a significant bonus for United. Nine goals and as many assists also represents solid numbers at the half-way point of the campaign. 8/10

Javier Hernández
Ask those in the know and it is clear that Hernández is increasingly frustrated with life on United’s bench. The occasional outspoken comment – or in this case, tweet – offers a glimpse into the Mexican’s state of mind. Hernández is on course to break his nation’s goalscoring record at international level yet is destined to forever be a United reserve. It will surprise few if the 25-year-old leaves in the summer. 5/10

Danny Welbeck
There is so much to admire in the Longsight-born striker, whose all-round game is maturing rapidly. Yet, strikers are always judged on goals and Welbeck’s six in all competitions is light, if an improvement on last season. His manager’s recent assertion that Welbeck should dedicate more time to practice is telling; Welbeck’s casual dismissal of the idea a real concern. Good, but could be so much better. 7/10

* ratings given to players who have made 10 appearances or more in all competitions

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  1. an interesting view. Some ratings spot on (IMO). with half the season gone, we shud b in the mix as we improve. #upwards #MUFC

  2. Should have given a rating for the 2 ex-Everton coaches he brought with him, clueless and gormless.

  3. Ouch. Hard to disagree however.

  4. The Rookie says:

    Nice mid season report Ed.

    “Strange player, stranger acquisition.”

    Good way to put it with Fellaini. I was hoping he would bring some strength and holding power to our midfield, with some attacking quality, kinda like Yaya Toure. however he just looks odd on the pitch, out run, out muscled, out passed, out jumped, out played. I’m still hopefully he’ll play his part midfield when he’s health, but as of now I’d rather have Buttner in midfield.

    I saw Danny’s comments in the same light as you did when Moyes was mentioning him practicing his finishing with TheWayneBoy. I learned early on working construction, don’t argue with the boss in front of the lads. Or the press. Not too big a deal though.

    When Rafael plays, we play better.

    I do believe 6/10 for Kagawa is fair, but I would be tempted to take off a point because he just doesn’t seem to really want it when he plays, even in his preferred role. And the over eating thing. I’m guessing it’s frustration over the whole team general being toothless in attack much of the year.

  5. Mostly agree with the sentiments in this article. Two fact checks: it is nada not nade, and wasn’t Gary Neville’s nightmare against WBA that hastened his retirement at the Hawthorns, not OT?

    No mention of Fabio. Smalling is not good enough either at full back or centre back.

  6. Harsh on Valencia, Rafael and Carrick. Jones, Welbz, Chris, Vidic and young Adnan deserve a bit more.

    Evra treated way too lightly-he may be committed to the cause but he’s switched off way too many times this season.

    Don’t disagree with what you say about the rather dire football. After the final whistle at Norwich I was actually fuming with frustration, a reaction very unlike me after a win…..I mean, taking the ball to the corner flag with 3 minutes of injury time? Come on. Anyway, as I’ve posted in a comment to another article, Moyes will have to instil an attacking philosophy, and young players like Danny, Adnan, Nick Powell whenever he comes back, Evans playing almost sweeper-like, and hopefully future attack-minded midfield buys should bode well for the future and stop this frustrating sideways rubbish.

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