Manchester United: The Introspection Begins



Now that the clouds have settled to a certain extent, it is about time we dissected Manchester United’s performance in the Manchester derby.

The most successful club in the history of British football was humiliated by the European football’s rising power. It’s not just the score line that would concern the Manchester United faithful, but also the manner in which its players were hassled and bullied for most parts of the game.

This is unquestionably a shocking result for any club that is expected to fight tooth and nail in a derby match. The club, its manager and its players have been lambasted by media all around the world. Arguably the most hated club in world football, Manchester United has produced a poor exhibition of football when it mattered the most. Based on the previous few performances, the United manager is being termed as someone very ordinary, someone who has no imagination and someone who lacks attacking flair. The clubs Premier League rivals and their fans are surely enjoying this post-Ferguson era.

But before we all jump our guns and start pointing our fingers towards David Moyes or his team, let’s get a few things straight.

Manchester United were handed arguably the toughest start to a Premier League campaign since the inception of the league. For the first time in more than two and a half decades, the club no longer has Sir Alex Ferguson running the show from the dugout. To replace him, the club has gone for a Glaswegian who lacks experience in European football. The directors and the owners could have gone for a household name in European football such as Pep Guardiola or Jose Mourinho, but no one could have understood the Manchester United ethos as well as a British manager could have. Right from Sir Matt Busby to Sir Alex Ferguson, the club has supported not only young British talent but also given plenty of opportunities to British coaches. The Manchester United teams over the years have played brilliant attacking football and have contributed more players to the English national team than any other club.

For a manager to constantly promote youth, play the right football and over-achieve at clubs with limited budgets is not something new for incoming managers at United. Be it Alex Ferguson from Aberdeen or David Moyes at Everton.

Moyes is putting on the biggest shoes in club football and from whatever we have witnessed in the past few weeks, he will take some time getting used to them. Settling in a new club takes time for every manager, especially for a guy who hasn’t managed a club of this size or faced challenges of such magnitude before.

Barring last season’s win, City’s ground hasn’t been a happy hunting ground for United over the years. Either the club has scraped through with a late goal or come back empty handed. Either way, this hasn’t been a venue where Ferguson’s teams showed the attacking flair that they possessed.

Before the match, Moyes would have known that the trip across the town would be even more difficult without his star man Robin Van Persie. Welbeck, despite having an excellent record for his country, is not an ideal replacement for the multi-dimensional Dutchman. But the team that did eventually go out to face Man City certainly did not have a hammering written all over it.

Premier league teams have successfully come back from Etihad with a point or three only after they’ve given due respect to the Manchester City attack. From a tactical stand point, Moyes did get most of the things right, but the same can’t be said about the players’ execution. The United manager was right in playing Valencia and Young on the wings as they both provide a much needed defensive cover to the full backs. But somehow Valencia didn’t stick to this part of the job on multiple occasions and provided very little support to Smalling on the right side. Young on the other hand, tracked back diligently in the first half, but forgot to perform his primary tasks – providing inch perfect crosses and making clever runs into the box.

Having said that, the credit must go to Manchester City who time and again created holes in the United defense and was more pro-active in getting first to the ball. Not only did their creativity come to the fore in the final third, the composure and class Toure and Fernandinho showed in the centre, kept Carrick and Fellaini out of the game for an hour.

The statistics show a perfect reflection of what went on for United in the first half, but it doesn’t give a clear indication of how careless United was in defence. To concede 3 goals in 6 minutes during either side of the break is asking for trouble at any level of football.

There has been a stark contrast in the manner in which United has approached big games as opposed to last season. Last year’s United was clinical in its counter attacks, its players made purposeful runs in the box and there were a few training ground trick plays in every game, which allowed the team to escape in tight matches. Almost all those plays were designed by none other than Rene Meulensteen.

The experts have discussed in great details about the exits of Sir Alex and David Gill, but it is the absence of Sir Alex’s right hand man, Meulensteen, which seems to be hurting the team most. Known across Europe as one of the best coach and tactician, Meulensteen served the club for more than a decade and knew the players and the set-up inside out.  Steve Round, Jimmy Lumsden and Phil Neville, who now form the core of Moyes’s backroom staff, need to realise this part of the game and bring back similar plays to United’s game-play. Little things such as these make a huge difference in matches against top oppositions.

Moyes will have to learn from his mistakes very quickly. Seeing Jesus Navas torment his defenders over the weekend, he would have perhaps realized that he will need men who can beat defenders in one-on-one situations. With the League Cup game and relatively easier league fixtures coming up, this could be the perfect time to test out Adnan Januzaj and Wilfried Zaha by giving them full 90 minutes. Januzaj in particular had a bright 20 minute spell against Crystal Palace and is being backed to start against Liverpool on Wednesday night.

Another name that people will have on top of their minds is Javier Hernandez. The hugely successful Mexican has received very little playing time under Moyes and has fallen behind Welbeck in the Pecking order. He may not offer the sort of defensive duty Welbeck does for the team, but as he has proven in the past, his lethal pace and off-the-ball movement can destabilize most defences in the world.

Manchester United fans will be hopeful that the Scotsman handpicked by Sir Alex to take the reign at Old Trafford learns from his mistakes just as his predecessor did. One defeat doesn’t define the whole season and knowing the history of Manchester United, this is one club that you would never want to write-off. Sunday’s thrashing would have been a good lesson for the United boys, something they will remember for a very long time.

Sir Alex Ferguson knew that this difficult phase would come at some point of time, which is precisely why he left Old Trafford with these parting words –

When we had bad times here, the club stood by me, all my staff stood by me, and the players stood by me. Your job now is to stand by our new manager. That is important.”

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