Tag David Moyes

Tag David Moyes

Rebuilding Manchester United

April 18, 2014 Tags: , , Reads 36 comments
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With little left to play for in an altogether disastrous Manchester United campaign thoughts turn to the summer’s principal highlight. A period when great men come to the fore and the hapless are mocked with little mercy. Time for dreams to  be made and then shattered; where the hopes of millions are peaked and snatched away. No, not the World Cup in Brazil, with its clichéd samba dancers and hackneyed corporate messages, but a far more entertaining sport: the summer transfer window.

The coming window is perhaps the most crucial in United’s recent past, with half-a-dozen players leaving the club and potentially as many arriving again. After last summer’s incompetent mishandling of bids for Ander Herrera, Cesc Fabregas and Leighton Baines, among others, it is one in which vice chairman Ed Woodward and manager David Moyes must excel. Should the club fail to capture its main targets – or worse still succeed in luring those further down the list – the mediocre pattern set this season may be ingrained for longer than anybody wants.

There will certainly be a number of outgoing players, although United can feel confident that David de Gea is going nowhere, despite the Spaniard not yet having signed a new contract. Still, with Barcelona’s potential transfer ban, and Catalan eyes affixed on 21-year-old Borussia Mönchengladbach stopper Marc-André ter Stegen, there’s little to drag de Gea away from Old Trafford just yet.

It’s a different story with Anders Lindegaard, however, with the Dane keen to play more often after starting just three games in all competitions for United this season. It will surprise few if Lindegaard moves on, while Ben Amos, now a not-so-young 24, could also leave this summer. The Englishman has started just seven games for United six years after making his début for the club.

In defence captain Nemanja Vidić is already committed to Internazionale next season, while Rio Ferdinand may retire or, if he chooses not to, be retired. So long, Rio, it has been – mostly – a pleasure. Meanwhile, it remains more likely than not that left-back Patrice Evra will also move on after the World Cup. That leaves manager David Moyes chasing three international-standard defenders – two-left backs and at least one top class central defender.

Midfield has caused much consternation in recent seasons. Anderson will certainly be sold once the Brazilian has completed a six-month loan spell with Fiorentina, while Darren Fletcher is not guaranteed a spot in United’s engine room next season.

Fletcher’s impressive return from a lengthy illness has added some bite to the Reds midfield, but United will strengthen in that area ahead of the new season. If Moyes does not add at least an attacking and a defensive midfielder to his squad this summer United will remain well short of rivals at home and abroad.

Misfit Nani is unlikely to repeat last summer’s about-face and remain at Old Trafford – Italy or Spain beckon for the 27-year-old winger. Meanwhile, few supporters will shed a tear if Ashley Young departs even if it is not thought likely. Bizarrely the former Aston Villa player remains a Moyes favourite. Ryan Giggs is not and will surely retire.

Instead it appears likely that playmaker Shinji Kagawa, who has impressed  in recent games, will be force out of Old Trafford. There remains the lingering suspicion that the Japanese player is simply not of the ilk preferred by United’s incumbent manager. It means Moyes may add to his attacking resources this summer, especially in wide areas.

Another player almost certainly moving on is Javier Hernández, with the Mexican reportedly told that United will listen to offers for the 25-year-old. Hernández has scored 59 goals in 148 appearances for the club and will presumably command a substantial fee this summer. As would Robin van Persie, whose happiness has been the subject of far too many column inches over the past six months. It is doubtful that the club is prepared to let a player of the Dutchman’s class depart.

As for those who may join, well, the field is open. The question remains whether United will spend the sums leaked to Woodward’s favourite members of the fourth estate in recent weeks – or not. In that spirit here’s Rant’s low-down on some of the best – and not so good – available in this summer’s window.

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Left Back

Luke Shaw

Gold | Luke Shaw, 18, Southampton – the multi-talented English full-back is set for the very top after an outstanding season in the Premier League. Quick, defensively sound, and positive on the attack – Shaw (above) has the potential to be as good as any in world football. Such is the youngster’s talent that he is not only pushing for a place in England’s squad this summer, but may even force his way into Roy Hodgson’s starting XI. Whatever fee it takes to capture Shaw is likely to be steep for a rookie full-back, but perhaps a sound investment given the player is not yet out of his teens. Blue chip quality for a golden price. Circa £30 million. 31 Premier League appearances, 61 tackles, 33 interceptions, 115 clearances, 119 crosses, 0 goals, 1 assist.

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Silver | Ricardo Rodriguez, 21, Wolfsburg  – the Swiss-born, Germany-based, full-back of Spanish-Chilean extraction, has excelled with Wolfsburg this season as Die Wölfe challenge for a Champions League place. Rodriguez possesses many of the traits Moyes prefers in his full-backs – speed, excellent delivery from the flanks, and solid defensive instincts. Rodriguez’ eye for goal and high assist count will also factor into any bid. There are a few rough edges to the player’s game, although Rodriguez’ age-profile means that he is unlikely to be a bargain. That said Wolfsburg rarely hangs on to its star players. A potential diamond with a little rough. Circa £17 million. 30 Bundesliga appearances, 89 tackles, 59 interceptions, 85 clearances, 161 crosses, 5 goals, 7 assist.

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Bronze | Filipe Luis, 28, Atlético Madrid – Brazilian full-back Filipe has enjoyed an outstanding campaign with Atlético as Los Rojiblancos head towards a first La Liga title since 1996. Strong in the tackle, forceful going forward, and experienced, the Brazil international is enjoying the finest spell of a career that has blossomed late. Filipe played for five different clubs before joining Atlético in the summer of 2010. Still, there is no guarantee the 28-year-old will make Luiz Felipe Scolari’s Seleção for this summer’s World Cup. Circa £15 million. 27 La Liga, 7 Champions League appearances, 132 tackles, 45 interceptions, 58 clearances, 114 crosses, 0 goals, 2 assists.

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Wooden Spoon| Guilherme Siqueira, 27, Granada/Benfica. – Siqueira was seemingly moments away from signing for Real Madrid last summer after a transfer four-way between United, Real, Granada and Benfica. Real wanted Granada’s Siqueira, United a loan deal for Fábio Coentrão, only for the Brazilian to board a plane for Portugal where he signed a season-long loan with Benfica. Siqueira will move again this summer – to United only in desperate circumstances. Circa £5 million. 17 Liga Sagres, 3 Champions League, 4 Europa League appearances, 86 tackles, 38 interceptions, 48 clearances, 10 crosses, 1 goal, 0 assists.

Alternatives: Fábio Coentrão, 27, Real Madrid, £12 million. Alberto Moreno, 21, Sevilla – £12 million. Layvin Kurzawa, 21, Monaco – £10 million.

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Central Defence

Eliaquim Mangala

Gold | Mats Hummels, 25, Borussia Dortmund – the outstanding German international is the envy of many an élite club. Whether Hummels can be prized – or tempted – away from Dortmund is another question. Strong in the tackle, a superb reader of the game, and classy in possession, Hummels is not a stereotypical modern German centre back. Hummels style – more reminiscent of Franz Beckenbauer than any contemporary – stands out above all. Indeed, the defender remains ‘one that got away’ for Bayern Munich, having come through the club’s youth ranks before a 2008 transfer to Dortmund. There is little to regret for the 25-year-old, who is certain to be in Germany’s squad for the World Cup this summer. Circa £30 million. 19 Bundesliga, 6 Champions League, 6 Europa League appearances, 65 tackles, 68 interceptions, 150 clearances, 7 blocks, 2 goals, 1 assist.

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Silver | Mehdi Benatia, 27, Roma – the Moroccan is likely to be a man in much demand this summer, although Roma’s probable qualification for the Champions League makes a transfer that much more difficult. It has certainly been Benatia’s most impressive season to date after an £11 million transfer from Udinese last summer. The player’s strength and defensive nous has stood out in an excellent campaign. Yet, his rise hasn’t been easy: rejected by Marseille, send on loan to Tours and Lorient, dumped into Ligue 2 at Clermont, before signing for Udinese on a free transfer in 2010. Circa £20 million. 30 Serie A appearances, 65 tackles, 83 interceptions, 200 clearances, 20 blocks, 5 goals, 0 assists.

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Bronze | Eliaquim Mangala, 23, Porto – France international defender Mangala (above) has taken a circuitous route to what seems an inextricable rise to the very top. Born in Paris, Mangala moved to Belgium at the age of five, joining regional side UR Namur as a teenager. Tranfer to Standard Liege followed in 2008 where the player converted first from striker to left-back, and then to central defence. It took just shy of £5 million to take the gifted athlete, if sometimes raw defender, to Porto in summer 2011. With agent Jorge Mendes in Mangala’s corner, Porto will make a healthy profit on a player who has played more than 20 times for the French Under-21 side, but is not guaranteed to make Les Bleu’s squad for Brazil this summer. Circa £30 million. 20 Liga Sagres, 6 Champions League, 42 tackles, 29 interceptions, 176 clearances, 16 blocks, 5 goals, 1 assist.

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Wooden Spoon| Ezequiel Garay, 27, Benfica – Garay’s name is regularly mentioned in dispatches, although it is hard to look past the Argentinian’s abject failure at Real Madrid. Perhaps the opportunity came too early in Garay’s career; perhaps the 27-year-old simply isn’t equipped for the very top level. The truth is that Garay’s pace is just a touch short and his distribution a little too raged, but then there is that defender’s instinct that often compensates for other deficiencies. Garay has probably done enough at Benfica to earn one last shot at an elite club. Whether that should be United is an open question. Circa £18 million. 26 Liga Sagres, 6 Champions League, 5 Europa League appearances, 41 tackles, 52 interceptions, 207 clearances, 12 blocks, 7 goals, 0 assists.

Alternatives: Neven Subotic, 25, Borussia Dortmund – £18 million.  Nicolas N’Koulou, 24, Marseille, £12 million. Matthias Ginter, 20, SC Freiburg – £10 million. Joël Veltman, 22, Ajax, £8 million.

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Central Midfield

Toni Kroos

Gold | Arturo Vidal, 26, Juventus – goal scoring all-rounder Vidal has shone in Juve’s hugely successful Serie A title defence this season. Perhaps the most complete midfielder in European football, bar Yaya Touré, Vidal is strong in the tackle, but talented enough to pick out the match-winning pass. The Chilean has seemingly grown with each season in Italy following a £8 million transfer from Bayer Leverkusen in 2011. Indeed, there is little incentive – bar a huge transfer fee – for The Old Lady to let their star man leave. There is always a premium for the very best – and Vidal is that – but is it one that United will meet this summer? Circa £45 million. 30 Serie A, 6 Champions League, 5 Europa League appearances, 2015 passes/83.3% success, 88 shots, 63 key passes, 18 goals, 5 assists.

