Thursday, 20 February 2014

The year a team went missing rev.1

The year a team died

On 8th May 2013 Fergie announced his resignation at the end of the season. On 9th May United announced that his successor would be David Moyes, manager of Everton since 2002 with whom he had won nothing.

On the face of it for one of the biggest clubs in world football to choose a manager who had not previously won a trophy was a major surprise. However most commentators focussed on Moyes’ personal qualities and beliefs and the feeling he had done the best job possible with limited resources at Everton, in justifying the appointment. The idea being that he had a good youth setup at Everton and his players were instilled with a positive work ethic that got the best from them, which would transfer to Old Trafford and continue Fergie’s strategy.

At this point it is worth recalling that Fergie himself had invited Moyes to his house, told him of his resignation and that he would be his successor in a manner with echoes of North Korea or Cuba. Fergie would be a director and still part of the club which had disturbing undertones of the mess at the end of Busby’s reign. You couldn’t help feeling that Fergie didn’t want to let go completely and he saw in Moyes someone who he could work with. Both of similar backgrounds, being Glaswegian with long playing records in Scotland.

Had Mourinho come in it was impossible to think he could have worked with Fergie’s presence around the place. Also a rumour was that Charlton did not consider Mourinho a United type. Anyway he was probably always going back to Chelsea as United had shown no sign of wanting him.

So United got Moyes and immediately it was difficult to think of us as doing anything more than, at best, treading water. No real prospect of kicking on in Europe. Indeed you would not think of the world’s top players wanting to join Moyes rather than Mourinho.

Moyes brought his backroom team from Everton which led to the removal of Mike Phelan and, of more concern, Rene Meulensteen who was very well respected as first team coach. Now Phil Neville is first team coach in his first managerial job.

Pre-season was mixed, slightly disappointing if anything and concluded with a 2-0 win over newly relegated Wigan in the Commmunity Shield at Wembley.

Summer transfer activity began with the signing of an obscure young South American full back, and almost ended there. Despite talk from Moyes of a number of signings nothing happened until the last minutes of the transfer window when we signed Fellaini from his old club for £27m. Had we signed him before 31stJuly he would have cost £23m because of a buy out clause. But it expired so we paid £4m more and didn’t have him for the first 3 games. This, of course, smacked of him being our second or third choice.

We chased Fabregas in vain all summer. Herrara of Bilbao failed at the last. Baines of Everton did not happen. We were also linked with Ozil, De Rossi, Kadeira and Modric. None of them happened. Clearly, as all the fans knew, we needed 3 top class midfielders. What went wrong? Well, David Gill, the chief exec left for UEFA and was replaced by Ed Woodward who took charge of transfers. Here’s part of his Wikipedia profile.
In 2005, Woodward advised Malcolm Glazer and the Glazer family during its successful takeover of Manchester United. The Glazer family then recruited Woodward to join the club in a "financial planning" role.
In 2007, Woodward was given charge of the commercial and media operations of Manchester United. It was in this role that Woodward is credited for United's success in tying up lucrative sponsorship deals with companies around the world. In 2005, the club's commercial revenue was £48.7 million. In 2012, it stood at £117.6 million.[2][3]
Woodward was appointed to the board of directors and named executive vice-chairman of Manchester United in 2012. After the retirement of CEO David Gill the following year, Woodward was promoted to the top operational role at Old Trafford in a restructuring of the club's boardroom. Woodward was succeeded by Richard Arnold as the club's commercial management director.[1]
Woodward's first transfer window, where Manchester United completed the signing of Belgian midfielder Marouane Fellaini from Everton, but failed to acquire other transfer targets, was described as being "disastrous" by The Daily Telegraph.[4]
With his background advising the Glazers he did a great job saving them money.

So the owners and board of Manchester United put the playing future of the club in the hands of a financial planner and a trophy less manager. Hardly a good long term strategy. It’s hard not to think of it in these terms :- we had one of the best managers in the world with an experienced staff and professional management support. That’s been replaced by people who are completely untried at this level. In an effort to compete with United both City and Chelsea have recruited top level executives who know football, and experienced managers who have properly trained and experienced staff. Then they have sourced and recruited top class players. They needn’t have bothered as United have simply thrown away their advantage through either complacency or tight footedness. In the business world you would never replace a highly successful chief executive of a huge company with someone from a smaller concern with no real outstanding achievement behind him. Nor would you allow him to replace the deputy chief executive and several members of the successful management team with colleagues from his old company, one of whom had never been in management before. This would be simply unthinkable but has happened at Manchester United, one of the biggest football businesses in the world. Can it be right either for the football success or the long term profitability of the club?

