By Jim Knight
Despite question marks over his Champions League management credentials after being appointed Sir Alex Ferguson's successor, David Moyes has enjoyed some of the best results of his fledgling Manchester United career in the competition.
Tonight's clash with Shakhtar Donetsk will once again afford Moyes and his United squad the chance to lift the substantial pressure that is building as a result of their worrying Premier League results.
Although even a convincing win on home soil will struggle to shake the increasing feeling that one of England's football superpowers may be about to fall from grace.
Defeats to Newcastle and Moyes' former club Everton in the last week mean United now sit in ninth position, 13 points adrift of leaders Arsenal and, crucially, seven points behind the last Champions League place, currently occupied by their city rivals.
Coral now make United 6/4 (2.50) to finish inside the top four, a price that began the season around 1/10 (1.10) which demonstrates how much of a surprise this has been to the vast majority, despite lingering doubts from some regarding Moyes' appointment.
A season without Champions League football would have been unthinkable in recent years under Sir Alex's stewardship but that is the very real prospect that the club face as the Moyes era takes full effect. Old Trafford has become a setting for disappointment and despair, not delight and celebration.
|TOUGH AT THE TOP
United's struggles this season
||Liverpool (A) 2-0
||Manchester City (H) 1-4
||West Brom (H) 1-2|
||Everton (H) 0-1
||Newcastle (H) 0-1
The Premier League title odds don't lie. Arsenal (2/1) have been the trailblazers of the season so far and although the well-fancied Chelsea (4/1) and favourites Manchester City (7/4) have failed to mount serious title challenges as of yet there is still a feeling that they will, that their time will come. United (33/1) are unable to even get on terms with them, let alone compete in the same arena.
United may well pick up in 2014, the January transfer window is the ideal opportunity for Moyes to stamp his authority on a squad which has seen very little change of late but it may well be too late by then.
Although Moyes is still well fancied to remain in place until the end of the season (1/3 with Paddy Power), the fact that a 2/1 (3.0) quote from the same firm about the alternative goes some distance towards explaining how difficult the season at Old Trafford has been so far.
Infrequent glimpses of the United of old have all to often been quickly forgotten thanks to lacklustre performances against opposition that the club had become increasingly familiar with beating in recent seasons, teams that were the bread and butter to United of old, relentless in their pursuit of more silverware, record-breaking success.
A six-year contract for Moyes upon his appointment and a glowing endorsement from the outgoing Sir Alex was a sign of intent from the club.
A club that have dominated the Premier League era like no other and despite changes in the footballing landscape around them, a club that were still competitive year after year, the mainstay at the top end of the Premier League.
It was a statement that they were fully behind the Scot who would follow in Sir Alex's almost insurmountable footsteps but BetVictor make Moyes a 7/1 (8.0) chance to see out his full tenure at Old Trafford, offering just 1/12 (1.08) about him departing before that.
Although Moyes may have been hindered by others at the club, a disastrous summer transfer campaign and the heavy weight of expectation, ultimately, he is the one who will be held accountable for the success or failure of United by the majority in the near future.
While the definition of what is deemed a successful season post-Ferguson may be up for debate, for a club who continue to service around £360million of debt, qualification for Europe's premier club competition must be a top priority and the odds certainly suggest Moyes may struggle to keep United within that elite group this season.
Sign up with Paddy for up to £250 in free bets
Jim Knight is Chief Betting Editor at Goal.com and has been tipping football games since he was old enough to place a bet. He is a Leicester City fan, writer and member of the We Are Going Up Podcast
Follow Jim on