Moyes stuck with a team of old men

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Manchester United manager David Moyes conceded that Liverpool probably start as favourites to win what he described as the biggest club game in England. Photo by Jamie McDonald

Had David Moyes been manager of any other major club in Europe, there is every chance he would be out of his job now.

The powerhouses, from Chelsea to Real Madrid to Bayern Munich, do not suffer the kind of season Manchester United have endured without taking ruthless action, and defeat like the one against Olympiacos would have been the end for Moyes anywhere else.

Chelsea, remember, sacked Andre Villas-Boas after a dreadful 3-1 defeat against Napoli at the same stage of the Champions League two years ago.

United, however, are different. Like Liverpool and Arsenal, they do things in what I believe to be the right way. History shows they do not panic or make kneejerk reactions: Tommy Docherty was not sacked even when United were relegated to the old second division in 1974.

But just because United have not panicked doesn’t mean they won’t be anxious and nobody knows what the Glazer family are thinking. Moyes deserves until Christmas to show he can be a success but, as a wise football man, he will be aware losing makes positions become untenable.

Watching United labour against Olympiacos brought back memories of the situation Roy Hodgson experienced in his brief stay at Liverpool in 2010; the shock home defeats, the unexpected cup exits and certain players letting the manager down badly.

The way Robin van Persie, for instance, is playing reminds me of the way Fernando Torres was with Hodgson.

His goal record might be good, as was Torres’s for Hodgson, but the quotes that he has made and the stories surrounding him make it feel like Van Persie isn’t behind Moyes.

He didn’t miss a game last season in the Barclays Premier League but this year he has been in and out — is he thinking about the World Cup? — while his demeanour has served only to increase the perception there are problems. Torres did exactly the same.

If a manager loses his players, there is often no way back and an issue Moyes has to contend with at the moment is the fact he is the focus of the criticism. United’s players will know this and can hide behind that, rather than looking at their own shortcomings. Again, that happened with Hodgson.

To see Moyes now, he looks shell-shocked. The Moyes I knew at Everton would never have been so amenable in television interviews after seeing his side perform as badly as United did in Greece.

When he was at Everton, you would see the anger in his face and his answers would be short.

You knew he felt let down by his team but, equally, you knew he would drag a response out of them. Last season, after losing to Wigan in the FA Cup, Everton beat Manchester City 2-0 seven days later.

That ability to galvanise was one of Moyes’s great strengths. A year earlier, after Liverpool had beaten them in the FA Cup semi-final, Everton responded the following week with a 4-4 draw at Old Trafford, having looked dead and buried. He wouldn’t accept his team just falling away.

Before the game in Greece he spoke about United being compact but the team he picked had two wingers and two strikers. If a manager plays that system and gets a result, he is regarded as brave. If it backfires, he is naive.

It is almost as if he’s caught between the Manchester United way and his own mentality.

He is not a front-foot manager — that is not a criticism, because neither is Jose Mourinho — but there doesn’t look to be any fizz or fight about United. They don’t look to be one thing or the other. I’d go as far as to say this is the slowest United side I have seen and in Piraeus they looked like a team of old men coming to the end.

Facing United used to be unnerving, because you never knew how they would play. If they wanted to pass you to sleep, they would do it without a problem. But if they wanted to pick you off on the break, they had the speed and cutting edge to shred you to pieces.

The signings of Juan Mata and Marouane Fellaini won’t change that, as they don’t have pace.

Moyes, it must be said, is also having no luck — the deflection that aided Olympiacos’s first goal epitomised how things are going — and he has said that often in press conferences. But is he genuinely unlucky or is he a manager who comes up short?

Moyes did a magnificent job at Preston and took them to the brink of the Premier League before losing the play-off final against Bolton in 2001; the work he did in reviving Everton was beyond question but in those legacy-defining games — Villarreal (2005), Chelsea (2009), Liverpool (2012) — it was one hurdle too many.

It is not unusual, of course, for managers to have poor first seasons at big clubs before turning things round. Gerard Houllier, Rafa Benitez (Istanbul apart!) and Brendan Rodgers all found life difficult at Anfield but there was no sense they were ever in trouble.

They were given the confidence and belief to build their projects and that is what United are doing with Moyes. Deep down, though, he and his board will know they can’t keep losing. He needs an attention-grabbing victory, the kind United used to achieve regularly, to settle the nerves. – Daily Mail


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