Moyes’ other summer business was about keeping Rooney from the clutches of Mourinho at Chelsea. He managed to do this despite announcing that we needed Rooney in case Van Persie got injured!

The season started well enough away to Swansea. On the back foot for the first 20 minutes, United went ahead through Van Persie, swiftly followed by a tap in from Wellbeck. 2 cracking goals from the same duo sealed the victory with Swansea getting one back after clumsy defending by Wellbeck on the edge of our box. Rooney came on for the last half hour and looked good although ostentatiously not joining in goal celebrations. It was business as usual. Midfield Valencia, Carrick, Cleverley and Giggs.

For the first home game against Chelsea Rooney started and was given a tremendous reception by the crowd. Both sections of it as Chelsea fans were trying to encourage him to join them! Mourinho’s Chelsea came for the point and got it. In a tight game there were very few chances and, clearly, more creativity was needed by United. Interestingly Rooney had a couple of long range shots when he could have played in Van Persie, and perhaps he was looking to make a point. It was United’s first goalless draw at Old Trafford since May 2009 but not a bad performance against a Chelsea side intent on defending. Moyes made 1 change from the Swansea team.

Next game was Liverpool away and Rooney got injured in training so did not play. Liverpool had started the season with two 1-0 wins with Sturridge scoring in both and this was to be their third. United fans were more nervous before this game than for a long time against Liverpool and it was featured that Moyes had never won at Anfield. Sturridge scored in 3 minutes from a scrappy corner with United’s defence on the back foot. They never looked like scoring again. Missing Rooney badly United again could not break down a team determined to defend. It was very tempting to say that under Fergie United would have had more fight & belief that they could come back from behind. So no goals in 2 games and few chances. Depressingly Moyes announced that he thought “they” had played well and you could see why “they” were champions. No “they” didn’t play well and David shouldn’t it be “we”?  2 changes.

After 3 games we had 4 points. In terms of team selection you couldn’t fault the back four with Raphael out and Jones, Ferdinand, Vidic and Evra playing well. In midfield Cleverley & Carrick have started all games, Giggs 2 and Valencia 2 with Zaha and Young 1 each. Van Persie and Wellbeck have started all up front and Rooney has started once in a 4-3-3. Carrick’s been his usual efficient self but Cleverley’s looked out of touch. Giggs has had moments of pure genius but can’t boss a game any more. Valencia has looked more positive when pressed into action as full back than when on the wing and the other 2 wingers have looked lightweight. Van Persie has not had good service at all and only Rooney has looked the business when he’s played. Since the Swansea game Wellbeck’s flattered to deceive as he did all last season. Kagawa has just made a brief sub appearance and seems totally out of favour. With Rooney out his best position was available but he wasn’t played. Similarly Nani has had one sub appearance whilst Anderson’s come on twice and Hernandez once.

Overall we seem 10% slower when building attacks giving defences time to organize & we need to get the zip back in our play.

Maybe Moyes is still to assess the players to determine his best team and get them settled down. Just hope its quick.

Let’s look at the squad :

Goal               De Gea, Lindergaard, Amos
Defence          Raphael, Jones, Smalling, Vidic, Ferdinand, Evans, Evra, Buttner, Fabio
Midfield         Zaha, Valencia, Young, Nani, Giggs, Cleverley, Carrick, Anderson
Hole               Rooney, Kagawa, Fellaini
Striker            Van Persie, Wellbeck, Hernandez

Goal seems to be covered with De Gea having a strong season last time & good cover.
Similarly with defence although we do seem to have players who are injury prone in that area.
For the rest of the team we need to establish the system of play. If we’re having 2 wide men as we normally do then we’ve 4, not including Giggs, to choose from. Zaha’s been bought on the strength of his performances last season so it makes sense to play him and Valencia if the coaches can find a way of getting Valencia to play more positively and directly like he used to. Otherwise play Nani. I don’t think Young’s good enough.
In the centre mid Carrick is a must and I think Fellaini needs to reposition himself alongside.
This leaves Rooney and Van Persie which must be our best attacking combination.
Hernandez must be our supersub to change things round when needed.
Wellbeck needs to do a lot more than he has before I’d make him a regular.
Kagawa is a ready made alternative to either Fellaini or Rooney & may be better than Fellaini if given an extended run , which he won’t get.
Giggs can change a game in the last half hour but I’m unsure what Cleverley brings to the team.
Anderson has had his chances.
Saying all that what we miss most is a box to box midfielder who looks after defensive duties a la Keane and an inventive hole player like Cantona. Maybe Fabregas and Ozil would have filled those gaps.

