If David Moyes wanted a testing introduction to life as Manchester United manager, then he would have been hard pressed to have envisaged a more difficult first run of fixtures.
An away game at Capital One Cup winners Swansea was a tough start to the season. Last year, United walked away with a point in a 1-1 draw but a convincing 4-1 victory was the best possible start Moyes could of hoped for.
Next was Chelsea at home who, alongside Manchester City, are United’s expected rivals for the title. Throw in Wayne Rooney and Jose Mourinho’s open flirtation during the summer and Moyes’ first home game became especially tricky to manage. In the cirumstances, a tedious 0-0 draw was satisfactory. Playing Rooney was a gamble which paid off with the #10 coming away with Man of the Match plaudits.
So far so good but next up are two fixtures that would test any manager’s skill, nous and big-game mentality. When the fixture list appears in the heady days of summer Liverpool at Anfield and the Manchester Derby at the Etihad are probably the most eagerly anticipated. Two wins last season set United up to win the league at a canter and the same again would do very nicely.
That they come this early in Moyes’ reign could prove to be a blessing in disguise. If the team come away with four points at least, then doubts over whether Moyes can deal with the big games will be suddenly forgotten. Remember that, along with his inexperience in Europe, one of the main factors seen to hold his application back was the lack of an away win at any major top four club (though there was a win at Etihad before City became title rivals). That his Everton side were still able to punch above their weight to secure impressive league placings should be merited too.
The signs that he is adjusting to life as United manager are already promising. The 4-1 win at Swansea displayed an attacking verve and fluidity of movement that was impressive to behold. The scoreline may have been unfair to the home side yet both Robin van Persie and Danny Welbeck were ruthlessly clinical in dispatching their chances.
The 0-0 draw with Chelsea hinted at two sides who were still finding their feet under new managers, certainly in an attacking sense with both sides a little cagey and hesitant going forward. What stood out was how Moyes’ preferences for pressing were employed and how the team defended as a unit, with the centre-back partnership of Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic proving solid.
Finding the balance between attacking intent and defensive discipline will be examined at Anfield and the Etihad. The lack of a win and even a goal in the first home game will be disappointing yet to limit a Chelsea side to long shots is encouraging.
Overlooking the lack of a marquee away win, as an Everton manager Moyes will be well aware of the vitriol and the phlegm-ridden outbursts that come with being a figure of hate sat in the away dugout at Anfield. Going there as a United manager will only add extra spice to the occasion. The real test will come in adapting his team’s mentality and lining up his side not just to escape defeat but to go out and win.
Manchester City could prove to be the acid test. After limply returning the title back across town, City will be eager to prove their credentials. As last season’s corresponding clash proved, gaining a sizeable lead from rivals before Christmas makes the run-in that much easier to bear.
“I think it’s the hardest start for 20 years that Manchester United have had. I hope it’s not because Manchester United won the league quite comfortably last year (that) the fixtures have been made much more difficult. I find it hard to believe that’s the way the balls came out of the bag, that’s for sure. But if it is a hard start for Manchester United, it is a hard start for everyone else because they have to play us.” David Moyes
Moyes’ talk of a ‘fixtures conspiracy’ has already been quashed by the Premier League yet you would have been surprised had his predecessor not mentioned it too.
There was a certain sense of the world going against him in his comments but however wronged Moyes appears, it is a results game and the points gained will be judged as well as performances.
This is a baptism of fire that Moyes has to handle and if United can come out of it looking good, then much of the pressure that comes with being the new man will be lifted.
Incidentally, compared to last season’s results Moyes is already up three points so he must be doing something right.