Once upon a (happier) time, I used to play a game. I used to try to predict Fergie’s starting XI. Two hours before kickoff I would write down the 11 players I thought were going to play in whatever game United were about to participate in.
I used played this “game” on most weekends over 3 or 4 years. Not once, in living memory, did I manage to get all 11 players right.
Now, one might (rightfully) say that I’ve got no clue of managing a football club and what players to use when and how, but you’d have thought I’d have managed to get it right at least once over the years.
As it happens I didn’t, and thus getting 9/11 starters correctly was something I considered a success. In my defense, I think at one point there was a stat that came up when Fergie had not fielded the same starting XI in two consecutive matches in over 150 games, which goes to show that he didn’t exactly make himself easy to predict.
I’ve obviously continued to try to foresee the starting lineups ever since David Moyes took over. And in the short 9 months or so he’s been in charge, I’ve gotten it right more often than not.
Some might now say that I’m as bad a manager as David Moyes is but my sorry game aside, I think it’s fair to say we’ve become predictable.
Sir Alex Ferguson was brave. He made brave decisions, like Mourinho for instance. Being brave is what wins you titles. Being brave is what made Sir Alex leave out Rooney for the Real game last year. And he was right to do so. Until Cuynet Cakir (a man who incidentally still makes regular cameos in my nightmares) had his moment of glory and sent off Nani, we completely outplayed Real Madrid. Without who was supposedly our best player.
It was bravery that made Mourinho leave out Mata and sell him to us. And one look at the league table proves to Chelsea fans that he made the right decision. Mata has yet to score for us and Eden Hazard has excelled without the Spanish playmaker alongside him. In retrospect, Mourinho getting rid of Juan Mata made perfect sense…… Unless of course Juan goes to Stamford Bridge next season, bags a hat-trick and wins us the league title there.
But let me get back to the point I was trying to get across. I’ve yet to see David Moyes being brave and making brave decisions. After the West Brom game my Twitter feed was – in unison – all for dropping RvP to the bench and starting Danny Welbeck up top for the Liverpool game. Something that would have made perfect sense, judging by how Welbeck played at the Hawthorns. He added so much more directness and energy upfront. The lads really gelled in that last half an hour, looked so much more homogenous and Welbeck got what he deserved and scored a good goal.
The West Brom game made it obvious that Manchester United are a much better side without Tony Valencia and Ashley Young in the team. As much as I hate slating my own team’s players, at this moment in time, these two aren’t good enough.
Which really hurts to say, especially for me, since I was once a big fan of Ashley Young’s. in 2008 and 2009 he made the PFA Team of the Year and completely deserved to have done so as well. He was the life and soul of what was then a very exciting Villa side including Milner, Carew and Barry among others. He played some terrific football, was their (reliable) penalty taker, scored some stunning goals and his crosses were feared throughout the league. I was hoping that Fergie would eventually sign him up and I was so thrilled when he had, that I immediately got the away kit with his name on it. I haven’t worn that shirt in a long time I’m afraid to say.
I am at a loss to say how and why he transformed into the confidence lacking, out-of-sorts winger he is nowadays. He seems scared to take people on and run past them. And not only is that painful to watch, it’s also resulted in a tirade of negativity towards him on social media sites. The same goes for Valencia, another PFA Team of the Year member who’s shirt I’ve purchased.
To be fair he’s always been a one trick pony. But that one trick resulted in a great number of assists in 2009/10. At the moment however, that one trick is failing him, which is of course devastating and means that with Nani out injured and Zaha out on loan, we haven’t got a single out-and-out winger in the squad.
This certainly didn’t help Moyes in recent times, but the squad he has at his disposal is still very much capable of winning things.
Before I look ahead towards the Olympiacos game, I want to share my thoughts on last weekend’s game. Before the game, I tweeted that I hoped Moyes didn’t change the starting XI. Now I realize I was blinded by the excellent last 30 minutes the team played. Liverpool are a very good team through the middle. Gerrard and Allen keep the ball very well, Henderson has made big strides this season and upfront with Suarez and Sturridge we all know how lethal they can be.
Brendan Rodgers knows United’s weakest position in the middle of the park. Thus, he reacted and adjusted his team. No wingers, but a very free-flowing midfield with Sterling playing in the number 10 position up against Carrick. Rodgers was spot on with his team selection and they tore us apart at times.
Therefore, why not flood the centre of the park? Drop van Persie, drop Januzaj and play Rooney upfront, Mata in behind, Welbeck on the left and Valencia on the right. and go with Darren Fletcher and Michael Carrick in the middle of the park. This way, we’re defensively stable and at least have some width to attack the fullbacks, because Johnson and Flanagan are, in my opinion, Liverpool’s weakest links.