After the international break we’re back with a home lunchtime kick off against Palace, who are bottom. Rooney’s been pressed into playing with a band round his head to protect a split forehead. Fabio’s been given a go at right back as Jones is still out and Anderson’s given another chance in midfield.
Palace simply sat back and we couldn’t get through them. Our most inventive ploy being Young’s attempts to gain a penalty by falling which eventually worked. The penalty was tucked away by VP and in the second half Rooney scored from a free kick but we created few chances. Predictably Anderson was crap and Valencia unassertive whilst, apart from winning the penalty Young did nothing. VP unfortunately is feeding only off scraps.
Things got better when Fellaini and Januzaj came on. The latter in particular showed very positive signs.
Overall we can only say we’ve beaten the bottom team 2-0 at home and, despite them being down to 10 men for the second half, we couldn’t score a single goal from open play.
Moyes is happy with the result. 4 changes.

Next up is Bayer Leverkusen at home in the misleadingly named champions league.
Smalling in at right back, Fellaini for Anderson & Kagawa for Young.
All three played well and Rooney had a terrific game with 2 goals and a hand in Valencia’s. Valencia was very positive for once and Smalling excellent behind him although not getting so far forward which probably encouraged Valencia to attack more. After Leverkusen equalised we looked shocked but when we scored again our confidence returned and we breezed home.
Thinking about this game it was clear that we had more room on the ball as we weren’t pressed as much as in the Premiership. Maybe we’ve been sussed out over here and that’s why we’re doing better in Europe. 3 changes.

City murdered us at the Etihad 4-1 and weren’t flattered. VP was out injured and replaced by Wellbeck and Young came in for Kagawa but it didn’t matter. It was men against boys. We don’t have the character any more to withstand an onslaught and retaliate. What’s happened to us? Obviously the Fergie effect but what is that? Motivation? Fear? Tactics? Or do we also have to look at the coaching and the effect on team spirit of Moyes not seeming to know his first eleven? Anyway Rooney scored a great free kick to give us at least one good memory. 2 changes.

Capital one cup against Liverpool and we fielded a weakened side against their more or less full strength and won with a Hernandez touch in around half time. The young team performed well as a unit and that’s clearly the key to improvement. Hopeful again after the City result. 8 changes.

Hopes dashed quickly by second successive league defeat, this time at home to West Brom. A team that we should always beat. They got a couple of excellent goals abetted by poor defending and we struggled to create chances. Rooney got another free kick so yet again no goal from open play. Essentially though it was an even game and they got the breaks. 4 changes. Need to sort out a settled midfield.

Away to Shaktar and looking comfortable at 1-0 with a good Wellbeck goal we conceded late on for a draw that emphasised defensive weakness and lack of resolve. 7 changes.

Back to winning ways against a poor Sunderland team who went into the lead early on through a Vidic error in defence. The win came through 2 goals from Januzaj on his first start in the league. 4 changes.

Home game against Southampton who had started the season well. A seemingly good performance with little luck after striking the bar twice and Rooney and VP working well together. VP scored and we seemed comfortable only for them to equalise in the last minute. Again. 2 changes.

An early own goal gave us a 1-0 win at home to Sociedad although we were far from impressive. 4 changes.

The most weird home game followed against Stoke. They scored, VP equalised, they scored again and we seemed to have no answer. Then Rooney and Hernandez both scored with 10 minutes left and we hung on. 3-2. 4 changes.

Against Norwich in the Capital one cup Moyes fielded a strong team, probably thinking it’s our only chance of winning something, and came away with a 4-0 win courtesy of goals from Hernandez (2), Jones and Fabio. Seems like away from the Premiership we can put together decent performances. Maybe it’s because we’re allowed to.  9 changes.

