It’s hard to think of the last time the principles of footballing identity deserted one of the game’s super powers, never mind the reigning domestic champions.
Times are tough for David Moyes at Manchester United, we accept that. It’s one thing to follow a legendary figure like Alex Ferguson; and yet the mountain in which Moyes must climb has been made loftier and steeper due to the nature of the squad at Old Trafford.
But the result against Fulham on the weekend was the lowest point of the season, one which has already seen horrible defeats in both cup competitions, a thrashing at Manchester City, and the home losses to a string of teams who would never have been offered a chance of a result against Ferguson.
It was the lowest point because United looked so clueless. Moyes’ tactics made a mockery of players like Juan Mata and Robin van Persie, who have grown up in environments which have both enhanced their abilities as footballers and given them the surrounding personnel to play a brand of football befitting of the technical standing in the game. They are far above the cross-and-hope-for-the-best tactics deployed by a manager who has shown very little sign that he has an idea of how to construct a purposeful and forward-thinking set up of attacking football.
Fulham, one of the teams who look a sure bet to be relegated, couldn’t have had an easier day at the office, regardless of having conceding twice. There was no width to United’s game, with Juan Mata, deployed on the right, regularly drifting inside, and Ashley Young playing far more like an inverted winger than one who was going to allow United to make the pitch as big as possible.
It’s two faults of an already tedious set up. Why have Wayne Rooney and van Persie, along with Mata, been sapped of any ability to conjure something meaningful around the penalty area? Michael Carrick sitting just behind in midfield is a more than good enough reference point for the attackers, and one who would easily help the team retain possession by keeping the ball on the deck.
But at no point did United’s players (or Moyes) cede that Fulham’s defence, which included the 6’7 Dan Burn, was looking a tough wall to knock down; the tactics didn’t alter at all, even after all three substitutes were used.
It’s been hammered home over the past day or so, but it’s still worth mentioning that this is a Fulham team who let in six against Hull. Hull on that day peppered the Fulham goal with variance, rather than a one-dimensional game that has no place as a Champions League team’s first wave of attack.
As of now, United look far from a team who are in the mix for a Champions League place next season. Each team above them has shown more invention and, if applicable, an attitude of wanting to right the mistakes that have been made throughout this season so far. They’re moving up and away from United, while Moyes’ team looks to be regressing now that the added factor of Juan Mata has come into play.
If it’s a case that the manager doesn’t know how to use players of that ilk effectively and properly – a barrage of crosses into the penalty area will never be an acceptable way to use players as gifted as Mata or van Persie – then Moyes is simply spelling out a short-lived tenure as United boss.
It’s one thing to be boring, but it’s a whole other worrying problem if the boring tactics deployed become predictable ahead of purposeful.