Drama continues at the Theatre of Dreams as Manchester United falter again

Author : Ambuj

Manchester United v Southampton - Premier League

It was a draw at home to Southampton. The result itself would not be considered a disaster under normal circumstances. Southampton have a very good team this year and if they are able to get a draw, so be it. It would still be a disappointing result, but it would not be a disaster. But the circumstances are anything but normal at Manchester United right now.

Sir Alex has retired and United are 8 points behind Arsenal, who are top of the league, after only 8 games into the season. They also find themselves 5 points out of the 4th place and the final champions league spot.

But that is not all. The new manager, David Moyes, has found himself reacting to situations from day 1, since he was handed a tough start by the gods in the premier league offices in addition to the non-ending Rooney transfer saga. Being a team with title aspirations, you need to be ahead of the competition.

Late transfer dealings, tough fixture lists and poor performances have all contributed to the turbulent ride that David Moyes is having at the moment. But reactive strategies are seldom effective. And given the poor run of results, the temptation for Moyes to persist with his best line up, if there is one, in each game would be immense.

The squad rotation, or lack thereof, during the early stages of the season has left many players unhappy and many others exhausted. And it will start to show as the season goes on, if it hasn’t already. Squad management is one of the most important tasks for managers of teams with high ambitions, and Moyes’ hands, now, seem tied in that department. It was never going to be easy keeping the squad, the size of United’s, happy. But now, the task looks near impossible.

On the pitch, every team selection that Moyes has made so far has been overly criticized, regardless of the results. And that is what happens when you’re not consistently winning, it’s part of the job of being the manager of the biggest club in the world. He has been far too conservative in his approach on too many occasions, regardless of what he says about choosing 2 or 3 strikers in the line up, one of whom is usually Welbeck, who does not have a great track record.

The manager’s approach to the game rubs off on to the players. It’s no secret. But the real problem has been Moyes’ inflexibility with his tactics, which has been a 4-4-1-1 for the most part. And I am concerned that he may not know another way of playing. Teams are having a real go at United this term and, at times, the midfield has been completely overrun.

The possession statistics against West Brom and Southampton, both home games, paint a grim picture. Three months ago, it would have been impossible to fathom a United team being dominated in terms of possession, at Old Trafford. And although it is too early to say, keeping in mind that he hasn’t had a good run of games, the Fellaini experiment looks set to fail as it’s presently being conducted.

The midfield pairing of Carrick and Fellaini is too immobile and against the 3 man midfield that most teams play nowadays, I don’t see how the partnership can sustain a high level of performance, defensively or offensively. In hindsight, the transfer looks like a bad knee jerk reaction. But hindsight is 20/20, and on 2nd September, every one was just relieved that Fellaini deal was done after some severe impotency was shown throughout the transfer window by the United executives.

Everyone has been raving about Rooney’s play so far this season. But I just don’t see it. He is a very good striker; he works hard, runs around like a madman (in a good way) when he is not in possession, but he creates very little for his teammates and gets dispossessed far too often up the pitch for a player playing the no. 10 role.

Moyes has committed to Rooney so far and it has seemed like Rooney has repaid his faith in full. But when you look closer, it is evident that Rooney’s inability to string together passes in the final third is hurting the team going forward. Rooney has completed only 73% of his passes and created only 11 chances in 7 appearances.

Compared to the no. 10s playing at top clubs around Europe, Rooney has been rather average. The poor play of the wide players and failure to put in enough good crosses is a quite well acknowledged problem at United, but the sub par play of Rooney is going unnoticed amidst all the England hype and the 3 goals from set pieces.

Although Kagawa can be a defensive liability, I cannot understand how a manager can leave a player of his skill out of the team, especially given his lack of options in the position that Kagawa plays. He has not, once, featured in his preferred role so far this season in any competition. When you have a player of Kagawa’s ilk, as a manager, you have to find a way to build a system around him rather that try to fit him into your system. Now, there are no guarantees in football, but like in life, you better take your chances before it’s too late. And the Kagawa gamble may well be worth it, even if only for a game.

The graphics below highlight the central attacking midfield problem and a complete failure to play through the middle areas of the pitch. Whether it is due to a lack of will on the part of the manager or not, it is difficult to say. But whenever United have tried, Rooney has not been able to provide a spark, and it was especially evident against Southampton, where he was continually dispossessed.


Manchester United Heat Map and Passes vs Southampton.


Manchester United Heat Map and Passes vs West Bromwich Albion.

Having said that, the performance of all the players, individually, has been well below par, regardless of whatever tactical mistakes Moyes may or may not have made. They have not yet earned their wages so far this season, and there could be a yard sale outside Old Trafford come next July if this keeps up.

As for Rooney, he is a striker, and he is second in the pecking order for now, behind Robin Van Persie. And even as a play maker/attacking midfielder, he is a distant second in terms of ability to Kagawa. Whether Moyes believes that or whether Rooney accepts that is another question. And unless there is a change in the way the team is set up, only two of the three can be on the pitch.

But the play of Adnan Januzaj has certainly been a bright spot for Moyes. He is a fearless player, who is not scared to shoot or take people on, and has also shown to have wonderful vision and composure for someone so young and who is still developing. Having tied him down to a 5 year deal means that it is one less thing to worry about for the new manager.

Now, if this was any other club, Moyes’ days would seem to be numbered. Thankfully for him, it is not. On current form and with presence of depth at the top of the league this year with strong starts for Liverpool and Tottenham along with the usual suspects, this has the potential to be a big crisis, make no mistake about it.

But it is not completely out of Moyes’ hand yet, and he would do really well to steer the club out of this rut and at the very least, make the top 4. Yes, the top 4. But that is the minimum and with every point that is being dropped, the room for maneuvering is becoming smaller and smaller for ‘The Chosen One’.


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