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Silver | Toni Kroos, 24, Bayern Munich – German international Kroos (above) has enjoyed an outstanding campaign in the heart of Bayern’s midfield. Flexible enough to play box-to-box, in front of the back four, or at number 10, Kroos has appeared in more games for Guardiola’s side than any other midfielder. Yet, he is embroiled in a contract negotiation process that has often threatened to spill over onto the pitch. Paid around £70,000-per-week – far less than his market value – the Kroos camp has made little secret of the player’s willingness to move. It will still take a huge bid to pursued Bayern to sell before summer 2015. Circa £40 million. 27 Bundesliga, 10 Champions League appearances, 2944 passes/92.7% success, 77 shots, 52 key passes, 6 goals, 6 assists.

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Bronze | William Carvalho, 21, Sporting – rumours that United has already sealed a £35 million transfer for the Sporting midfielder are premature, although there is little doubt the Reds are interested in completing a deal. The delay, as ever, surrounds an acceptable fee. Still, with Mendes as the player’s agent, Carvalho will be moving for big money at some point over the summer. If completed United will gain a tough-tackling defensive midfielder, who has visibly grown over the campaign. Carvalho is far from the finished product – and is still not guaranteed a place Paulo Bento’s Seleção this summer. Circa £20 million. 26 Liga Sagres appearances, 4 shots, 4 goals, 0 assists.

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Wooden Spoon | Alex Song, 26, Barcelona – it was always a strange transfer, Song’s from Arsenal to Barcelona in 2012. The Cameroonian midfielder enjoyed six years with the Gunners, but only in latter seasons did the defensive midfielder truly shine. Yet, the 26-year-old was always destined to be a reserve at Barcelona, where Sergio Busquets is a permanent fixture at the base of Barça’s midfield. Just 11 starts in La Liga this season suggests a move would suit the midfielder, although the Catalans’ transfer ban may scupper these plans. Circa £15 million. 16 La Liga, 4 Champions League appearances, 864 passes/92% success, 4 shots, 4 key passes, 35 tackles, 0 goals, 0 assists.

Alternatives: Ander Herrera, 24, £30 million. Morgan Schneiderlin, 24, Southampton, £15 million. Tonny Vilhena, 18, PSV Eindhoven, £5 million.

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Forwards

Antoine Griezmann

Gold | Marco Reus, 24, Borussia Dortmund – multi-talented midfielder-cum-forward Reus was outstanding in Dortmund’s 2-0 victory over Real Madrid in this season’s Champions League quarter-final. It is the standard the 24-year-old has consistently set over the past year. Comfortable attacking from the left or central positions, Reus has contributed 31 goals or assists in 35 appearances this season. Now an established member of Joachim Löw’s Germany side, and pivotal to Dortmund’s future, there is likely to be interest from Europe’s biggest club. Whether there is any incentive for Dortmund to sell is perhaps the better question. Circa £30 million. 26 Bundesliga, 9 Champions League appearances, 1126 passes/75.8% success, 129 shots, 88 key passes, 19 goals, 12 assists.

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Silver | Antoine Griezmann, 23, Real Sociedad – utility forward Griezmann (above) has now enjoyed five consistent seasons in La Liga with La Real, following a move to Spain as a teenager. Comfortable on the left, right or behind the principle striker, the Frenchman is a modern attacking player who has made a major contribution despite Sociedad’s challenging season. The Mâcon-born player was rewarded with a début cap for Les Bleu’s in February, although remains an outsider to make the World Cup squad. Still, with Paris Saint Germain reportedly interested, competition for Griezmann’s signature may be healthy this summer. Circa £20 million. 31 La Liga, 6 Champions League appearances, 1007 passes/77.6% success, 119 shots, 36 key passes, 16 goals, 3 assists.

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Bronze| Adam Lallana, 25, Southampton – neither midfielder, nor forward, Lallana is a modern attacking player in every sense. Comfortable behind a traditional front-man, or in either wide position, the St. Alban’s-born forward has improved each year after seven seasons with the south coast club. But then Lallana always held the talent to succeed – he was an outstanding junior, and a player prepared to graft through the lower reaches of league football for a shot at the big time. Has already impressed on the international stage and would represent an upgrade on Ashley Young or Antonio Valencia. Circa £15 million. 34 Premier League appearances, 1337 passes/84% success, 63 shots, 65 key passes, 9 goals, 6 assists.

Moyes replacement candidates

April 14, 2014 Tags: Reads 72 comments
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News this week that Manchester United director Joel Glazer – or Bryan depending on the report – may have met Netherlands national manager Louis van Gaal comes as little surprise. While the club denies a meeting has taken place it is surely inconceivable that United’s executive management is not forming a contingency plan. After all, under David Moyes, United has lost 14 times across four competitions, crashing out of the Champions League to Bayern Munich last week to end hopes of a trophy under the former Everton manager this season. In truth, most elite clubs would have handed Moyes his P45 by now.

Indeed, so chaotic has the campaign become that the Scot is said to face a much divided dressing room, with two distinct pro and anti-Moyes camps having formed over the past nine months. It is amid this atmosphere of failure, in which United’s dressing room is no longer singing from a single hymnsheet, let alone one drafted by the 50-year-old manager, that the club’s owners are potentially considering change. There may well be a desire for ‘long-term stability’, but it is thought that some in United’s hierarchy recognise that stability is a factor of success; longevity the by-product of achievement.

Moreover, with United’s transfer budget potentially upwards of £100 million this summer, there is a growing feeling that Moyes is far from the right man to begin United’s rebuilding process. And in this spirit Rant reviews the potential candidates should Moyes get the boot this summer…

 

FRONT RUNNERS

Louis van Gaal, 62 – Netherlands

Louis van Gaal

Make no mistake van Gaal is an outstanding candidate to replace Moyes should the Scot go this summer. Winner of seven domestic league titles, three domestic cups and two European titles, the Dutchman boasts the profile of an elite club manager in every sense. This is in stark contrast to Moyes those of a crueler persuasion might add.

van Gaal found fame as the 43-year-old manager of a young Ajax side that won the Champions League in 1995. In two spells with Barcelona, two with the Dutch national team, and a period in charge of Bayern Munich, van Gaal has built a reputation as a tactical innovator and a strict disciplinarian. Gravitas and respect is guaranteed.

Despite those high profile appointments it is perhaps his spell at AZ Alkmaar that bore witness to van Gaal’s most impressive triumph: the Dutch league title in 2009. With average crowds of less than 15,000, van Gaal led the provincial team to only its second title in the club’s 50-year history.

In the context of United’s recent fall from grace, van Gaal is committed both to development of the younger generation and to attacking football in the finest traditions of Total Football. At 62 the Dutchman is no long-term appointment, but then a safe pair of hands for three seasons might do United well.

van Gaal brings weight to a sometimes combative management style that precipitated conflict at Bayern. It is the van Gaal way or the highway; Sir Alex Ferguson would surely approve. That said, the impressive track record reads just two titles in the past 15 years, and dismissals at Bayern and Barça.

Tactics: van Gaal typically sets up in an attacking 4-3-3 formation, with two wide players and three central midfielders in the Dutch style. At United, using the current squad, van Gaal might deploy Robin van Persie as his number nine, use Shinji Kagawa and Adnan Januzaj as inverted wingers, with Juan Mata, Michael Carrick and Tom Cleverley supporting from midfield.

Achievements: Ajax – Eredivisie 1994, 1995, 1996; KNVB Cup 1993; Cruijff Shield 1993, 1994, 1995; Champions League 1995; UEFA Cup 1992; Super Cup 1995; Intercontinental Cup 1995. Barcelona – La Liga 1998, 1999; Copa del Rey 1998; Super Cup 1997. AZ – Eredivisie 2009. Bayern Munich – Bundesliga 2010; Pokal 2010; Supercup 2010.

  • Employment history: Ajax, Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Netherlands
  • Pros: Experienced, gravitas and a proven winner in three countries
  • Cons: Combative, with a tendency to fall out with players, age profile
  • Odds: 6/1
  • Availability: free agent after World Cup 2014

 

Jürgen Klopp, 46 – Borussia Dortmund

Jurgen Klopp

Klopp has won many plaudits over the past four campaigns after building a distinctive, attacking, Dortmund side that secured two Bundesliga titles in succession and then finished runners-up to Bayern Munich in the 2013 Champions League final. It is a period that represents the zenith of Klopp’s managerial career, yet one that may have already come to an end as Bayern use the club’s financial power off the pitch to dominate on it.

Six years after appointment at Dortmund many pundits believe that the German is ready for a move to one of Europe’s major clubs, although Klopp has reportedly turned down offers from Manchester City, Chelsea and Real Madrid. It is an impressive demonstration of loyalty.

Klopp has shown little indication that he is willing to leave Dortmund this summer either, although there is a precedent: the 46-year-old moved on from Mainz in 2008 when he felt he could no longer take the club forward. He had been associated with Mainz as player and coach for nearly 20 years.

The German might represent a highly popular appointment at Old Trafford; one with a clear vision of both playing style and youth development. His Dortmund side has regularly featured locally developed players. However, there are obvious risks: Klopp has little experience recruiting at the top end of the transfer market, while he has never worked or played outside Germany. The first may endear Klopp to the Glazer family; the latter is unlikely to do the same.

Tactics: Klopp deploys a familiar 4-2-3-1 system, with an attacking hard-pressing style. His number nine is supported by a playmaker and two wingers. With United’s current squad, Klopp might use Rooney as a dynamic forward, with Nani and Januzaj in wide roles. Mata or Kagawa might float, with Carrick and Marouane Fellaini holding.

Achievements: Borussia Dortmund – Bundesliga 2011, 2012; Pokal 2012; Supercup 2013; Champions League runner–up 2013.

  • Employment history: 1. FSV Mainz 05, Borussia Dortmund
  • Pros: Force of personality, attacking style of football, achieved much on meager resources
  • Cons: No experience in England, with an élite club, or using a large budget
  • Odds: 6/1
  • Availability: contracted to Dortmund until 2018

 

Diego Simeone, 43 – Atlético de Madrid

Diego Simeone

Alongside Klopp, Simeone is the hottest managerial property in European football. Working with a budget a fraction of that enjoyed by larger rivals both domestically and on the continent, Simeone has created a dynamic Atlético side that threatens to take both La Liga and the Champions League this season. This is no flash in the pan: Atlético secured last season’s Copa del Rey and the 2012 Europa League. It is believed that Simeone is already on a long-list of potential candidates drawn up by United’s board.

