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Why Manchester United's poor start under Moyes has been overstated

The Old Trafford outfit has already lost three times this campaign, but the performances are largely in keeping with last season's, while Robin van Persie's influence has waned.

After just seven games in charge of Manchester United, David Moyes is already a man under pressure. The Premier League champion has made an unquestionably poor start to life under the Scot, sitting in ninth position and closer to the relegation zone than it is to table-topping Arsenal.

United's title defense has already been written off in some quarters, a less fearsome proposition now than under the legendary Sir Alex Ferguson. Yet, there are some positive signs for Moyes, and the team's performances - if not those of a certain talismanic Dutchman - remain largely consistent with those of last season.

Moyes, it should be noted, was handed a rough selection of fixtures to begin his tenure. The Red Devils have already played three of the current top five (only Aston Villa has faced more members of the league's leading quintet), and Moyes has been keen to point out the difficulties in such a competitive early season calendar.

SIGNS OF IMPROVEMENT
MAN UTD BALL POSSESSION
  vs. 2012-13 2013-14
CHELSEA 49% 55%
LIVERPOOL 48% 57%
MAN CITY
44% 58%
"I find it hard to believe that's the way the balls came out of the bag, that's for sure," Moyes remarked before the season kicked off. "I think it's the hardest start for 20 years that Manchester United have had."

United, even with more favorable fixture lists, has often been a slow starter in the past. The Red Devils had already lost twice at this stage last season, against Everton and Tottenham, and were four points adrift of a Chelsea side they would eventually finish 14 points above.

In the last decade, United has averaged 15 points from its opening seven games, and only once has it topped the table after both that early milestone and the final game of the season. On five occasions in the past decade, the club has been four or more points behind the mid-October league leaders (it was 11 points behind Arsenal on this date in the 2004-05 season) and has made just two unbeaten starts to the campaign.

Beyond nationality, starting slowly and ramping up performances as the season goes on is something Sir Alex and Moyes clearly have in common; though regularly among the top six come the end of the season, the Toffees have an average league placing of 10th at this stage of the season, and have been as low as 20th position.

On top of that, new managers invariably take time to blood in, especially with United undertaking an overhaul of the backroom staff. Manuel Pellegrini, for example, has seen his side suffer shock losses against Aston Villa and Cardiff City, while Andre Villas-Boas and Brendan Rodgers, now flying high, had to wait until their fourth and sixth games, respectively, to record a league win in their maiden campaigns. And neither had such large boots to fill.

MISSING VAN

HOW VAN PERSIE'S STATS STACK UP COMPARED TO LAST SEASON
  2012-13 2013-14
GAMES PLAYED
GOALS
ASSISTS
SHOT ACCURACY
POINTS WON
WIN RATE
38
26
8
46%
21
80%
6
3
0
31.8%
0
50%
Despite the doom and gloom surrounding Old Trafford, the club is only six points down on the tally it amassed last season in the corresponding fixtures, and actually picked up additional points this term against both Swansea City - at the Liberty Stadium - and Chelsea.

Interestingly, United has improved in a number of respects compared to last term. Though it failed to beat Manchester City, Chelsea and Liverpool, it enjoyed, on average, 56.6 percent possession against the three sides -- a significant step up from last year, when the same fixtures saw United record just 47 percent. The club has also created 28 percent more chances.

Meanwhile, City's 4-1 demolition of the Red Devils at the Etihad Stadium in September was seen by many to represent a changing of the guard, yet City has won four of the last five encounters between the sides, scoring 15 goals. That particular result is entirely in keeping with United's recent record against their increasingly noisy neighbor.

United was also heavily reliant on Robin van Persie last season, especially in the corresponding fixtures. The Dutchman scored three match-winning goals (notably against Liverpool and City - though he missed the trip to the Etihad this time around), assisted Patrice Evra's leveller against Swansea, settled a somewhat nervy 2-0 win over West Brom and saw his shot deflect off Titus Bramble for an own goal against Sunderland.

In fact, Van Persie's goals were directly responsible for more points (21) than any other player in the Premier League, or 23.5 percent of the total points the Red Devils accrued across their title-winning campaign. This season, however, Van Persie's goals have been less decisive. Were his goals discounted, United would have no fewer points than it currently has.

United did not lose any of the 20 games Van Persie scored in last season (boasting a win rate of 80 percent), while the five losses they recorded all came in games in which the Dutchman failed to score. United's win rate dropped to 64 percent when Van Persie did not net, and its loss rate rose to 29 percent. The 30-year-old was a crutch for the champions last term, and it stands to reason that they should struggle when he is neither fully fit nor his usual talismanic self, as is the case now.

United, then, should not panic. It has a new manager, undertaking one of the most daunting changing of the guards in football history, who is a notoriously slow starter, just like the club he has inherited, while the side's main man has yet to hit top form. But Moyes can take heart from the club's cup form, and the fact he has taken a point more than Sir Alex managed in his first seven games in charge - a tenure that, in the end, worked out rather well.

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