Moyes must make changes to redeem Manchester United

Forward Robin van Persie of Manchester United takes a strike for a goal. (credit: Ronnie MacDonald via Flickr) Forward Robin van Persie of Manchester United takes a strike for a goal. (credit: Ronnie MacDonald via Flickr)

On April 20, 2013, Manchester United had just won the English Premier League for the 20th time in their history, a whole four match days early. Striker Robin van Persie, their marquee purchase in the summer, was on his way to scoring 30 goals and carrying the team to the title. He and his partner, forward Wayne Rooney, worked together beautifully, and the emergence of several young players in the squad had fans brimming with optimism.

All looked rosy until May 8, when Sir Alex Ferguson, the team’s manager for 26 years, decided to call time on his career. Most fans of the club today had never seen United without Sir Alex. There was an uncertainty never before experienced at the club, but in David Moyes, they thought they had appointed a manager in the same vein as Ferguson; someone who could provide stability to the club and continue their unparalleled success.

Fast forward to the present, and the worst fears of United fans have been realized — they are currently seventh in the league and have already lost an alarming four games at Old Trafford. Their playing style is more mid-table than one-of-Europe’s-best. Nothing seems to be working — not the defense, midfield, or attack. Where did it all go wrong?

It would be churlish to suggest that United’s record boils down to one single factor from among the midfield, Moyes’s tactical incompetence, the lack of Sir Alex’s winning mentality, or the absence of chief executive David Gill in the boardroom. The problem is a combination of these individual issues. It all began with the double retirement of Gill and Ferguson. They essentially ran the club together for more than a decade, and the loss of this pair in itself is hard to overcome, even with United’s vast resources.

On top of these problems, it is genuinely hard to imagine that United could have had it any worse in regard to the summer transfer window. United won the league title by 11 points, but that success was solely due to Ferguson, and shadowed the blatant incompetence of several areas of the squad. For starters, the midfield is as barren as it has ever been. Besides Michael Carrick, United does not have a single midfielder capable of slotting into any of the top seven sides in the country. Midfielders Tom Cleverley, Anderson Luís de Abreu Oliveira, and an aging Ryan Giggs were never viable options as Carrick’s partner.

United needed reinforcements in this position. All they managed to get was Marouane Fellaini, who turned out to be a terrible fit beside Carrick. Midfielders Arturo Vidal, Ilkay Gundogan, Thiago Alcantara, Kevin Strootman, and even Ander Herrera would have been much better options.

There were zero other transfers. Zero! Why is there no new left back to replace Patrice Evra? Why are there no new wingers after the shockingly bad seasons Nani, Antonio Valencia, and Ashley Young have had? Why is there no central defensive cover considering Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidić are aging? It speaks volumes about the miscommunication between the manager and the board when a club of United’s stature cannot lure world-class talent.

The lack of reinforcements meant Moyes had to promote youth, and to his credit, he has unearthed a potential superstar in forward Adnan Januzaj. But a club like Manchester United should not have to rely on an 18-year-old in his first full season to be their go-to man. Januzaj needs experience to have a greater impact, and overplaying him in his first season may cause burnout, just like in the case of Arsenal midfielder Jack Wilshere.

Moyes has also been hopelessly inept when it comes to making his team play adventurously. He chooses to go wide and cross to his two forwards, rather than play through the middle, despite the quality of players available to him in the attacking midfield spot — Shinji Kagawa, Januzaj, Rooney and the recently acquired Juan Mata. In the post-match interview after their latest loss to Stoke City, Moyes claimed his side played well. “We got to the byline at least seven or eight times,” he said. It is absolutely unacceptable that a manager of a top club thinks that getting to byline is a measure of how well his team plays. Top teams play through the middle, with creative players who can instantly split defenses and make quick passes. There is absolutely no fluidity in play, not even the expected solidity at the back of Moyes’s Everton teams. To put it bluntly, United’s play has been uninspiring and they are one of the worst teams to watch this season.

The club is currently in seventh place and the acquisition of Mata in the January transfer window was supposed to boost confidence and gather momentum to make a push for the top four. There were always going to be questions about where to play Mata, but wide right seemed good enough. After all, Moyes worked well with Kevin Mirallas and Steven Pienaar as inverted wingers on Everton.

Mata is not a traditional winger, however. Playing him there is a waste of his talent and severely stagnates the attack. He is not quick enough to run at defenders or get past them. Against Stoke City, he was asked to hug the touchline, something he is not meant for. This tactic meant he was largely invisible throughout the game, other than providing an assist for van Persie. Moyes must play to the strengths of his team, and change his approach toward matches. He isn’t at Everton anymore, where seventh place is a good finish.

Going forward, there are many things United needs to do to correct this ship. Seventh position may just be a possibility this season, and United will have to live with that. Aging players such as Evra, Vidić and Ferdinand must depart while serial under-performers Cleverley, Anderson, Young, and Nani must go too. At the very least two central midfielders are required for first team quality. FC Bayern Munic’s Toni Kroos, a mooted option, would be a good start, in addition to a couple of consistent wingers, one world class central midfielder, and a left back. Top youngsters, like United wingers Jesse Lingard and Wilfried Zaha, must be given a run in the team.

Spending on the squad is necessary, but none of it will matter if Moyes continues to make his team play like a mid-table team. A trio of van Persie, Rooney, and Mata should not be put through this mediocrity. If no signs of improvement are seen, Moyes’s job may be under immense pressure this summer, and his players’ futures may lie elsewhere. It’s obvious what’s wrong and it’s obvious what must be done. Over to you Moyes, to show that you truly are the “Chosen One.”