Simeone enjoyed a storied playing career, winning trophies in South America, Europe and at international level with Argentina. And the tough-tackling midfielder has built an Atlético  side very much in his own image, seamlessly blending touch with brawn; muscle and some of the most talented players in Europe.

Following retirement Simeone worked in Argentina with Racing Club and then won Argentinian titles with Estudiantes and River Plate, before suffering a difficult spell in a fledgling coaching career. Simeone spent a brief period with San Lorenzo, Catania in Italy and then Racing for a second time. He was appointed head coach by Atlético in December 2011.

Simeone led Atlético to the Europa League final against Athletic Club in 2012, and to a famous Copa del Rey final triumph over Real Madrid last year. It was arguably the greatest triumph of his managerial career.

Tactics: Simeone employs a narrow 4-4-2 built around hard work and intense pressing. The Argentinian typically employs two forwards, supported by a four-man midfield diamond. At United, Simeone might select both Rooney and van Persie, supported by Mata, Fellaini, Cleverley and Carrick in the holding role.

Achievements: Estudiantes – Torneo Apertura 2006. River Plate – Torneo Clausura 2008. Atlético Madrid – Copa del Rey 2013; Europa League 2012; Super Cup 2012.

  • Employment history: Racing, Estudiantes, San Lorenzo, Catania, Atlético Madrid
  • Pros: Built outstanding Atlético side on a small budget, hugely respected playing career
  • Cons: Limited English, six jobs in eight years, little experience with large budgets
  • Odds: 25/1
  • Availability: contracted to Atlético until 2017

 

DARK HORSES

Ryan Giggs, 40 – Manchester United

Ryan Giggs

There has never really been any doubt that Giggs would move into management once his playing days came to an end – it’s just that the Welshman has continued working on the field well into his 41st year. Many see Giggs as a future United manager in waiting, but could the former winger move directly from playing into the hot-seat? It’s possible, if a very long shot. Certainly, it seems as if Giggs will finally retire in the summer, whether by choice or Moyes’ instruction.

Giggs might be a universally popular choice as United manager, but his appointment is likely to be far too risky for the Glazer family. Moreover, while two decades under Sir Alex’ instruction might have rubbed off the same was once thought of Bryan Robson, Paul Ince, Roy Keane, Mark Hughes and Steve Bruce – a quintet with very mixed results.

  • Tactics: unknown
  • Achievements: none as coach or manager
  • Employment history: none
  • Pros: United favourite schooled in the ‘United way’ under Ferguson
  • Cons: Inexperienced as a coach, let alone manager
  • Odds: 12/1
  • Availability: out of contract as a player in June 2014

 

Antonio Conte, 44 – Juventus

Antonio Conte

Juve’s two-time Serie A winning coach, with a third on the way, has built an impressive CV in a managerial career not yet into its eighth year. Conte has long been a son of The Old Lady, having played more than 400 Serie A games for the club, but spent plenty of time in managerial backwaters before receiving the call in 2011. After retiring in 2004, Conte coached at Arezzo – twice – Bari, where he secured the Serie B title, Atalanta and Siena – five jobs in as many years. It was a tough proving ground for the 44-year-old former midfielder.

In the past three years Conte has solidified Juve’s revival following the Calciopoli scandal, building a team around Paul Pogba, Arturo Vidal and the irrepressible Andrea Pirlo. Often deploying a 3-5-2 now popular in Italy, Conte has built an attacking home team, if one that can be circumspect on the road.

The Italian would represent a significant gamble even if he is willing to move on from Juve, which is by no means certain.

  • Tactics: prefers a 3-5-2, using a narrow three man midfield and two wing-backs – the Italian way!
  • Achievements: Bari – Serie B 2009. Juventus – Serie A 2012, 2013; Supercoppa 2012, 2013
  • Employment history: Arezzo, Bari, Atalanta, Siena, Juventus
  • Pros: One of Europe’s outstanding young coaches
  • Cons: Has never worked outside of Italy
  • Odds: 16/1
  • Availability: contracted to Juve until 2015

 

Carlo Ancelotti, 54 – Real Madrid

Carlo Anchelotti

It should surprise few, but Ancelotti may not have done enough to earn a second season at Real Madrid, leaving the Italian open to offers next season. Still, Ancelotti has few peers in the game, having twice won the Champions League, secured the Club World Cup, and won league titles in three countries. With Chelsea the 54-year-old secured the Premier League and FA Cup double in 2010. Still, Real have not yet claimed La Liga and Ancelotti’s side was perhaps fortunate to scrape through to this season’s Champions League semi-final.

Whatever happens this summer, Ancelotti has enjoyed a storied career, making his name at Milan where he coached for eight largely successful seasons. He twice finished second in Serie A with Juventus before winning the 2004 title with the Rossoneri. The Champions League was secured twice with Milan, before Ancelotti claimed titles in England and France. He may yet win silverware with Real and would represent a very safe pair of hands.

  • Tactics: Typically deploys a 4-2-3-1 system at Real Madrid after experimenting with a diamond
  • Achievements: Juventus – Intertoto Cup 1999. Milan – Serie A 2004; Coppa Italia 2003; Supercoppa 2004; Champions League 2003, 2007; Super Cup 2003, 2007; Club World Cup 2007. Chelsea – Premier League 2010; FA Cup 2010; Community Shield 2009. Paris Saint-Germain – Ligue 1 2013
  • Employment history: Reggiana, Parma, Juventus, Milan, Chelsea, Paris Saint-Germain, Real Madrid
  • Pros: Experienced, with an impressive ‘big club’ record, previously coached in the Premier League
  • Cons: Sacked as Chelsea manager, barren spell with Milan in latter years, may not excite fans
  • Odds: 16/1
  • Availability: contract with Real runs until 2016

 

LONG SHOTS

Frank de Boer, 43 – Ajax

de Boer is a young coach with a strong future who is likely to be in demand across the continent this summer. The former Dutch international has led Ajax’ renaissance with four Eredivisie titles in a row, including that of the current campaign. Reportedly turned down an offer from Liverpool in summer 2012 before Brendan Rodgers’ appointment at Anfield, while Tottenham Hotspur’s approach is yet to be formalised.

  • Tactics: Deploys a typically Dutch 4-3-3 system, complemented by a high-pressing game
  • Achievements: Ajax – Eredivisie 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014; Johan Cruijff Shield 2013
  • Employment history: Ajax
  • Pros: Young manager schooled in the Total Football philosophy
  • Cons: Inexperienced with no ‘Big Club’ pedigree
  • Odds: 25/1
  • Availability: contracted to Ajax until 2017

 

Mauricio Pochettino, 42 – Southampton

Young manager who has built an impressive Southampton side that will comfortably secure a mid-table position this season. Would be attracted by an offer to coach at a higher level, although this summer is likely to be a job too soon for any of Europe’s largest clubs.

  • Tactics: 4-4-2/4-5-1 with a very high tempo pressing game
  • Achievements: none to date
  • Employment history: Espanyol, Southampton
  • Pros: Has built an attractive Southampton team on a reasonable budget
  • Cons: Inexperienced at the highest level, poor English
  • Betting: 25/1
  • Availability: year-to-year contract with Southampton

 

RANK OUTSIDERS

Pep Guardiola, 46 – Bayern Munich
The man many fans believe Sir Alex should have anointed as the next United manager. Guardiola has enjoyed a fruitful first season with Bayern, securing the Bundesliga title with seven games to go, while his side is into the Champions League semi-final. Enjoyed a hugely successful four year spell at Barcelona.

Jose Mourinho, 50 – Chelsea
Arrogant, pretentious, controversial and brilliant in equal measure. One of the world’s finest coaches and a serial winner in Portugal, England, Italy and Spain. Possibly the best strategist and in-game tactician of the modern era. Mourinho was overlooked for the United job due to a perceived lacked of loyalty and his controversial manner.

Fabio Capello, 67 – Russia
Veteran Italian coach has built a club career with very few peers, although the four year spell in charge of England has tarnished the former Milan manager’s reputation on these shores. Still, he has secured five Serie A titles and two in Spain. Vastly experienced and a very safe pair of hands if only for a short spell.

Moyes’ 50 failings in 50 games

April 12, 2014 Tags: Reads 94 comments
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It has, without hint of hyperbole, been the most disastrous season at Manchester United in a quarter-century. Transition from Sir Alex Ferguson may have proven difficult whomever was appointed at the club, but in David Moyes there is an increasing body of evidence that the club’s executive has made a serious mistake.

After all “transition” is a word that can be applied to Manchester City, Barcelona, Real Madrid, Bayern Munich and Chelsea to different levels of success or failure this season.

But Moyes it is – and the Scot has undoubtedly made mistakes across his 50 games in charge. From pre-season planning, to transfer farce, coaching methodology and those oh so very odd press conferences – Rant takes a look. In no particular order of importance.

 

PRE-SEASON

1. Pre-season purgatory
When Rant argued back in August that United’s pre-season focused too strongly on marketing, with too few quality opponents scheduled, the prevailing wisdom appeared to be, ‘this is always the way’. Yet, with a tough start to the season the Reds began the campaign undercooked on the ball and over-baked without it. Little wonder, with Moyes’ boot camp consisting of long-running aerobic drills and very little ball work.

2. Ruining Kagawa’s preparation
Kagawa has suffered for almost constant football over the past five seasons, yet Moyes’ split the Japanese player’s summer break in two, disrupting what should have been a carefully managed programme. Kagawa was recalled early to join a series of marketing events on the Japan leg of United’s summer tour – appearing first at an extended press-conference in Tokyo, then playing 45 minutes of a tepid friendly. Kagawa was then sent back on holiday again. Sensible it was not.

 

TRANSFER BUSINESS

3. Summer transfer market madness
Cesc Fabregas, Ander Herrera, Gareth Bale, Leighton Baines, Sami Khedira, Daniele De Rossi, Thiago Alcântara – and the aforementioned Fellaini. FELLAINI!! It seems as if the only impostor attempting to muscle in on a hitherto smooth, if under-funded, transfer machine was Moyes himself. After all, if the ‘word-on-the-street’ is accurate Moyes simply didn’t want Alcântara – available for a bargain £17 million – when the club had put in much of the groundwork. What the very f*ck.

4. Fellaini farce
The Belgian’s transfer was a farce unworthy of far lesser clubs than United, but one foisted on an outfit previously proud of its professionalism. That United paid £4 million over Fellaini’s buy-out clause is embarrassment enough. That the midfielder should prove wholly unworthy of a place in the Reds’ squad simply adds salt to a gaping wound.

Marouane Fellaini

5. iPad idiocy
It’s all very good installing a “high tech scouting system” at Carrington, including iPads and analytics, but if the outcome is ‘Dithering Dave’ failing to deliver quality acquisitions then little improvement has occurred. Evidence that Alcântara was lined-up for a transfer before Moyes delayed on the deal is strong, while no tablet technology can save Moyes from the disaster that has been Fellaini’s acquisition.

