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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

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By Sam Lee

Manchester United and their supporters are waking up to the reality that their season is over.

Their Champions League exit does not mean they can now concentrate on the league. They're not just effectively out of the title race, it is impossible for them to win it. There will be no last hurrah in the FA Cup.

They will not even be able to have another crack at the Champions League next season - they are out of that for the foreseeable future too.

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

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

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They were painted as the plucky underdogs following the Old Trafford clash with Bayern. They were deemed to have played well after sitting back and absorbing punches in front of their own fans. It was little short of patronising.

It was more of the same on Wednesday night in Germany. They 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 they never looked like they would be able to go and get a goal if, late in the game, they absolutely had to score. As it turns out, that was exactly their problem.

Patrice Evra's blaster was what United had been hoping for since the draw was made, but as soon as Bayern equalised 22 seconds later they were not just back to square one but effectively finished. They had pulled out their party piece too soon, they couldn't live with Bayern's new-found impetus and could not get hold of the ball for long enough to put the hosts 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."

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And 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 £100m-£200m 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 '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 do Manchester United stand at the end of their season? Put simply, they are at a crossroads.

Whether it be Moyes or somebody else, the squad will be rebuilt. A new defence 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 £200m 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 team-mates 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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