Away to bottom team Fulham and raced to a 3-0 lead in 20 minutes through VP, Valencia and Rooney. After that nothing and you wonder why we didn’t push on more. Fulham got one back in second half.  6 changes.

A nothing game away to Sociedad. VP missed a penalty and Fellaini got a red card. 6 changes.

We now face a home game against the leaders Arsenal. If we lose we are definitely out of the title race. This is the most important game for a long time. And we win through a header from VP after a Rooney corner. Resolutely we keep Arsenal out. Not impressively entertaining but an improvement on everything that’s gone before. The papers were saying well of course United had never really been out of contention. 4 changes.

After the win against Arsenal the away game at Cardiff was looked forward to as an opportunity to kick on and we started well with a Rooney goal. Then they cut through our midfield and Campbell scored but we got another with Evra from a corner just on half time. Giggs came on with 20 to go and looked our best player. As time ran out we looked to be comfortable with the 2-1 lead but in extra time they scored with an unmarked header from a free kick. 2-2. Another late goal conceded. 5 changes.

The crucial European game away to Leverkusen was won 5-0 with goals from Valencia, Jones, Smalling, Nani & an own goal. It was a confident performance and everything went our way. Strangely the Germans looked very timid and disorganised. It was a difficult game to analyse but I won’t get as carried away with optimism as some are. Giggs was the star of midfield. Rooney created 4 of the goals. 4 changes.

Next to White Hart Lane to play Spurs who had been beaten 6-0 by City last week. They were resolute against us though and we could only manage a draw with 2 goals from Rooney as his fine season continues. Probably a decent result for us and it means we are undefeated in 8 games. 3 changes.

Now the first of 2 successive home games against teams having good runs and this was Moyes’ old team Everton. Well we created very little and were undone close to the end through poor defending so the undefeated run ends. 3 changes.

Need to win now against Newcastle 3 days later but it’s the same sterile performance and the same 1-0 defeat. So 2 teams that haven’t won at Old Trafford for donkey’s years have both broken their duck in quick succession. 6 changes.

After 22 games in all competitions let’s have a look at some stats. Midfield is the big concern so we’ll see what’s going on there. So far 11 different midfield players have been used in 21 different combinations. Only 1 has been repeated, that of Valencia, Fellaini, Giggs & Kagawa and in those 2 games we drew 0-0 with Sociedad and lost 1-0 at home to Everton. So it’s safe to say Moyes has not decided on his best midfield. Valencia’s played the most with 14 and Carrick is on 13 which, without injury, would have been more. Anderson & Young have played in 4 and 2 whilst the others have played between 6 and 10 each. This leads to saying that Moyes favours Carrick and Valencia and doesn’t like Anderson or Young. The other 7 come and go often for no apparent reason. This has got to be a big problem. The midfield is the engine of the team. If it’s running smoothly then it facilitates the creation of chances and supports defence in resisting attacks. To run smoothly there has to be stability, consistency and balance. To throw separate, random components together and expect smooth running is folly but that’s what is happening. Stability and consistency are provided by deciding what system or style to play, selecting the players that best fit that style and sticking with it until it is tested and fails or it succeeds. Changing personnel every game, which has been the case all season, is a formula for failure. The players never get a chance to build an understanding and are dispirited by the uncertainty. Nor is the manager able to assess how players relate to each other in real match situations over a period of time. The other condition of balance is part of the system that covers the creativity in midfield but also the ability to break up opposition attacks before they reach our defence. To be successful both elements must be present. This will be a function of the style of play but also the style of the players involved.

Looking at the defence we’ve conceded 19 goals in 15 league games, which isn’t terrible but of those we’ve let in 3 late on to draw 2 that we would have won and to lose the game against Everton. All of these have been sloppy goals and clearly indicate lack of concentration. Having said that the big problem is the lack of goals scored so let’s look at the attack.

We’ve 4 strikers : Van Persie, Rooney, Wellbeck and Hernandez. It’s difficult to judge these players because the service from midfield has been sadly lacking. Rooney, however, has been tremendous. He’s got 10 goals in all games including a penalty and 3 free kicks. He’s also created numerous goals for others and his all round game has been of the highest order. Without him we’d have been in dire straits. He’s different from the others in the way he drops back and finds space but gets forward as well. Wellbeck should be doing the same but he suffers from a lack of a football brain and too often is in the wrong place or chooses the wrong option. He flatters to deceive. At times looking world class but mostly appearing na├»ve. Hernandez is a good finisher who is simply not getting enough opportunities in the box. The same is true of Van Persie although he is a more expansive player but still suffers from the failure of midfield to get the ball to him quickly enough. He has sustained injuries that have also affected his play during the season.