 

CHOOSING FAVOURITES

6. Pandering to Wayne Rooney
It started in the summer: Moyes’ sycophantic and desperate need to place the Scouser on a pedestal rarely deserved. Not only had Rooney spent a summer desperate to engineer a transfer out of Old Trafford, but as Ferguson’s time drew to a close the striker suffered his worst campaign as a United player. In the intervening months Rooney has occasionally sparkled, but all too often simply been flattered by a manager desperate to please. It is, as the old phrase concludes, little more than a deception.

7. Not picking to form
There were times during United’s 3-0 victory at West Bromwich Albion in March that striker Robin van Persie appeared to be staring at his own shoes – sulking as if a teenager bared from attending a late-night party. It was perhaps the nadir, injuries aside, of van Persie’s season; one in which the Dutchman has made it blatantly obvious he is no longer happy. Yet, Danny Welbeck and Javier Hernández have spent most of the season on the sidelines.

 

COACHING

8. Backroom turmoil
There has been much debate around Moyes’ decision to sack former assistant manager Mike Phelan along with goalkeeping coach Eric Steele. The Scot’s failure to retain Rene Meulensteen has also been the subject of many column inches. Whatever the reason, the loss of knowledge, experience and link between management and players has proven to be devastating to United’s cause. Moyes should have done better.

9. Giggs sidelined
Moyes and Giggs did not have a dressing room confrontation, but the Welshman’s limited involvement in coaching this seasons is reportedly in no small part due to differences in philosophy. Rumour has it that Giggs will not only retire this summer, but do so unwillingly. Unless Moyes goes, concludes the rumour mill, the Welshman will be gleefully employed away from Old Trafford in the summer.

Ryan Giggs

10. Coaching methodology
On the topic, while some players expressed early season approval of Moyes’ boot-camp methodology, few in the sports science community concur. Is it a co-incidence that United’s injuries have been so devastating this season? Perhaps, but then there is more than a pause for thought. Giggs and Moyes reportedly fell out over the manager’s insistence on lengthy defensive training sessions too. This is, after all, not the United way.

 

TEAM MANAGEMENT

11. Rotation policy
Or lack thereof. Moyes’ use of a large squad is a contradiction. In 50 games as manager Moyes has rotated each time. Yet, as the season began the Scot over-used veteran Rio Ferdinand to such an extent that the 34-year-old was burnt out by October and seemingly heading for retirement. It has become clear Moyes has little idea how to manage a large and diverse squad.

12. Poor use of substitutes
Moyes’ negativity has become the punchline to a very bad joke, but the manager’s bizarre decision to substitute Rooney for Chris Smalling on 88 minutes as United led Southampton at Old Trafford last October seems a good précis. There was no injury to counter, simply a tactical switch to get “more height into the box”. The irony – a very sad one at that – is that United conceded from a corner. One could not, as the saying goes, make this up.

13. Lack of proactivity
It was always antithetical to hope Moyes might become the kind of dynamic, proactive, coach that many supporters believe United missed out on when passing over José Mourinho and Pep Guardola for the main job. The Scot has not disappointed his critics – so rarely changing a game in United’s favour through, for example, substitutions. The Reds’ loss to Bayern last week is a case in point, with Moyes making required changes at least 15 minutes too late.

 

MEDIA AND FANS

14. Trying – a lot!
He’s trying, oh so very trying. Moyes’ peripatetic use of the word “try” has become a social media meme and a definitive sign of the manager’s weakness. After all, Ferguson simply did – no trying required.

15. Aspiring to be City
The Blues are “at the sort of level we are aspiring to,” said Moyes after Manuel Pellegrini’s men ran out 3-0 winners at Old Trafford. It is the first time in the club’s history anybody has aspired to be like City. Just stop it. Now.

16. Not knowing what he has to do
“I don’t know what we have to do to win,” Moyes confessed after United’s loss at Stoke City in February. The Scot didn’t understand quite how literal the statement would become.  Fortunately, while the team has disintegrated under Moyes, there are enough individuals of quality to ensure United’s record against mediocre opposition impresses.

17 & 18. Laying the blame everywhere but at his own doorstep…
Bad luck, injuries, individual mistakes, age profile, Ferguson, a lack of squad depth, a lack of talent – name it and Moyes has blamed it. Just not himself – ever – for the unholy mess that has become United’s season.

… and then point the finger at referees
On that theme, while all managers lay the blame for poor results at officialdom’s doorstep, Moyes has a habit of pointing the finger at the Premier League’s referees more than most. “We’re actually beginning to laugh at them, that’s the thing. It’s really terrible, it really is,” said the Scot after Fabio Borini’s 64th minute penalty in United’s Capital One Cup defeat to Sunderland. United has certainly been no more wronged than any other this season.

19. Talking down the players
“To win the Champions League, you need five or six world-class players,” Moyes said back in September. “That’s the level you have to be at to win it. We’ve not got that.” He was right, of course, but the statement fits a pattern of negativity. “I actually think if Sir Alex was here this year it would be difficult for Sir Alex as well,” he added in March. How supporters laughed. Oh, that’s right – we didn’t.

20. “We enjoyed it…”
… said Moyes after United’s defeat to Munich in the Champions League. The fans didn’t. It gave the impression Moyes has still not grown into the job – a manager permanently on a tourist’s high.

David Moyes

21. “They…”
… told Moyes a lot, didn’t they? Except how to manage the club it seems.

22. Lack of ambition
After defeat to mid-table Swansea City in the FA Cup Moyes bemoaned the fact that his side was not “hard to play against.” In response he promised that United would “make it difficult” for mid-table Newcastle United. There’s nothing quite like ambition, or lack of it – a philosophy that has defined a season, to the point that the Scot had two plans in the Reds’ pivotal Champions League fixture with Bayern Munich: to not lose, but if defeat was inevitable, to not lose too badly.

23. Never being far away
“We’ve not got the Champions League next season, but I believe it is not far away,” said Moyes after United tumbled out of Europe last week. About seven points at last count. There is always the promise of jam tomorrow.

24. Pulling the wool over supporters eyes
“It is a work in progress and it will take time to get it exactly how we want it,” said Moyes this season. While a period of transition may be part of the football lexicon, and cyclical changes are frequent at the top, few expected United’s fall to be so hard. After all there are new managers at City, Chelsea, Bayern, Real Madrid and Barcelona this season. None has suffered like United.

 

INJURIES

25. Over training van Persie
Back in July Moyes admitted that he had “overtrained” van Persie “to build up his fitness” with the Dutchman joining the pre-season camp in Australia late. After two injury-free seasons in succession the striker has missed more than half of United’s games this season. “The only way to solve this problem in Jurassic Park,” said rent-a-gob Dutch fitness coach Raymond Verheijen on Twitter, “is to improve education of these dinosaur coaches, fitness clowns and scientific cowboys.” In hindsight, it’s hard to argue with him.

David Moyes, Robin van Persie

26. Risking Rooney’s health
There was never a doubt; not a single moment when United’s manager considered not playing Rooney against Bayern in Germany. Less than 30 minutes into the fixture and it was obvious the Scouser was much the worse for his “bruised” – probably broken – toe. By then Rooney was simply hobbling around the centre circle, an inhibitor to United’s performance let alone an aid to an unlikely comeback. “I thought at times he was having a struggle striking the ball.” Well DUH.

27. Risking van Persie’s health
“I think if I’d brought him off (against Newcastle) some people would say ‘What are you doing? You are 1-0 down and you’re taking off your top goalscorer,’” said Moyes back in January. The Dutchman, fresh from a month out, played the full 90 as United lost to the Geordies at Old Trafford. The striker would sit out yet more time in the aftermath, and Moyes would continue to moan about injuries.

 

USING THE SQUAD

28. Ignoring the next generation
Adnan Januzaj has made an outstanding fist of his debut season in United’s first team, although many supporters argue that the Belgian-Kosovan player would have made it under any management. Yet, the 19-year-old aside, Moyes has offered little playing time to a rash of youngsters who have otherwise been sent out on loan. Winger Jesse Lingard, as one example, could hardly have done more to earn a shot at a place in Moyes’ team. He has spent the season excelling at Birmingham City and Brighton & Hove Albion.

29. “I wanted to give everybody a chance to play”
… said United’s manager more than once this season. Except, of course, he hasn’t – Wilfried Zaha, Fabio da Silva, Anderson, Nani, Shinji Kagawa, and Hernández will attest. You get the picture.

 

DERBY DAY THRASHINGS

30. Thrashed by Liverpool – twice
“We did a lot of things right,” said the Scot after United’s tame 1-0 defeat at Anfield last autumn. Except score a goal – or even threaten to. Even Moyes did not have the brass balls to make a similar claim as United conceded three to the same opponents at Old Trafford last month. Defeat to major rivals might be worth a P45 in its own right at many clubs throughout Europe.

Manchester United, Liverpool

31. Thrashed be Manchester City – twice
“It is one game,” said Moyes after Manchester City thrashed United 4-1 at Eastlands in September. “There are plenty more to come and plenty of time to fix it.” Except it wasn’t one game, not even nearly, with United losing more than a dozen games across the season, including all four against City and Liverpool.

 

STRATEGY AND TACTICS

32. Negative tactics
Parking. The. Bus. It’s just not the United way. Nor did it work against Bayern unless, unlike Rant, you witnessed a United victory in this season’s Champions League quarter-final. Yet, it is not just the two-legged defense-minded strategy employed against the German champions that has frustrated – Moyes has sought a safety-first approach all season. It has brought United just 56 goals in the Premier League – 19 fewer than at the same stage last season.

33. Playing football by accident
At Newcastle, Januzaj, Juan Mata and Kagawa combined to provide a flexible, vibrant attacking performance rarely seen under Moyes. It was a fluke. Not that the trio lack talent – far from it – but that they were deployed in tandem at all. Januzaj was overlooked for Ashley Young at the start, while Kagawa and Mata enjoyed more central roles only because Rooney and van Persie sat out the game. There was a similar pattern at Crystal Palace and West Ham United.

34. So few goals
It is a facet of Moyes’ negative approach, United’s direct style, injuries to key strikers or a combination? Either way the blame lays squarely at Moyes’ door, with United failing to match rivals scoring patterns this season. Liverpool has scored 34 more goals in the Premier League, and City 28. At Old Trafford the Reds have scored just 22 times – that’s as many as Stoke, and fewer than West Ham or Swansea City.

