In a way, Manchester United will be grateful Liverpool are top of the Premier League and taking on all the attention.
Since United last played a league game, Brendan Rodgers’ team have beaten Manchester City and staked their claim as favourites to win the title this season. It’s allowed most of us to forget how bad United have been all season, giving Moyes’ team something of a clean(er) slate to work with for these remaining games.
But that changed in Sunday afternoon’s 2-0 loss. The performance against Everton at Goodison Park was an indictment of where United stand at this stage: both in the general shambles and lack of conviction, and not being in contention for anything at this point of the season, not even a place in the Champions League.
The entire game was a reminder of just how disorganised and disastrous United have been under Moyes. Phil Jones handling in his own penalty area was a chaotic piece of defending, while at the other end, a trio of Wayne Rooney, Juan Mata and Shinji Kagawa failed to produce any noteworthy threat on Tim Howard’s goal.
After the performances against Bayern Munich in the Champions League, it was thought that United would finish the season on a positive note – despite having lost against the Bavarians over both legs – and set up a strong mindset to tackle the transfer market with purpose and authority.
The loss at Everton, however, was a reality check for those who thought anything substantial could be salvaged from this season. United have the players to be higher up the league table than they are, yet on the pitch, in practice, there was nothing clear or cohesive about what the plan was. Lots of possession, a surprisingly large amount, but nothing to show for it.
At some point this season, Rooney has decided he wants to be a No.10 and only a No.10. It was possibly one of the clauses in his new contract, which stated he had free reign over his position on the pitch. Rooney, on paper, was deployed as the team’s centre-forward, but he did little to act as the most advanced player on the pitch for United.
Rooney, wearing the captain’s armband after Jonny Evans was substituted, preferred to drop into the position intended for Mata and did nothing but drag United’s play down, disrupting the promising partnership recently established between Mata and Kagawa. Rooney’s passing was poor; his decisions were worse. On the occasion where he did have an opportunity at goal, Rooney was so leisurely and wasteful that he simply looked a player who just wanted this season to be over.
If it’s in the preparation, then once again we have to resort to questioning the manager. Is David Moyes right for United? Certainly not based on the performance at Goodison Park. But it likely isn’t just a question of Moyes’ managerial abilities. It could be that the players are simply not responding to the manager, for whatever reason. That, or they’re picking and choosing when they want to turn up.
United’s display, dire all round, had none of the hallmarks of a Moyes team. Defensively they were terrible and would have been blown away by a better team – not to say Everton were poor. The score line could have and should have been greater. Defensive preparation is where you expect Moyes to earn his corn. You expect Moyes to be rigid in his attacking approach, but Everton really had an easy day of it going at United’s back line, told by their 17 attempts on goal.
This was an important game for United, not just so they would prevent Everton doing the double over them this season, the third team to do so. But it would have reinforced the idea that the Bayern Munich games were a turning point for Moyes at the club.
That has all been done away with. All that remains is further doubt about the manager’s position and a certainty that United need substantial planning and investment this summer to get back among those battling for the league title.