Manchester United’s problems go deeper than David Moyes’ failures

by Sam Peoples

It would be an understatement to say David Moyes’ reign at Manchester United has so far been a disappointment. Having beaten league leaders Arsenal a month ago, things were on the up. Since, United have taken five points from a possible 15 in games against Cardiff City, Tottenham, Everton, Newcastle United and Aston Villa. A woeful run for any top flight side, never mind United. So what’s gone wrong this season? There have been calls among some fans for Moyes to go, that he’s not up to the task, but the problems run far deeper and go way back to the Ferguson era.

United’s downfall has been inevitable for a number of years and it comes down to this – a failure to replace good players with ones of an equal standard or better. Take the Premier League and Champions League winning side from the 2007/08 season. How many of those players were world-class at the time? Cristiano Ronaldo was the best player in the world while Wayne Rooney, Patrice Evra, Nemanja Vidic, Rio Ferdinand, Edwin Van Der Saar and Carlos Tevez were of a world class standard, or at least close to it. Also involved was a fully-fit Owen Hargreaves and a younger Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs.

The club is in transition, not just the mass staff changes off the field, but on it too and that’s understandable but it remains a concern. This is where Liverpool has failed so badly over the last three or four years. They’ve wasted millions on players who are simply not good enough. Moyes must ensure he doesn’t make the same mistakes.

Compare that with the current crop. How many are truly world class? Rooney and Van Persie for sure and possibly David De Gea, too – but that’s it. There are too many in-between players. Some are on the decline – Ferdinand, Evra and Vidic to name a few – while others have the talent to become world class but aren’t right now, which leaves the squad severely short on top quality.

The club is in transition, not just the mass staff changes off the field, but on it too and that’s understandable but it remains a concern. This is where Liverpool has failed so badly over the last three or four years. They’ve wasted millions on players who are simply not good enough. Moyes must ensure he doesn’t make the same mistakes.

Standards seem to have slipped too. Over the last 12 months, United fans have defended and backed the likes of Tom Cleverley, Antonio Valencia, Ashley Young, Luis Nani and Danny Welbeck. All good players who have shown, at times, the ability needed to be a top class player for United but is this an indication that standards have slipped? Are they consistently good enough to be United players? How many of this current squad would get into the starting XI of previous title winning teams? Sure, the squad is filled with good players but too many are merely squad players who in previous years wouldn’t get near the United starting line-up.

Despite that, this squad did manage to win the league title last season and there are those who feel that Moyes has no excuse to fail. But, for me, there were three main reasons why United won the league last season. The imperious form of Carrick and Van Persie, the unrelenting desire and remarkable determination of Sir Alex Ferguson and the lack of competitiveness in the Premier League. That’s not to say Moyes isn’t underachieving because he is but the fact that all our rivals have strengthened, combined with significant injuries to Carrick and Van Persie, has made Moyes’ job a lot harder. The squad is ageing and many key players who have played a crucial role in winning championships are on the wane.

The squad needs freshening up. Adnan Januzaj has set the side alight this year, Nick Powell has enormous potential while Phil Jones, Chris Smalling and Rafael da Silva are all immensely talented. We need the younger players to take us into a new era.

Is the job too big for Moyes? It’s too early to say. It would be harsh to judge Moyes on 15 games and it also misses the point. Whoever took over from Ferguson was inevitably going to struggle even if it was The Special One Jose Mourinho, who’s having his own problems at Chelsea.

My biggest worry is Moyes’ tactical sophistication when it comes to attacking, creating chances and breaking teams down. It has been immediately obvious that Moyes has so far attempted to replicate the system he used at Everton – where he used the full backs, especially Leighton Baines, to overload the wide areas and put crosses into the box.

The fact that Evra has created the most chances from open play this season (17 before the Everton game) is a strong indication of that but the problem comes when that doesn’t work, does Moyes have a plan B? Can he work out other ways to break teams down? United’s current play is incoherent and lacks fluidity.

He is, of course, handicapped by the severe lack of creativity in midfield which is perhaps another reason why he can’t be fully judged just yet but, so far at least, there’s been little evidence of other patterns of play. It must also be taken into account Moyes’ Everton teams always performed much better in the second half of the season due to their superior fitness. Since 2005-06, Everton have averaged 1.36 points per game in the first half of the season compared to 1.72 in the second.

Moyes has made mistakes and his handling of the media has been questionable but it was always going to be a steep learning curve. Going from Everton to United is a massive step up, especially for someone with no experience at the highest level and it was inevitable that he was going to need time to adapt.

Ultimately, Moyes may or may not be the right man to lead United but he needs and deserves time to prove it one way or the other. After all, his first five months have been far from a disaster; he has navigated the club out of a tricky Champions League group, got Wayne Rooney back to his best and guided Januzaj into the first team and has also beat the league leaders and thrashed a strong Bayer Leverkusen team in their own back yard.

It’s important that we don’t judge Moyes until he has his own players. He wants to employ the pressing game, which we’ve already seen, but he’s handicapped by the players at his disposal. He wants a younger, fitter left-back but perhaps most importantly, he wants two or three central midfielders to address United’s alarming lack of creativity.

Encouragingly, all the signs point towards Moyes being allowed the time to build his own team, his own style and his own United and that can be no bad thing.

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