Bayern Munich defeat highlights rock-bottom expectations at Manchester United

Humbling defeats to any team with a semblance of a game plan have lead to overblown praise for routine Premier League victories and 'plucky' performances in Europe.
Manchester United and its supporters are waking up to the reality that the club's season is over.

The team's Champions League exit does not mean it can now concentrate on the league. The Old Trafford outfit is not just effectively out of the title race, it is impossible for the team to win it. There will be no last hurrah in the FA Cup.

United will not even be able to have another crack at the Champions League next season. The club is out of that for the foreseeable future as well.

As such, David Moyes' first season at Old Trafford has been worse than anybody expected.
Since Christmas, United has been beaten every time it has played a team with a semblance of a game plan - even Tim Sherwood's Tottenham. The season has actually gotten worse as it has progressed. The way the team crumbled at home to Liverpool and Manchester City in March means the players were given too much credit when they held on for dear life - and a draw - against Bayern Munich last week.

That is the key legacy of Moyes' reign so far: lowered expectations.

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United was painted as the plucky underdog following the Old Trafford clash with Bayern. The team was deemed to have played well after sitting back and absorbing punches in front of its own fans. It was little short of patronizing.

It was more of the same on Wednesday night in Germany. United sat back and hoped for opportunities on the break - and although that was, in fairness to Moyes, a sensible approach for the early exchanges, the problem was that the team never looked like it would be able to go and get a goal if, late in the game, it absolutely had to score. As it turns out, that was exactly the problem.

Patrice Evra's blaster was what United had been hoping for since the draw was made, but as soon as Bayern equalized seconds later the club was not just back to square one but effectively finished. United had pulled out its party piece too soon and couldn't live with Bayern's new-found impetus. The players could not hold of the ball for long enough to put the home side under pressure.

After the match, Moyes kept those expectations down.

"I thought we didn't get an awful lot wrong tonight, I thought the players did ever so well, I was really pleased with their performance," he told Sky Sports before lamenting a couple of mistakes.

He later added: "We came here, we made it difficult for them, we tried to stifle them as much as we could and for long periods I thought we did that."

Then he turned his attentions to the summer, to the rebuild he has been promising since the back end of last year. He has long contested that this squad, which won the Premier League at a canter 12 months ago, is not good enough.

The truth is that it is not as good as Sir Alex Ferguson made it look last season and not as bad as Moyes is making it look this.

This is now a club that needs to spend hundreds of millions of pounds on several world-class players just to compete with the likes of Tottenham, Everton and Arsenal for a top-four finish. The last time United finished lower than third was 1991.

Nobody but the Glazer family knows whether Moyes will get to spend the big money they will make available for the summer overhaul. Things were coming to a head following the City defeat - there was talk of mass player unrest, a training ground revolt, a Class of '92 coup, and of course the infamous fly-over protest - and it looked as though the Scot was on his last legs.

Somehow, he seems to have survived. But if wins against Aston Villa and Newcastle, and a 'brave' elimination against Bayern, are enough to erase memories of insipid football and woeful surrenders to fierce rivals, then something has gone wrong at Old Trafford.

So where does Manchester United stand at the end of the season? Put simply, the club is at a crossroads.

Whether it be Moyes or somebody else, the squad will be rebuilt. A new defense is required, and that fabled box-to-box central midfielder still needs to arrive. A quality winger or two wouldn't go amiss, either.

This is a rebuilding job which would test even the most skilled transfer negotiators and managers in the world. How often do clubs ship out five or six key players in one go and aim to replace them in the same summer? It doesn't happen because it's terrible planning and has the potential to go horribly wrong.

Even if five or six world-class players are brought in, they will need time to settle down and gel together - and that's the best case scenario. Champions League football seems a long way off.

The Glazers have got off lightly in all this. Had they given Ferguson that 200 million pounds to spend following, say, the 2011 Champions League final, he could have brought in a world-class name or two alongside youngsters like David de Gea, Phil Jones and Chris Smalling. Those lads are finding their feet in the first team this season, just in time for half of their teammates to start looking at one last contract elsewhere.

What with the Glazers' frugality followed by the appointment of Moyes, chickens are coming home to roost at Old Trafford, and this is just the start.

As for the rest of this season, United will surely be hoping to finish in seventh place and thus avoid the perils of the Europa League. That is what the season has come to on Moyes' watch, limping over the line as Manchester City, Liverpool and Chelsea fight for the most open title in years.

The summer will be make or break for both manager and club. Nobody knows if the Glazers will stand by Moyes, but one thing is for sure: expectations need to be restored to a level befitting Manchester United.

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