All of the above is said knowing that substantially the same players that won the league by 11 points are still here so what has happened to them? It must be something like a lack of belief. Maybe they lack belief in the new management which causes them to lack belief in themselves. Maybe they are let down by not having a system of play that they believe in or maybe they are unsure of their position in the team as there are too many changes. Whatever, it’s clear that the spirit, resolution and fight are lacking compared with previously.

After the 2 home league defeats we have Shaktar Donetsk at Old Trafford in the final champions league group game and we need to avoid defeat to go through as group winners. Well in the first half they ripped through us and, but for terrible finishing could have scored 3 or 4. We had chances too but, unfortunately, they both fell to Young who made a hash of 2 wonderful opportunities. Started feeling sorry for him as his confidence must be shot till I remembered how much he must be on and then I felt angry. In the second half we showed a lot more fight which, I think, was partly due to the opposition tiring after an energetic start. Eventually we got a goal through Jones that sealed our place as group winners. On reflection only Jones in midfield had a good game with a spirited display and a goal. Ferdinand was awful and gave the ball away as last man at least twice. Maybe age catching up. Actually Evans did well also and covered for Ferdinand a few times. So you have to say great results in Europe in contrast to very poor in the premier league. As I’ve said we get closed down in midfield domestically which we don’t seem able to get past whilst in Europe the teams aren’t able or configured to do this for more than a small part of the match. 5 changes.

In the League we’re playing away to Villa who are in the middle of a poor run. They start brightly but Wellbeck gets a poacher’s goal after 15 minutes and they pretty much fold. We started to put some good moves together which will do our confidence some good but Villa were no test at all. Wellbeck got another and Cleverley scored a good one. 4 changes.

I’m away for the Stoke game in the Capital One cup at the Brittania. By the sound of it pretty straightforward with Evra scoring and Young’s goal being special. Not just because of the quality of the goal but also because Young scored without falling over. 3 changes.

Last game before Christmas is West Ham at home, which I go to with my two sons who are home for Christmas. It’s a chance for them to see us live for the first time this season and we can discuss the game from the same standpoint afterwards. After a bit of bluster from them we quickly got on top and, without having to play well, they rolled over. Wellbeck and Januzaij both scored from acute angles after good build up play and Young stuck in a good one late on. Encouraging. Our discussion after the game was cautiously optimistic, hoping that we hadn’t just had a win over a very poor team. Time will tell. 2 changes.

Boxing day at Hull. Who has celebrated Christmas the more and who is still hungry? Answer within 20 minutes as Hull flew into a 2-0 lead due to, charitably, poor defending. No let’s be honest it was pathetic defending. No composure in centre of defence and don’t clear when given chance, also very bad marking from crosses. Anyway soon got back at them and eventually won because they can’t defend either. Smalling header, o.g. and great Rooney volley. 2 changes.

 Last game of a crazy year at Norwich. They being a team of mixed results. Anyway  we won 1-0 thanks to Wellbeck coming on and scoring after injecting more pace and urgency than anyone else on the pitch had been showing. That doesn’t mean that Wellbeck’s better than anyone else because in many games he’s started he’s been as lethargic as everyone else. Just weird how sometimes subs have an impact that they would not have if they started the game. . 5 changes.

New year begins against Spurs who are not doing that great. Not long having sacked Villas Boas as manager they have now appointed Tim Sherwood on an interim contract. So would not expect them to be super confident on the back of managerial changes and poor recent results. Anyway they pasted us. For the first time this season I realised we did not have a clue how to play. They simply put men behind the ball and we had no idea how to play through the middle. When we tried to play down the flanks their big guys at the back soaked everything up. They only counter attacked a few times but when they did they found our weak underbelly to score easily through the middle. Two free headers were enough to win it for them. Wellbeck’s consolation goal was delightful but not sustaining. 4 changes.

