The knives are well and truly out. Old Trafford has gone from being a fortress of solitude for Manchester United to an accommodating Bed and Breakfast for visiting sides. Where away teams entered the arena with a sense of impending grief, they now approach the venue with optimism and the belief that points are there for the taking.
Following the 1-0 defeat to Everton, United have slumped to ninth in the Premier League table. David Moyes has predictably been the target of widespread criticism as his former side won in the red half of Manchester for the first time since 1992.
On the night, the former Everton boss didn’t do much wrong. Both sides had chances in the first half and United played relatively well, retaining 59% of possession in that period. After the break, Everton took control early on but Moyes made a couple of positive changes as Adnan Januzaj and Nani were introduced.
Everton won at Old Trafford for the first time in two decades
What followed was a spell of intense pressure on the Everton goal where United did everything but score. Patrice Evra and Danny Welbeck came closest but the visitors weathered the storm and grabbed the winner late on.
Romelu Lukaku scuffed his shot which ran across the face of the goal and although Antonio Valencia may have switched off for a split second, credit must go to Brian Oviedo for gambling and being on hand to tap in at the far post.
It’s not what Moyes did on the night that was the problem but what he’s had to do (yes, ‘had to’) over the course of the season so far. The reason being that he quite clearly doesn’t know his best eleven and on numerous occasions it’s shown on the pitch.
One might argue that Roberto Martinez was as unfamiliar with the squad he inherited from Moyes as the new United boss was with the one Sir Alex Ferguson left him. However, Moyes’ Everton had a fixed back five which has been the foundation for the new era under Martinez. Kevin Mirallas and Steven Pienaar were already established as regular wide players while The Toffees secured the midfield targets they needed.
Moyes doesn't know his best eleven
On the other hand, United’s starting eleven was impossible to predict even last season and though that caused them problems, Ferguson and his coaching staff knew the players inside out and had Robin van Persie firing on all cylinders.
One of Moyes’ foremost tasks was to decide what his best eleven was and it’s been exceedingly difficult because there are only a handful of players who are clear starters. At the moment United have far too many second-tier players – those who are either no more than squad players or ones that are yet to establish themselves.
When fit, David de Gea, Rafael, Evra, Michael Carrick, Wayne Rooney and Van Persie are undisputed starters in their respective positions. But that means that half of the outfield positions are up for grabs with none of the suitors making a substantial claim.
United have struggled to find a new center-back pairing
In the 14 league games so far, Moyes has fielded six different central defensive partnerships. He began by playing Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic consistently while he assessed the younger defenders but playing the aging duo every week clearly wasn’t feasible.
Arsenal’s solidarity this season has stemmed from the center-back pairing of Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny. In contrast, six separate combinations in the same area for United is bound to cause problems, not to mention the fact that the back four has been further disrupted by Rafael’s injury concerns.
Meanwhile, United’s central midfield has seen seven different partnerships feature in the league this season. For a department in which they have struggled most for several seasons now, the frequent changes in personnel certainly hasn’t helped. Carrick’s injury has hit them hard and it’s clear that they’ll need reinforcements in January.
Carrick's injury has been a blow
As if the excessive alterations in defense and midfield weren’t enough, Moyes has also struggled to pick out his two best wingers, something Ferguson had a hard time with last season as well given their collective poor form. As a result, the United boss has started with a whopping eight combinations down the flanks in this campaign.
To add to all these rotations, Rooney and Van Persie haven’t played together often enough with one of them invariably missing through injury. With a new manager and coaching staff, the level of unfamiliarity and uncertainty was always going to be high but the frequent changes, which is down to the lack of quality in the side, has compounded the problem.
To fully understand the severity of these rotations and the detrimental effect it’s had on the team’s performances, consider that the number of combinations mentioned above is only with regard to the starting eleven. Over the course of games, even more permutations would have surfaced.
Van Persie's absence added to their woes
While rotating one’s squad is a healthy ploy, it should be noted that these changes are only the ones made in the Premier League. If you take into account the variations employed in other competitions as well, United’s lack of cohesion this season isn’t surprising at all.
For the moment, Moyes has no choice but to persist with his variations especially during a congested December fixture list. He’ll need to ensure the arrival of a couple of stand-out first team players in the January transfer window and hope that the side begins to settle in time.
Passing judgement on the Scot at this stage though is completely unwarranted. With young players coming through like Januzaj, Nick Powell, Michael and Will Keane, Jesse Lingard, Angelo Henriquez and Wilfried Zaha (eventually), we may begin to see Moyes build his own team in the next couple of seasons.
The future looks bright but United need time
United are simply a club trying to compete at the very top under difficult circumstances. Blaming Moyes and calling for his exit would be short-sighted. They have money to spend, great structure and young talent coming through, basically everything needed to rebuild properly. The only factor is time and the supporters must afford the new manager that much at least.
He’s bound to be more precise with his acquisitions in the transfer market henceforth, especially since he’s now fully aware of the type of players the squad requires. The starting eleven to face Newcastle United on Saturday is anyone’s guess especially in light of Rooney’s suspension but the fact is the variations will have to continue until Moyes adds to what is a below-par United squad.
|Have frequent changes affected United's performances? Send in your thoughts in the comments below or discuss with the writer on Twitter @BrendonNetto.|
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