There has been something discreet about Manchester United’s recent run of form.
Everyone is enamoured with Luis Suarez and discussion – the same discussion we had last season about Gareth Bale – about him being as good as Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, as well as the managerial situation at Tottenham and various other goings on in the Premier League, including evil owners plucked from a James Bond film, that we’ve sort of overlooked United.
And that’s probably the best thing that could have happened for David Moyes. He’s been without Robin van Persie and Wayne Rooney for spells, but he’s nevertheless found results from peripheral figures. Danny Welbeck has been excellent, repaying the faith that the manager must have been showing him. But Manchester United’s problem(s) isn’t about to be swept away after a good run of results.
Gary Neville, answering questions on his Twitter account, said with absolute certainty that United would finish in the top four. That’s a credit to Moyes in that Neville believes he can do it, even after the difficulties the new United manager has faced this season. At present, United are sixth in the Premier League and could move up even further if they beat Tottenham on New Year’s Day. After that, the only standout league fixture in January is the away tie at Chelsea.
But United need a midfielder, for God’s sake they need a midfielder. The issue wasn’t addressed with the signing of Marouane Fellaini in the summer, a player of completely contrasting abilities to that of Cesc Fabregas and Ander Herrera. It’s not to say United must spend big in the New Year to fuel their push for a top four finish, it’s just that they need to buy someone who fits the mould of what they need, regardless of price.
This is Moyes’ best chance to stamp his mark on the club after the first opportunity was so emphatically wasted. There’s no use sitting outside stadiums like the Camp Nou for days on end with a big sign asking “how much” when the message has already been made clear: not for sale. Moyes and those in charge of transfer affairs at Old Trafford need to identify realistic targets and move for them swiftly. Players like Borja Valero at Fiorentina, who is having a fantastic season and is exactly the type of scheming midfielder United need. Yohan Cabaye is another one.
Finishing in the top four will buy Moyes time. He will have another chance to reshape this United team in the summer if the absolute minimum of Champions League football is achieved. In order to do that, though, he’ll need to continue to feed the fire. Whatever he’s doing now, he’s doing right. Winning 1-0 away to Norwich, where a club like United should be getting more, can have its positives. One way or another, it’s another win.
Moyes has somewhat ridden out the storm: those questioning his merits as a top manager and the harsher extreme of calling for his head. He’s been favoured by the unpredictability of this Premier League season, where come the end, a win could crown a champion and a loss could see a contender finish fifth.
He knew how to be economical at Everton, spending only what he believed to be of value and within the budget of the club. At United, he must take on a similarly meticulous approach. January is a chance to save United’s season. It’s also a chance to properly mark his arrival as the club’s new manager.