35. Long ball nonsense
There have been times when United’s approach this season has mirrored the classic long ball sides of the 1980s – Wimbledon, Cambridge United and Sheffield United. True, Moyes has not instructed Old Trafford’s ground staff to grow the grass longer, nor lay sand in the corners, but direct United undoubtedly has become. In defeat to Stoke at the Britannia, as one example, United launched 47 long balls forward into the swirling Potteries wind. Just 13 found their target.

36. Lack of entertainment
It’s not just about goals though. United’s style under Moyes has rarely brought supporters to their feet. Save for those few matches where United’s more creative players have been unleashed, the Reds functional style rarely seems to excite. Will it improve if Moyes remains at the helm? History and logic dictates this is unlikely.

 

PLAYERS

37. Under-using Hernández
The little Mexican has his critics and plenty of limitations, but the striker is the most ‘natural’ goal-scorer in Moyes’ squad. In a season when United has struggled to score and the Reds’ forward line has often been static, Chicharito’s under-use borders on the bizarre. Hernández will likely leave in the summer to compound Moyes’ failure.

38. Criminal misuse of Kagawa
“They tell me he’s a good player,” declared the manager of Kagawa back in August. ‘They’ apparently didn’t let Moyes know how, or when, to use the Japanese playmaker who has spent much of the season on the bench or stuck on the left-wing. Only in the Spring, with Kagawa and Mata combining to great effect, has the former Borussia Dortmund player been used in a fashion anywhere near optimal. Only for the Japanese to be shunted back to the left in United’s biggest game of the season against Bayern in Germany.

Shinji Kagawa

39. Attempting to destroy Juan Mata
“It is like putting a learner in a Ferrari,” said one great Italian coach of Gianluca Vialli’s appointment as Chelsea manager in 1998. In a similar vein Moyes’ early use of the Spanish maestro on the right wing was akin to using an F1 car for the milk round. It might work, but you’re not receiving the full benefit. Once Rooney returns to fitness next season expect the Spaniard to be hanging around the wing once again.

40. Placing Giggs the player in exile
The Welshman may be 40, but he remains the most creative central midfielder on United’s books. The decision to exclude Giggs from so many games this season has, in the context of a potential breakdown in the relationship between player-coach and manager, appeared rather personal.

41. Failing to deal with Ashley Young
Young is not only patently of sub-prime quality, but a serial diver too. Real Sociedad, Wigan Athletic and Crystal Palace can attest to Young’s penchant for taking a tumble, yet Moyes has been unrepentant. “The referee was two yards away from it and gave a penalty,” said Moyes after the Sociedad fixture. “If you need to talk to anybody, you should ask the referee. I didn’t see an issue at all.”

 

MAN MANAGEMENT

42. Dressing room leaks
Sir Alex locked down internal leaks with such vigour that media and supporters alike could rarely tell insider gossip from deliberate misinformation. Not so under Moyes, where not only have certain players regularly briefed the fourth estate on team news, but political factions can be easily calculated.

43. Factions
On that subject the numbers don’t weigh in Moyes’ favour. In one camp, so the rumour goes, the ‘Everton mob’ of Steve Round, Jimmy Lumsden, Phil Neville and Fellaini, together with Patrice Evra and Wayne Rooney. In the other a large group of disaffected players, player-coaches, and former greats. You do the math!

44. That ridiculous Dubai trip
On the subject of leaks, the word on the street pegs United’s mid-season ‘warm weather training’ camp as little more than marketing activity by day and bar hopping at night. Did Moyes plan the trip? Perhaps not. But the Scot certainly sanctioned it and then empowered the lunatics to take over the asylum.

 

BEING DAVID MOYES

45. A little boy lost
It is an ephemeral observation, but there’s little about Moyes that inspires confidence. From United’s insipid tactics, to all those desperately strange press conferences. He is a man that appears criminally out of his depth.

46. Dividing the fans
When a small plane carrying the message “Wrong One – Moyes Out” darted over Old Trafford last month it received jeers from United’s match going public. Moyes 1 – 0 protesters. Yet, every poll conducted, from those in the mass media, to fanzines and one on Rant too, concludes that supporters are universally critical of the job Moyes has done.

47. He’s a closet ginger
Enough said, really.

David Moyes

48. That banner
He wasn’t chosen, at least not by the fans – and not by a process that any corporate on the planet would accept. That’s not Moyes’ fault of course, but he has lapped up “support” offered and given very little back.

49. Presiding over more than a dozen defeats
10 defeats in the Premier League, one in the FA Cup, one in the Capital One Cup, two in European competition.

50. Achieving all those records!

  • The worst home league form for over a decade
  • Knocked out of the FA Cup in the third round – it occurred once under Fergie
  • Three defeats in a row for the first time since 2001
  • First home defeat to Newcastle United since 1972
  • First league defeat to Stoke since 1984
  • First ever home defeat to Swansea City
  • First home defeat to West Bromwich Albion since 1978
  • First time United have conceded a first minute goal at home in the Premier League
  • First time City and Liverpool have beaten United home and away in the Premier League era
  • United will finish with the lowest points tally in the Premier League era

… and yet there’s bound to be so many more. Add your ideas to the list below!

Moyes’ fear finds its way

April 3, 2014 Tags: Reads 39 comments
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There was something terrifying about Tuesday night’s draw with Bayern Munich in the Champions League. In more than 50 fine years of Manchester United’s participation in European competition rare has been the occasion on which United was so palpably adrift of the opposition. Defeat to Barcelona at Camp Nou in 1994 springs to mind; two destructive Champions League final defeats in 2009 and 2011 to the same opponent follow in the slipstream. Rare indeed, though, has United approached a game in the mindset of absolute inferiority.

It is hard to analyse Tuesday’s draw any other way despite the positive spin in the aftermath. This was fear personified no matter the result gained, nor the wave of rationalisation that has swept over United’s fan base since. After all, there used to be a time when the United way was an unspoken concept that supporters instinctively understood. Cliché or otherwise.

Yet, in willingly conceding more than 75 per cent possession to Pep Guardiola’s Bayern Munich, United resorted, at the theatre of too often broken dreams, to a strategy of desperate hope – and the long ball, with 23 per cent of United’s passing going aimlessly long. Hope that a breakaway might catch Bayern unawares; it very nearly did on an off night for the Bavarians.

It was a night when United created three solid chances to score, and Danny Welbeck fluffed the best of them. But also one that had so much to do with Moyes’ pragmatism, and too little with the hopes of generations spurred on by Sir Matt Busby’s European dream.

Of course there is plenty of argument in mitigation. Some say that United had no other choice. Indeed, data points such as possession say much about patterns within the game, but often so little about context.

The context is, of course, a season in which Moyes’ side has lost 13 times in all competitions, including seven at Old Trafford. That’s just about as many as the Reds had given up in M16 over the past three seasons. Hardly confidence building stuff, let alone a record to inspire fear in the opposition. Fortress Old Trafford no longer.

Yet, in conceding all of the control, if not total impetus to Bayern, United largely threw out whatever way the club once possessed. Moyes’ season-long fear of expression was finally delivered into a performance of which he was overtly proud. There are plenty of supporters who were not, despite the battling draw.

There is another context though. One that says whatever trophies have been gained by a fabulous Bayern side in the past year, and however dominant Guardiola’s outfit has become, not every opponent has approached a fixture with the south German side devoid of ambition. Except perhaps Braunschweig Eintract – 32 per cent possession in a 2-0 away defeat – and Hamburger SV, 25 per cent, at home. The pair currently lies last and second bottom of the Bundesliga respectively. That’s no company for United to keep.

The real debate is not even really in the data though, but in a view of the approach. Perhaps it is a certain generation for whom football is entertainment, not the cynical dash for results. Not everyone is entertained.

Nor, in fact, is this a game of polar extremes; on one flank United’s anti-football as evidenced on Tuesday, and on the other an open attacking philosophy bent on tactical self-destruction. To argue otherwise is indeed disingenuous. The balance eschewed by Moyes was illustrated aptly by Shinji Kagawa’s omission while the utterly hapless Marouanne Fellaini started.

Yet, every decision Moyes made in the build up fell into the former – an ideology framed by trepidation. Real-politik on the pitch. Everything and more that apparently kept José Mourinho from Old Trafford’s door this past summer, and drew significant mire outside of west London for the Blues’ path towards glory in 2012. Or, indeed, that of Internazionale three years before. Those that hold no hypocrisy in this may cast the first stone.

It is a role, however, with which Moyes is intimately familiar. Comfortable even. In a decade at Everton’s helm Moyes’ greatest results were those pressed against the odds, facing opposition with more talent, technique and ambition. His reputation has been forged in fighting those odds.

United’s clash with Bayern was perfect then. Not only because the Scot could barely lose, but that it fell into a tactical sphere at which Moyes excels. It is perhaps, at least on this season’s evidence, the only arena in which that claim can be made.

Little wonder that Moyes was bullish in the aftermath; this was the moment that he finally found himself. His plucky United side had taken on the European champions “toe to toe” and clung on for dear life. In the court of public opinion the judge’s decision has gone with the Scot, although the final round is yet to come.

“We’re delighted with the performance,” said Moyes. “I was a bit disappointed that we conceded a goal in the end, but I thought it was a really good performance. There was a real determination tonight to make sure that we did well. It’s a competition we’ve got really good history in, and I think the players went out and realised that we were playing a really good side tonight.”

There was, of course, a time in which United was the “really good side.” No longer. Or indeed when the Reds faced the very best and took them on at their own game. Barcelona, Juventus, Inter, Munich in the ’99 competition, for example.

The exceptions, such as United’s victory over Barcelona in 2008, or the draw with Real Madrid last season, are now used as a justification for the performances of today. It is little more than comfort in illogical reasoning.

Or to put it another way, there is a greater ideal. As Sir Bobby Charlton once said of Busby; “He always told us that football is more than a game. It has the power to bring happiness to ordinary people.”

“I never wanted Manchester United to be second to anybody,” Busby once said. And yet he was also prepared to concede that “winning isn’t everything. There should be no conceit in victory and no despair in defeat.”

There is no contradiction here. Busby sought both to be the very best, nor feared the consequence of failing. Moyes is after neither; a man too keen to wrap his anxiety in the liberation of inferiority.

The subtle irony is that Moyes’ side didn’t actually achieve a positive result; not in the context of a two-legged European tie. This was a scoring home draw, achieved against the backdrop of unmitigated caution. United will have to repeat the pattern and then win at the Allianz Arena in just under a week. Bayern remain heavily odds-on to secure passage for good reason.

“We know that we need to score a goal,” admitted the manager. “But I said tonight that we wanted to go into the second leg with a real chance, and I think we’ve done that.”

It is a level of ambition that Busby might find odd. Plenty of supporters too. Then again Moyes is a manager who admitted in the summer that “there has to be an element of fear that comes with managing a club like Manchester United.”