Now we have the FA cup and maybe this is a chance to forget league form and try to do well enough to win the trophy. We have Swansea who have only won 1 in their last 9 games. At home. Come on. Even a pessimist like me knows we’ll blow them away. However relatively poor we are this is not a game we stand a chance of losing. Particularly as we got beat last time out and we’ll want to respond to that. Of course this is just the arrogance of a team that has had it too good for too long and consequently we lose 2-1. Not much in it. Maybe a decision goes their way but not an unfair result. Good goal by Herandez from Buttner’s cross. Apart from that few chances were created though6 changes.

Ok now we play the bottom team Sunderland in the Capital One cup semi. Their ground but they have only won 3 league games this season. Doesn’t stop them beating us 2-1 though. Penalty they shouldn’t have had is nor relevant. No big team currently would need to rely on a single decision against a team as poor as Sunderland. Another flat performance which is now the norm. We might win the odd game against teams like this but can only see us being slaughtered against the best teams. . 7 changes.

Chatted about this with a couple of (non United) mates last night and a few consensual thoughts came out. Must point out that some may have been aired by me before… anyway.

Why Moyes?
Continuity, similar philosophy to Fergie, can continue to work with Fergie, good youth policy at Everton. Cheaper than Mourinho for Glazers and less likely to demand transfer spend.

Why not Moyes?
Not won anything as a manager. Would disrupt successful coaching staff. Not a top manager.

Managerial selection process.
Rumours abound but, whether or not Fergie chose his successor, one should expect the owners and directors of Manchester United to have been rigorous in deciding how, when and who in terms of the succession. It does seem that they left it to Fergie to wait for the moment and then say “ that’s it”. However any professional business would have insisted that the incumbent gave due notice of resignation and then the management would have taken the time to search properly for a successor. It’s not implausible that Fergie could have given a year’s notice so that Moyes or someone else could have worked with him for that period.
What has happened is akin to the CEO of a major corporation retiring and being replaced by an MD of a medium sized organisation. Then the deputy MD (Meulesteen) is sacked and replaced by a graduate trainee (Phil Neville). Almost as alarming is that the under 21s are coached by Butt and Scholes. Great players but not yet great coaches.

What’s going Right?
Rooney is better than at any time over the last two seasons. Having said that he’s playing too deeply. Surely Mr. Moyes could point this out to him.
De Gea looks the business as the best keeper in the prem.
Januzaj is a player.

What’s going wrong?
$64m question. First of all more or less same players. How can a manager mess up a bunch of players that just won the prem by 12 points? If he did nothing at all you would expect the players to continue their style and be close to previous performances. However he hasn’t done nothing. He’s changed the coaching team. The team that was so successful has gone. The results of the current coaching team are there to be seen. Same players, less success. Injuries have not been kind but mostly caused during training. Can’t be too hard about that but it’s another factor. I’m sorry but I’ve got to say it. Phil Neville on the bench just looks embarrassing.

How is the team playing differently?
What did Fergie bring? Organization, motivation, spirit, strategy , Know how.
Clearly Moyes was not going to be as good as Fergie in some respects.
However it’s not clear how and why he should be worse.
Organization is what you would expect from an experienced premiership manager at at least an high as level as before.
Motivation is an essential element in a manager, which may be a little below the best but still at a high level.
Spirit comes to play when results go against you. It’s character and the ability to fight back. Not yet apparent in United this season.
The strategy of a team is demonstrated by the players ability to form a cohesive unit. They know how they are supposed to play and are able to mesh to the best effect. Once again this has not been demonstrated by United this season.
Know how seems to me a combination of confidence and ability and is the remaining ingredient that United are lacking.

Summary at season’s half way point is that whilst the support for Moyes is overt and considerable, and in a way wonderful, beneath that there is a real concern that things have slipped disastrously
Obviously Fergie had, for whatever reasons, allowed the squad to reduce in quality. Moyes, however had the whole summer to make reparations. Everyone knows he did nothing until signing Fellaini as a last (desperate ?) measure in summer. It’s not unreasonable therefore to consider the United squad on 1/10/2013 as Moyes’ squad. No one can then blame the players for results as the manager has to accept responsibility for the players he has chosen, If this needs to be investigated further then look at Martinez at Everton and how he’s been able to elicit performances from players that Moyes left behind. Players that no one would have suggested were better than the players that Moyes enjoyed at Manchester United.

