“It's a nightmare. It's one of the worst days I've ever had in football,” said an aggrieved Wayne Rooney after the 3-0 defeat to Liverpool at Old Trafford. However, with United to face Olympiakos next hoping to overturn a 2-0 deficit, followed by a derby against Manchester City and a trip to West Ham United in between, that probably isn't the last time the striker will experience that sentiment.
The manner in which Brendan Rodgers’ Liverpool annihilated United on their home turf was commendable. But what was also striking is the fact that the reigning champions showed no character or even came close to putting up a fight.
This was despite having fielded their strongest line-up with no serious injury worries. While on one hand, Rodgers’ recognized the chink in United’s armour, which are plenty so to say, by deploying Raheem Sterling at the tip of a diamond midfield set-up, Moyes stuck to playing Juan Mata on the right, a position from which he has struggled to make any sort of impact.
While Sterling made good use of the space afforded to him, it allowed the likes of Jordan Henderson and Joe Allen to make runs into the attacking third which caused further confusion in the United rearguard.
The reliable Michael Carrick wasn’t his usual self while Marouane Fellaini huffed and puffed in the middle of the park against the pacey midfield of the opposition. The Belgian’s lofted cross in the first half pretty much summed up his capabilities which once again begged the question, is a player United needed in the first place?
Liverpool stuck with Rodgers despite finishing seventh last season. Why? There was a marked improvement in the team and his acquisitions in the January transfer window, namely Philippe Coutinho and Daniel Sturridge helped the club play a better brand of football as they quickly integrated into the squad.
Moyes needs to give the fans a reason to support him. “Over the years you have seen great winning sides here and, in time, I have absolutely no doubt that we will see great winning sides here again,” he wrote in an open letter penned to the supporters earlier this month.
But at the very least, there needs to be a glimpse of what Moyes is trying to establish or achieve. Mere words won’t hold much importance.
Yes, the players are to blame, especially the manner in which they defended and gave away three penalties, which could even have been five.
However, Moyes’ tactical acumen was seriously questioned again as he brought on Tom Cleverley and Danny Welbeck after 76 minutes of an abject display.
Mata's qualities not being utilised
Mata’s best position is behind the striker but that role is currently occupied by a certain Wayne Rooney. The Spaniard is given license to drift inside but has failed to carve out openings primarily because he doesn't have anyone on the same wavelength who he can execute a quick one-two with or link-up with to similar effect? Most of his passes in the attacking third were sideways, an accusation often leveled against Cleverley as well.
Adnan Januzaj seems to be the only bright spot for United alongside Davide De Gea who pulled off a brilliant save in the closing stages.
The number of times Rooney lost possession in the middle third and Robin Van Persie having the honour of once again being the player with the least touches in the game, is only indicative of the fact that United don’t look like a team but a mere collection of individuals running around helter-skelter.
The lack of coordination between the strike duo is well apparent. When Sir Alex Ferguson was at the helm last season, Van Persie put the success of his partnership with the England striker down to them adopting a ‘nine-and-a-half’ position. The pair interchanged between the more forward position, that is the number nine and the number 10 position which links with the midfield.
With a mere 27 touches in the game and being isolated upfront, Van Persie’s influence in the game and ability to draw defenders to make space for others to run into hasn’t been utilized. It’s easy to blame him for not being at his best but his criticism a fortnight ago of the system deployed currently wasn’t unfounded.
The attacking quartet of United was dispossessed a massive 18 times in the game and the number of through-balls attempted was next to none. The manner in which United passes the ball, with a lack of urgency or drive is appalling. The opposition’s defensive set-up is hardly made to sweat.
United have always been about relentless waves of attack, sustained for good periods which would overwhelm the opposition. Now that isn’t happening at all, allowing teams to recover between attacks which are few and far between. The speed of their game through the middle of the park isn’t good which is affecting their overall game-play.
What Moyes can do to bring the confidence back remains to be seen. But just banking on the summer transfer window to be the solution to their problems is being a bit too hopeful. Targeting top players is one thing, getting them another and integrating them into the system is where the manager’s understanding of the game comes to the fore.
So far it hasn’t.
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