He has so ably demonstrated the point since.

Not yet the wrong one

April 3, 2014 Tags: Reads 24 comments
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It has been Manchester United’s worst campaign of the Premier league era. This is undeniable. The rumblings of discontent with David Moyes that have been present since the Scot joined the club last summer have surged in recent weeks as United fell to Liverpool and then Manchester City. Yet, it is the campaign among some to have Moyes removed  that is particularly unfair.

Those excruciating defeats to Olympiakos and then Liverpool and City marked the lowest period of a particularly sobering season. Yet, it is also irrefutable that defeats to United’s great rivals were in large part due to the form of the two title contenders; each unplayable on the day, while United’s squad is no longer up to the club’s traditional standards.

City has now beaten United in four of the past five meetings, setting a pattern in which the Blues have disposed of the Reds with some ease. Even Yaya Touré scoring in the fixture has been commonplace. And lest we forget this is a United side that was beaten 6-1 by what many observers judge as a weaker City team than the one of today.

Meanwhile, the rise of Liverpool this season can only be met with begrudging admiration. This is a side that was rotten to its core before being rejuvenated under Brendan Rodgers. In contrast to United Liverpool has frequently dished out masterclasses in counter-attacking football this season.

When the Scousers arrived at Old Trafford last month it seemed inevitable that United would suffer destruction of this nature. Liverpool has progressed to a team now at its peak, with a striker who is simply one of the best players in the world. But then again, would the United team of last season have beaten such formidable opposition, in such form? It is doubtful.

It may even be nostalgic to believe that some of United’s finest side – the team of Roy Keane, Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs, and Gary Neville for example – would have disposed of this Liverpool team, in this form. The Scousers may not win the league, but they have played some of the most attractive football in the Premier league era.

In reality it is defeats to the Premier League’s ‘lesser’ sides, such as West Bromwich Albion, Tottenham Hotspur, Swansea City and Newcastle United, that have truly cost Moyes. It is these defeats that remain unacceptable; especially the way the Reds have lost some of those matches.

Defeat to Olympiakos was one of the more shocking in recent years, but it certainly wasn’t unprecedented. Is this not the same group of players that threw away a two goal lead against FC Basle, or failed to qualify from the group stage just a few years back? This does not excuse the nature of the loss in Athens, nor the pattern it seemed to follow, but these results do happen – to United and other teams around Europe.

In truth Moyes has rarely excelled this season and has made plenty of questionable decisions. There are myriad discussion points from a disappointing campaign, such as United’s playing style, the lack of combination between Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie, defensive chaos, or Marouane Fellaini’s performances.

Perhaps the most evident issue is the lack of identity showcased by the side, together with the failure to play any attractive football. Moyes must take responsibility for this. His ideas have not been taken on in the capacity to which he would like, while the Scot’s signings have flattered to deceive. Even Juan Mata, good player though he may prove to be, looks increasingly the panic buy mirrored in Fellaini’s acquisition last summer.

In this scenario support for Moyes has dwindled during the low points of the season; understandable given the scale of disappointment to which supporters of United have borne witness.

Reds have so often been kicked while they are down. In a season of relatively few highlights the derby could have been the perfect remedy in softening the pain of previous months, even if expectations had hit a new low. However, United simply performed in the manner to which they have all season long: poorly. Perhaps the most significant negative to arise out of defeat to City and Liverpool is that they were simply unsurprising.

Despite this, the way in which the atmosphere surrounding the club has turn toxic following two devastating, but understandable defeats, seems over-the-top to many United supporters.  Especially regulars at Old Trafford. In reality the Reds were well beaten by two sides that are simply better than United this season. That has little to do with the manager.

And even if United fall short in Munich next week there is no obvious replacement to fix all United’s ills this season.

Moyes may well turn out to be the ‘Wrong One’ as the now infamous plane claimed. It was a dumb stunt, but to sack him at this point, with so little time on the clock, now that really would be stupid.

Moyes must adapt or go

March 29, 2014 Tags: Reads 17 comments
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In 1975 Bill Gates dropped out of Harvard to found Microsoft, although in later years the billionaire would frequently return to the institution. Realizing that he needed to learn business to nurture his new enterprise, Gates went so far as to butt into faculty poker games and bet himself into the professors’ brain trust. In a similar vein, Manchester United’s league position would be much improved had David Moyes also prepared so eagerly for his new role.

Having exhausted the leaves, Gates left Harvard just one semester prior to completing his degree; the Microsoft co-founder did so certain that three months’ head start would be crucial in the fledging firm’s future.

Such is his extreme conservatism that one suspects Moyes would have been picking out a diploma frame. Indeed, United’s worsening fate suggests that Moyes may not have the character to succeed at the very top.

The Scot’s tactical acumen has been under question for a very long time. The demoralizing 3-0 loss to Manchester City on Tuesday saw United start in a 4-3-3 formation, with Michael Carrick, Tom Cleverley and Maroune Fellaini in midfield.

Edin Dzeko and David Silva ran riot, forcing Moyes to shift his team into a more familiar 4-4-1-1, with Cleverley filling in on the right wing. The under-fire manager brought in Shinji Kagawa at half time to fix the affairs, but the rearrangement did little to stop the City side intent on securing the Premiership.

Moyes likes players to be in space, but then so did Sir Alex Ferguson. The retired Scot, though, demands that his players exploit space and does not try and force his team to utilize it. In the 4-4-2 dominated landscape of the 1990s, the 72-year-old deployed Eric Cantona in a deeper role, paving the way for the modern 4-2-3-1 system. Like the fellow Scot, Ferguson was reactive in his approach, but did so in positive ways.

Ferguson had another evolution in mind before his sudden retirement last summer’s. Jurgen Klopp’s Borussia Dortmund forces the opposition into conceding space. Robert Lewandowski is an adroit target man, while Marco Reus provides running from midfield, and Shinji Kagawa – when in Germany – brilliantly exploited the space created.

Kagawa was Ferguson’s penultimate signing. Dzeko, a classic target man, was considered and then rejected, and Lewandowski was close to joining United last summer. Yet, it is no coincidence that Wayne Rooney, who cannot play with his back to goal, became increasingly ostracized under Ferguson. The retired United manager clearly had an eye on a tactical future, revolving around Kagawa.

By distinct contrast, United under Moyes is more likely to deploy Alexander Buttner on the left flank against Bayern Munich on April Fool’s Day, than to unveil a tactical innovation.

Back to Tuesday match, and United’s 4-3-3 was evidently not working against City. Even the best managers have off-days of course, although they are by definition required to fix any tactical problems as they arise. Moyes has failed to do so on a consistent basis during his short stay at United. Antonio Valencia, for example, began warming up 10 minutes into the game against City – Jose Mourinho would not have waited until half-time to make the substitution.

In fact there was a variety of ways to organise the abject 4-3-3 into a 4-4-1-1 system. Cleverley could have played at number 10 – where he did for Great Britain at the 2012 Olympic – but Moyes needed a goalscorer in the hole.

Meanwhile, Marouanne Fellaini played behind the main striker at Everton, although the Toffees’ template required energy in the engine room, which neither Carrick nor Cleverley can provide. Cleverley often played on the left during his loan spell at Wigan Athletic, and it would have been more natural to shift Danny Welbeck into an attacking midfield role. The Scot wanted pace on the left flank and stuck to his default setting.

In part Moyes reticence is a factor of his history. When Ferguson moved to Old Trafford, for example, the Scot had managed more clubs and won more trophies than Moyes. The former Aberdeen manager was younger too. And Ferguson, despite a shaky start in Manchester, was making palpable progress in revitalising the youth system while Moyes has taken Manchester United backwards.

Worse still, Moyes has shown little sign of improving as a manager. The stars point to the situation becoming even more serious for the all but dethroned champions of England. Fans are rebelling against the “Chosen One” and the sponsors required to fund progress will surely be driven away by a lack of success and division within the fan base.

Yet, the Glazers continue to create a shadow over Old Trafford, and despite widespread media predictions to the contrary, United cannot compete at the top of the transfer market indefinitely and pay down more than £300 million in debt. It is a scenario in which the manager’s importance is heightened since the Reds have to make the very best of a budget meager compared to that of rivals’.

United’s board is clearly hoping that Moyes develops, but there is an alternative: recruiting a more capable manager. Mourinho, for example, had achieved great success before leading a big project at Chelsea, while Brendon Rodgers took Swansea City into Europe, and Manuel Pelligrini has won several titles in South America.

Even in areas of supposed strength Moyes is behind. The Scot has a “war room” filled with scouting reports and white boards, but it was Klopp that plucked Kagawa from Japan’s second division for just €350,000. Unfortunately, the expensive acquisition of Juan Mata and Fellaini has not yet justified the investment.

Moyes will have the money to impose his style upon the Reds this summer, but it is a philosophical transformation that is also unwise. For his system to work the Scot needs a target man and, given the rarity of top class players in that role, there is a nightmare scenario in which United boasts Andy Carroll wearing number nine next season!

Elsewhere there will be change if Moyes stays. The future of Mata is at stake, and Kagawa will be welcomed back heartily at Dortmund if Moyes pushes through a sale. Robin Van Persie does not readily fit into the current system, but will not be in demand given his wage, age and injury record that continues to burgeon. Rooney will be Moyes’ number 10 whatever happens – Adnan Januzaj and Mata face a permanent future shunted out wide.

There is a simple equation: either Moyes persists with the current approach, and risks alienating a plethora of talent, or he chooses to adapt. Should Moyes choose the latter the Scot will be changing his style for the first time a 15-year managerial career – in which case Moyes’ experience is irrelevant anyway. Either way, bringing in a new man becomes the prudent option.

From first to nowhere in less than a year

March 26, 2014 Tags: , Reads 34 comments
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One bad season does not equal a trend. It is an observation worth remembering as Manchester United’s campaign inevitably unravels over the next fortnight. Yet, it was not so much the Reds’ 10th defeat of an embarrassing Premier League campaign that hurt on Tuesday night, but the way United capitulated to Manchester City at Old Trafford. It is as if all dignity has been lost amid chaotic tactics and an identity now totally absent.

The blame for United’s disintegration this year is myriad, and hotly debated by supporters, but while David Moyes says he is at the club for the long-term, contingency plans must now be in place for the Scot’s dismissal. It would be so remiss of United’s board not to plan for Moyes’ exit that it is impossible for serious consideration not to be given.

This is true despite Sir Bobby Charlton’s claims this week that he is “absolutely certain” Moyes is the right man for the United job. “It doesn’t mean we are going to change everything,” said the club ambassador.