It’s really difficult to see where Moyes goes from here. He’s getting nothing from the players and has said he doesn’t expect any signings in the January transfer window.

Many United supporters think the only way out is to replace him with a really top guy.

Back to the league and we have Swansea at home again. Nothing in it at all in first half as Januzaij is played up front with Welbeck. Switching Kagawa into centre and Januzaij on wing in second half makes us play better and we win with goals from Valencia and Wellbeck. Moyes is applauded for making the change at half time. No-one points out that his original selection was ill judged. 3 changes.

Still no movement in the January transfer window. We all know it’s not the best time to buy but we’re in a mess and we need help. Rooney and VP are not yet training so we’ll go into the Chelsea game lightweight up front again.

Start off well against Chelsea. Good tempo. Couple of chances. Then Jones misses a tackle. Eto shoots from 20 yards. Deflection takes it over De Gea. Soon after a poor clearance gives Chelsea a chance to get the ball in the box to Eto who is unmarked as defence has forgotten he is there. Inept defending from a corner gives Eto his hat trick. Hernandez gets one back when its too late. For some reason Moyes has picked Januzaij in the middle again with Young on the left, despite us improving significantly against Swansea when Januzaij went onto the left. Young was anonymous. You have to wonder what on earth the manager was thinking. You also have to wonder whether they do any defensive drills in training as basic understanding is not there. 3 changes.

If a manager’s job is to sign the right players, choose a winning style of play, adopt the best tactics, organise the team, motivate the players and inspire them with confidence to get the best out of them then Moyes is failing in every respect. Add to that his unfortunate and, at times, inane utterances and you have to worry.

Here comes the 2nd leg of the league cup semi at home to Sunderland. Needing to overturn a 1 goal deficit we lead 1-0 at half time through Evans. We can’t create another so go into extra time needing simply to hold on to go through on away goals. With 3 minutes to go De Gea makes his first mistake of the season & spills an easy shot for them to go in front on aggregate. In the last minute Hernandez equalises & we go to penalties. To epitomise our new found lack of confidence we fail to match Sunderland’s tally of 2. Probably the worst penalties ever. 4 changes.

Our new £37m signing Mata starts against Cardiff with Van Persie returning. VP & Young score in a tepid 2-0 win at home. 8 changes.

Which is better the we can do away to Stoke, losing 2-1 with VP replying to two long range Adam efforts. Far too much space given to Adam. It’s become a trait that we back off in midfield whilst all the top clubs have their midfielders harassing the opposition. Moyes said we were unlucky. Again. 4 changes.

Still we could hardly fail to beat the bottom team Fulham at home with Mata, VP & Rooney all starting. Of course we did fail, drawing 2-2. They took the lead in the first half & held it till 75 minutes when we got two in quick succession. We then sat back & Fulham scored with the last kick of the match. We made a record number of crosses, not one of which led to a goal. 3 changes.

Arsenal away did not look promising but they seemed as subdued as us in a sterile 0-0 that either side might have pinched but neither deserved to. 2 changes.

So in 2014 we have played 10, won 3, drawn 2 and lost 5. Of the 10 teams we’ve played 3 were in the top 6 and 7 in the bottom 6. Closer to relegation form than Champions league form. Since buying Mata we’ve got 5 points out of 12 despite 3 games against bottom 3 teams. Moyes is still no nearer to knowing his best time with Mata seeming to complicate matters as he tries to accommodate the ex-Chelsea player.

I’ve thought all through the season that Moyes doesn’t know his best team, especially in midfield. This is borne out by looking at the number of changes per game that he’s made. In 38 games he’s changed an average of over 4 players a game. De Gea has played in 36 games so he’s changed almost half the team each game. In fact there have been 5 or more outfield players changed in 12 games and 4 players changed in 11. By observation most of these have been in midfield. He’s never played an unchanged team. It’s not like these changes were only taking place early in the season when he was getting to know the players. The changes are evenly spread and as recently as January 28th 8 changes were made for the Cardiff game. Clearly not playing a settled side means the players don’t achieve the natural intuition that comes from playing regularly together. This leads to stilted play in midfield and mistakes caused by misunderstanding at the back. Also it makes it difficult for midfield to link up instinctively with attack. Therefore confidence becomes low which perpetuates the cycle. For me he should decide on his best 11 and select it consistently now barring injuries.

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