But no, nothing of the sort happened and we buckled embarrassingly and got beat 3:0, a margin not high enough to show how far above us Liverpool are at the moment.
I’ve stopped being confident now. My mate (a Liverpool fan, one of the two LFC fans I can tolerate in my life) kept asking me how I felt before games. I always said “fairly confident” and it always ended in shambles.
Tonight, however, I’m expecting the worst. And, to be honest, we’re not far from “the worst” are we? We’ve reached a point where we’ve got nothing to lose. Out of the race for 4th spot, let alone the league title, knocked out of the FA and League Cups and Olympiacos are the bookies high favorites to go through tonight. We’ve already lost everything. The season cannot possibly get worse can it?
As far as I see it, our best chance is to play Nani, Shinji and Welbeck tonight. Kagawa in behind Rooney with Nani and Welbeck on the wings. It won’t happen though. Shinji will either be on the bench or the left wing with Robin upfront and Rooney in behind.
I can see Moyes playing Nani, though. His unpredictability and directness might turn out to be a great asset on a night when for once we have to be proactive, instead of reactive.
People often ask me whether I think Moyes should be sacked. And right now, from a neutral’s point of view, yes he should be. Short term aims have all not been reached, the club’s in shambles and he doesn’t seem know what he’s doing. He keeps talking about how “we’ll hopefully try to get a result.” and how “we’ll hopefully try to do our best”.
Even in his comments, there’s no grit, no fire, no determination to be made out. That’s worrying and that’s where the fear factor has gone. Teams used to come to Old Trafford without much more than hope that United might have a bad day and they could possibly, with any luck nick a result. But watching us play, and listening to Moyes’ press conferences will give any opposing team’s manager proper belief that they can beat us. I can only imagine the Olympiacos coach talking to his players tonight. “Lads this is the moment to beat them, they’re down, they’ve got a crap manager, they’re afraid of losing, they’re insecure and unsettled, if we keep the ball and move it quickly in the opening 5 minutes, they’ll have already lost belief”.
This is obviously all guesswork, but I bet my life that’s how pre match talks from most managers in that away dressing room sound nowadays.
Out of the 6 teams above us in the league, only City are yet to come to Old Trafford. we’ve played 5 teams, and only against Arsenal and Chelsea have we managed to avoid defeat at Old Trafford. But that was early on in the season. Back when the fear factor was still there. Mourinho went out for a draw last August. And he got one. He’d go out to win if Chelsea came over tomorrow. And knowing Mourinho, he’d probably get it as well. Arsenal came here as league leaders, the pressure was upon them and they were afraid of losing the lead. United managed to beat them that day, but that was the solitary highlight of what is otherwise an awful record against big teams this season.
Moyes has to stay though, in my opinion. Sacking him right now wouldn’t be beneficial. What can a different manager do now, with 10 games remaining? Even if we win every single game from now to the end of May, we’ll finish outside the top 4. No, sacking Moyes now isn’t the right idea. I for one said from the start I’ll give him 18 months. If there is no improvement to be made out by next January, I say get rid of him. But he deserves time. He’s got the biggest job in world football and he’s predecessor was the greatest manager of all time. At least give him a fair chance of building something. The summer ahead is the biggest of David Moyes’ life. Possibly the biggest in United’s history. With the captain on his way out and others undoubtedly to follow, he needs to show he’s capable of building a squad that’s capable of winning trophies. He’s apparently got the financial needs required, so I’m not prepared to blame the Glazers if we don’t splash the cash wisely.
Manchester United are currently undergoing a similar transition to what Liverpool went through last year. Liverpool ended up 7th in the league and way off the Champions League places. But Brendan Rodgers’ change of style was apparent and you could always see that while the players were struggling to adjust to his style, there was a clear goal ahead, and BR seemed to always know what he was doing.
With Moyes though, it’s different. We’ve been just about as inconsistent as Liverpool in terms of results. But in terms of style of play there is nothing to be observed.
The only positive signs from Moyes that keep me going is that he manages to get players to sign contracts. Since he took over in July, Nani, Rooney, Januzaj, Carrick and Mata have all signed new contracts, + Anderson has been shipped out. All feats that deserve some recognition and show where he wants to go. Therefore I say give him another year.
Two bad years are little more than a speck of dust on what is otherwise a glorious tale of success, throughout this club’s history.
Keep the faith, keep supporting them, and cross your fingers for some quality summer signings.
I’d be glad for some feedback!! Follow and contact me on Twitter @DilaMUFC