Yet, in Florida the Glazer family is reportedly waiting on supporter reaction before making a call on Moyes’ future. The Scot may blame himself for United’s decline, but an increasingly large section of United’s supporter base does too.

“I take responsibility for the team, I always will do,” said Moyes, with United having taken just seven points from 13 games against the Premier League’s top nine.

“I thought it would be a tough year for us, but I hoped it would be much more competitive and closer to the top of the league than we are.”

Moyes’ potential dismissal is reality not because United’s decline is already terminal, despite some of the nation’s more hyperbolic media analysis, but that the board cannot afford it to become so. While Sir Alex Ferguson left a squad in decline, and the Glazer family has failed to suitably invest in the team over the past nine years, Moyes’ ability to manage the scenario is patently absent.

In fact Moyes has failed in each area of his remit from strategic transfer planning, to staff and player management, through to tactics; increasingly the former Everton manager appears out of his depth and seeking only to buy time.

“Most people understand that this is something that’s going to take a bit of time to alter,” claimed Moyes. “It’s not going to change dramatically in the short time between now and the end of the season.”

It is a strategy built on a hope alone, one that does not guarantee better performances.

Indeed, United’s comprehensive defeat at home to City concluded four reverses in fixtures against the club’s biggest rivals this season. The Blues also won at the Etihad in September, while Liverpool has secured two victories over the Reds in the Premier League. Tuesday’s reverse was the season in microcosm – ineffective players labouring in a tactical mess entirely of Moyes’ own making.

In this it is easy to ask for time; time for Moyes to build his own team and to recreate United in his own image. It is effortless to blame United’s players for unforgivably poor performances levels. There is merit in both arguments.

Yet, with each new humiliating defeat the former is less attuned to logic, and more to nostalgic hope, while the latter – and the reported £150 million transfer fund – is questionable in Moyes’ hands. Dangerous even given what the Scot has done with more than £75 million spent on Marouanne Fellaini and Juan Mata to date.

Each was prominent in derby day defeat, although not in the manner supporters might hope. Fellaini’s inadequacies were highlighted once again – a player too sluggish and lacking in basic technique to ever reach the class expected at a club of United’s stature.

Not that Moyes has a plan for Fellaini’s improvement. After all, while the Belgian has disappointed from a deep-lying central midfield role at United this season, the only genuine alternative is to deploy the 25-year-old in an advanced position, and resort to the kind of percentage football Moyes knows best.

“He’s not been great, has he? You have to admit that,” was Paul Scholes’ damning indictment of United’s recruit from Everton.

“He did have problems with his wrist and I know he missed a lot of games but, for the money they paid for him, I’d be expecting a lot more, to be honest with you. For a central midfielder at Manchester United for £27 million, I’m expecting a few goals.”

Meanwhile, Mata is a shadow of the player who scored 19 times for Chelsea last season. Largely deployed from wide areas since his arrival in January, the Spaniard’s confidence already appears shot.

Moreover, Mata is increasingly ineffective; an observation that says more about how the £37 million playmaker is deployed than the player’s essential quality. After all, while Mata completed 57 passes against City, less than a third were in attacking areas of the pitch. The Spaniard, who is yet to score for United, took just two shots on goal.

The player’s role on the right wing against City was just part of the tactical mess foisted on United by Moyes. The Scot’s bizarre decision to use three central midfielders was born of an essential truth that City’s quality in midfield is superior.

Yet, the rejig served only to undermined United’s defensive shape, while reducing the team to a strategy of counter-attack. That Yaya Touré and Fernandinho dominated United’s trio anyway is the sad irony in Moyes’ cautious approach.

Of course, the Scot can take some credit for a reworking United’s shape in the second half, where Shinji Kagawa offered greater balance than the much maligned Tom Cleverley. Yet, even this served only to underline the error United’s coach made in the first place.

It was ever thus this season, where United has so often been reduced to a reactive strategy built on neither nuance, nor sophistication. It is a team without an identity.

Nor did the half-time change bring United back into the game as an attacking force, even if the defensive balance improved. United simply avoided a beating even more humiliating than the one handed down by Manuel Pellegrini’s title challengers.

In this there is a wider commentary on Moyes’ ambition. In the aftermath the Scot confirmed he is yet to truly understand the club – a misunderstanding of United’s leading role in the football community. One underlined by the club’s 11 point margin of victory in last season’s Premier League.

“I think we’ve played a very good side and it’s the sort of standard and level we need to try and aspire to get ourselves to,” said the 50-year-old.

“I think we need to play better. We’re needing to come up a couple of levels at the moment and we’re not quite there.”

It is an aspiration – to be more like City – that few United fans can stomach. This coming from a manager who has seemingly run last season’s champion club into the ground.

One bad season does not equal a trend, but it can quickly become so. After all, it has taken Moyes less than a year to preside over significant decline. The worst season in 25 years.

Moyes’ Champions League questions

March 21, 2014 Tags: , Reads 10 comments
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Robin van Persie’s timely hat-trick against Olympiacos on Wednesday has almost certainly prolonged David Moyes’ tenuous reign at Manchester United. Yet, Moyes’ departure may only be a matter of time, with the board reportedly wavering in its previously steadfast support for the Scot. United’s upcoming match against Manchester City at Old Trafford – and a Champions League quarter-final with Bayern Munich – might just be decisive in determining the under-fire manager’s future.

Contrary to most predictions Moyes’ side made it through the Champions League Round of 16 this week. The former Everton manager has persisted with ‘space based’ tactics throughout the campaign – designed largely to exploit width and zones and not passing into feet – and has found Europe easier to navigate than the Premier League. Continental teams tend to set up deeper and leave more room for United to exploit.

Personnel have been key to United’s success in Europe this season. The solidity provided by Antonio Valencia on the right has allowed United’s right-back, even Chris Smalling, to attack, while Michael Carrick’s holding role has enabled his midfield partner, and United’s left winger, to advance.

It is no coincidence that Ryan Giggs started both United’s 5-0 victory over Leverkusen and 3-0 win against Olympiakos. The 40-year-old provides the spark that engages United’s forwards to run amok in the attacking third.

But Giggs continued presence cannot be guaranteed. Including the final in Lisbon there are five matches to be played in the Champions League this season. Giggs, who turns 41 this year, cannot realistically start all five, yet the Welsh Wizard’s flair in connecting the Reds’ attack and defence will surely be used in some capacity.

It may be unwise to persist with Giggs in the Reds’ engine room though, especially against a Bayern Munich side that will press heavily in the quarter-final. United’s 2-0 loss in Athens was predominantly due to Tom Cleverley failing to run past the Greek press. Giggs is a better dribbler, but still lacks the forcefulness required against better opposition.

While Maroune Fellaini has started to show a semblance of mobility in recent matches, Moyes may turn to Phil Jones, as did Sir Alex Ferguson in games against Real Madrid last season, to neutralise Bayern’s dynamic midfield. With Bayern boasting outstanding options, including Thiago Alcântara, Mario Götze, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Toni Kroos, Moyes is likely to take a cautious approach.

After all, Leverkusen and Olympiakos were not the toughest opponents, enabling United able to get away with deploying Giggs through the middle. Against stronger sides an alternative creative catalyst must be found.

While Rafael da Silva is a potent weapon from full-back, the Brazilian cannot be expected to instigate United’s attacks given his deeper role. But the 23-year-old can, in addition to the traditional tools of the attacking full-back, make an impact in more central areas by cutting in. Valencia might just be included, à la Ji-Sung Park, to accommodate the former Fluminense player’s attacking role against Bayern.

Another question surrounds Wayne Rooney and van Persie. Each began their careers as a bright number 10, and the Dutch forward certainly made numerous attempts to release his teammates at Old Trafford on Wednesday. Few came to fruition, perhaps understandably since the Dutchman has spent the past three seasons as finisher, not a creator.

Meanwhile on paper, Rooney is United’s chief creator – the Englishman is only one behind Karim Benzema and Angel Di Maria in the Champions League assists table this season. Unlike his Dutch partner, the former Everton striker diligently works the channels. European sides often encourage full-backs to push forward and it is an area that could be rewarding for United.

Still, the White Pele has a critical flaw; having lost the ability to beat opponents, Rooney cannot create chances for himself. The 28-year-old requires the space provided by others to operate. van Persie’s clinical finishing and ability in tight quarters have been drawing opponents away from the former Everton man.

The Dutchman’s availability for the games against Bayern is critical, as well as Danny Welbeck has done this season, although United still faces a problem with initiating attacks against Bayern.

Defensively United will miss Patrice Evra, who is banned for the opener against Bayern. Should Jonny Evans recover in time, the Northern Irishman is best place to deputise. Evans lacks Evra’s attacking prowess, but will provide greater security for whomever occupies United’s left flank.

Still, the possibility of Alexander Buttner starting at Old Trafford on 1 April cannot be discounted, meaning that defensive nous is an important criterion in team selection on the left flank.

Welbeck could provide the greatest cover, but he is not the most incisive from a wide role. Meanwhile, Shinji Kagawa is completely out of form and has been distinctly uncomfortable playing from the left this season. Giggs could fill in, but playing wide is far more physically draining on the 40-year-old.

Whatever the selection Moyes must avoid deploying Ashley Young against Bayern as the former Aston Villa will be tamely shepherded down the left flank.

This observation leaves Adnan Januzaj as perhaps the Scot’s best choice against the European champions. Januzaj has done a decent job shielding his full-back thus far this season and, perhaps because of his time spent in the United academy, has looked at relative ease when defending. While the teenager may develop into a classic number 10 in time, Januzaj can operate as a traditional left winger if needed.

Welbeck’s explosive pace can be negated by denying the Englishman space, but Januzaj has the close control to handle such situations. Crucially, the 19-year-old has shown enough glimpses to suggest that he could hold key to launching United’s attacks, which are likely to be rare against Bayern.

There is a warning though: should Moyes deem Januzaj ready for the European knockout stages his team-mates trust the youngster and not starve him of the ball as was the case in defeat to Liverpool.

And while the odds remain against United knocking out Bayern, a Chelsea side in complete disarray managed to lift the Champions League in 2011/12. With that precedent in mind, United might as well prioritise continental football this season, using the remaining Premier League games, even the derby, as practice for Europe.

Although Moyes might do well to recall that Roberto di Matteo was fired even after winning the Chelsea’s first Champions League.

Fergie time is now Moyes’ only hope

March 16, 2014 Tags: , Reads 47 comments
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It was, frankly, the worst Manchester United performance against Liverpool at Old Trafford for two decades. So limp was David Moyes’ team that the Scot’s decision to bring on substitute Rio Ferdinand for Juan Mata, with the Reds already 3-0 down, summed up United’s ambition. There simply wasn’t any on a day when Brendan Rodgers’ side was superior in every single department from management down.

Indeed, so poor was Moyes’ outfit that all logic points to Sir Alex Ferguson as the Scot’s final hope of remaining in the United job long enough to correct the failures of a disastrous season. Sir Alex, it seems, is determined that Moyes will get “time” in the job. There is little doubt that at each of United’s peers on the continent the former Everton boss would have already been ignominiously sacked by now.

Dumped out of the FA and Capital One Cups, seventh in the Premier League, and seemingly heading for European exit, United’s season could hardly have been worse before Sunday’s derby defeat. It has hit a new nadir mostly of Moyes’ own making.

Yet, the brutality of Liverpool’s performance at Old Trafford is impossible for United’s supporters to stomach, no matter how circumspect the old guard has become amid the club’s slide this season. Not only were the Merseysiders’ full value for a thumping victory, but another brace might not have flattered the Anfield outfit.

If any data point is a précis for Sunday’s match – and there are many, few of them flattering for the home side – then United’s single shot on target over the 90 is perhaps the most succinct. Complaints about the three penalties awarded to the visitors should drown in the complete lack of creativity proffered by the home side.

It was a match in which United looked lost at every turn. Moyes’ side was conspicuous for a lack of shape, an absence of a clear pattern and an approach devoid of philosophy. The visitors, by contrast, were everything that United was not.

And the savage truth, whatever the limitations of United’s squad or failure in motivation with which many of the home side appear to be suffering, is that United’s lack of identity is entirely Moyes’ responsibility.

Worse, the home side was naive as well as mediocre on Sunday. That Liverpool dominated so completely and Moyes failed to make a single change of note before the 75th minute smacks of a coach out of his depth and devoid of ideas. It was ever thus under the 50-year-old Glaswegian. With Michael Carrick and Marouanne Fellaini overrun by Liverpool’s three-man midfield it was little wonder the visitors created chances with such ease. Moyes did nothing to fix an obvious failing.

Meanwhile, in United’s back four Nemanja Vidić and Patrice Evra proffered a timely reminder that age is no friend of two formerly great players who have appeared on more than 650 times for the club in aggregate. Rafael da Silva and Phil Jones, two talented but frustratingly raw defenders, contributed fully to United’s defeat.

And up front no amount of spin from United’s over-worked communications department can mask quite how unhappy Robin van Persie is this season, nor how poor the Dutchman’s form. In his shadow, Wayne Rooney’s fizz has withered through the winter, although the ink on that £15 million-a-season contract is barely dry. The Scouser looks every inch a player over-trained and under-rested.

But few players summed up the tactical mess better than Juan Mata, the £37 million playmaker forced into a manifestly uncomfortable role on the right wing. Indeed, those observers who continue to press for the Spaniard’s inclusion in a wide role seemingly forget quite how Moyes prefers is his wide men to operate.

In Mata and Januzaj United boast two hugely talented players who prefer to operate from central areas, yet 80 per cent of United’s play was compressed to the two wings on Sunday. It was, as ever, infuriatingly predictable from United, with supporters’ anger building with each new episode.

It should be alarming how few chances Moyes’ side creates, but it has been a season coming. The Reds have scored just 18 goals at home in the campaign – the same number as bottom-club Fulham.

Still, there was little answer from Moyes in the aftermath, where sorry excuses have become the norm and confidence is absent. United’s manager has neither the insight to analyse the Reds’ fall, nor a plan to resurrect a path to success.

“It’s difficult to explain it,” Moyes said. “I felt as if the players were in good shape and good fettle going into it, but we didn’t get to the standards required. I’ve seen confident players who are well motivated and hard-working and conscientious. I’d not seen that coming.

“There’s disappointment for everybody that we didn’t get the result today, and disappointment about the goals and the way they were conceded. We had a spell where we played quite well and tried to get ourselves back in the game with one or two half-chances. It’s difficult to explain.”

Yet, it is a message that sounds so familiar; one of victimisation that is inappropriate for the manager of England’s 20-times champion club. There is now little shock in the whispers emanating from United’s dressing-room that all confidence in Moyes has drained away. That Ryan Giggs is among the disciples lost, according to fanzine Red Issue, is perhaps Moyes’ starkest warning yet.

This was, after all, every bit as poor as United’s performance against Olympiakos in Greece last month – and that was the worst United exhibition in a decade. There is little evidence to suggest Moyes’ side will turn around a two goal deficit in the Champions League Round of 16 clash with the Greeks at Old Trafford on Wednesday night – a game when the Reds’ season may effectively come to an end.

It may well be a night when the patient minority turn on the former Evertonian; when Ferguson’s call for time finally runs out. After all, time is not only a commodity for good, but one in which more damage can be done.

Time may well be less than constructive given the mutinous rumblings from inside Carrington’s closed walls. The regularity with which half-a-dozen United players seemingly switch off says much.

Indeed, defeat to Liverpool cannot be viewed in isolation. The decline in fortunes has been so rapid under Moyes that the Merseysiders’ performance at Old Trafford is simply a précis for a season lost. One, unfortunately, from which United’s manager has no guaranteed roadmap to success.

After all, whatever expenditure the club empowers Moyes to undertake this summer is viewed in the context of the Scot’s tactical and philosophical approach. The £75 million spent on Mata and Fellaini has brought little but confusion, and almost no incremental improvement. There is, in contrast to Sunday’s victors, no clear path on which United now headed.

It is an observation that draws an obvious question: whether Moyes should be trusted with a third transfer window and the time that Ferguson is desperate for his protegé to enjoy? Time that Sir Alex earned in an era of very different challenges.

“It’s a nightmare,” said striker Rooney in the post-match fallout. “It’s one of the worst days I’ve ever had in football and it’s hard to take.”

That is a sentiment which can be applied to a entire season.

RVP under pressure as Liverpool looms

March 10, 2014 Tags: , , Reads 17 comments
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One of the most telling insights into David Moyes’ thinking came when the Scot told a reporter that he excluded Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic from Manchester United’s trip to West Bromwich Albion to “keep Rio and Vida for games coming up.” Managers should never to be judged by press activity alone, but the former Everton manager’s choices this season suggest that he views a deep-lying defense as a tactical requirement rather than a stop-gap measure to protect ageing legs.

The game against West Brom saw United win convincingly. Yet, United held a deep line despite youthful Phil Jones and Chris Smalling starting at the centre of defence, against one of the Premier League’s worst sides.

There were some knock-on consequences nuances too, such as how deep Michael Carrick and Marouanne Fellaini dropped in the defensive phase, effectively becoming auxiliary centre backs as Jones and Smalling split wide at every opportunity. The move allowed Patrice Evra and Rafael da Silva to close down their opponents at will, but United’s defence was still repeatedly pulled around by West Brom forwards.

With the engine room pinned in its own penalty box, Moyes’ side persisted with the much criticised direct approach for much of the game on Saturday. The incumbent United manager, however, use three distinct methods of transition and was rewarded with three goals.

On the left Evra consistently tried to hit the ball long to release Adnan Januzaj into attacking areas. While the youngster failed to fire on his return to the side the right flank proved to be more fruitful.

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Meanwhile, David de Gea abandoned his more natural short passing game to directly engage the right flank, with Fellaini motoring forward to support Rafael.

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Rafael to Fellaini was the most frequent passing combination of the match. The Brazilian frequently brought the ball forward and the Belgian midfielder overloaded the flank, holding up the ball and gaining time for Rafael to advance. Juan Mata’s usual natural movement towards the centre vacated the space for United’s full-back to fill.

But it was movement from Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie that won the game for United. Rooney dragged defenders out of position from his starting role at ‘number nine’, while contrary to expectation van Persie began a little deeper, arriving late into the box during an hour on the pitch.

The strike partners took turns making runs behind the midlanders’ defense and often made contact with the ball unmarked. Time and again United’s forwards received long balls on the run and took full advantage of the disarray in the home side’s back four.

Yet, with Carrick and Fellaini sitting deep, Mata and van Persie were too often isolated through middle. It is a strategy unlikely to inspire either player given the complete isolation forced on them.

Evra and Januzaj also had a quiet game, with the Frenchman frequently misplacing passes to the winger ahead. Fellaini’s brawny presence, together with Mata’s creativity, leaves the  right flank as United’s most likely route to goal against Liverpool next weekend, although the former Everton midfielder’s form has been far too patchy to place much faith in him.

But while United’s upcoming game against Liverpool must be won to sustain any chance at qualifying for the Champions League next season, the Merseysiders’ rear-guard will be nowhere near as porous as West Brom’s.

If only to stifle the space Liverpool’s number 10 can exploit, United’s midfielders must be more disciplined in their positioning next week. With the engine room operating in defensive mode rather attacking the opposition box, Evra, van Persie and Mata will be in a better position to offer the variety required to breach the Scousers’ defence.

While long ball approach is not known for its accuracy, United must spend more time in the final third, if only to relieve the likely pressure on the back four.

In attack van Persie’s frustration was obvious at the Hawthorns, with the Dutchman making a series of rash tackles that could have led to a dismissal. Rooney’s inability to hold up the ball limits his usefulness in certain areas, but the Liverpool-born forward’s diligence in dragging the opposition defence out of position cannot be replicated by van Persie. As such, it would surprise few if the former Arsenal man began next week’s fixture on the bench.

Indeed, Welbeck’s physical presence is arguably required more than van Persie’s finesse. The academy graduate’s defensive nous will surely appeal to Moyes too.

Meanwhile, on the flanks it is likely that Antonio Valencia or Ashley Young – or both – will return against Liverpool this Sunday. After all, the under-fire United manager has long been accused of distrusting flair players. The Ecuadorian has often been used by the Scot as an out ball on the right flank – another target for De Gea to hit. It might just be very welcome given the current set up.

Deploying Valencia will also free Fellaini from supporting the right flank, enabling the 6’4″ midfielder to use his brute force in more central areas. The Belgian has not enjoyed a strong season, but he allows more mobile players some freedom.

Mata, for example, could be used in his preferred position at ‘number 10’ next Sunday. The Spaniard is a proven goal scorer and his experience playing with Eden Hazard could be put to good use closer to Januzaj on the left. In fact, much could be gained by dropping van Persie – after all, it’s the approach not United’s finishing that is causing more problems right now.

Failure to qualify for next season’s Champions League is not a foregone conclusion, though realistically unlikely. Still, the time for experimentation is long gone and van Persie’s ego cannot be prioritised over desperately needed victories. In any case, the Dutch striker can be deployed in Europe where the general lack of tempo suits his natural game more.

And aesthetically pleasing football can wait six months too – a manager used to working with technically gifted footballers could have replaced Moyes by then anyway.