The win at home against Arsenal should have been the turning point in the league. Following the 1-0 victory, Manchester United were only five points off Arsene Wenger’s league leaders. The win in Germany and five goals scored against an otherwise good Bayer Leverkusen should have provided the much-needed confidence to push on.
Clubs like Manchester United can afford to go through blips, as they’re so often called. United have history, traditions of winning; they’re the biggest club in England and they’re not going anywhere.
The loss at home to Everton, though, is one that will be used to measure David Moyes and his credentials as worthy successor to Alex Ferguson. Yet even now, after two points from their last three league games, I’m not drawing any conclusions about Moyes.
This isn’t his team. In fact, this, in comparison to teams of the past two decades, isn’t one that can be called a typical Manchester United team with comfort and assurance. How did they win the Premier League title last season? A combination of factors: everyone else was poor, and the influence of Ferguson, who himself knew that last season’s league triumph was the final victory he would extract from this particularly lacking squad.
What is Moyes’ task? Is it, as he suggested of Roberto Martinez, to “keep it going?” Well no. Manchester United’s defence is in a transition from the older heads of Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic to the younger names brought in during the final years of Ferguson’s tenure.
The wings, where so much of United’s success was built, need a complete revamp. Antonio Valencia isn’t good enough to be a starter at a club like United, Nani hasn’t fulfilled his promise, and Ashley Young hasn’t turned up for almost two seasons. Combined with the need for a genuine creator in the midfield, these are the mountains Moyes will have to overcome if he’s to turn this club into a successful one post Ferguson.
The stature of Manchester United makes the job even harder, but it’s not a club where such prestige is central to just them. Real Madrid, Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Juventus have equal status in their leagues. They’re the biggest and best. But in recent years, the success of each of those teams has been on the back of a (re)building project where each manager was given the tools to succeed.
At Barcelona, Pep Guardiola had the fruits of the academy, transforming them into one the most dominant teams in the history of the game. Jupp Heynckes, when Bayern needed to recover and push on from their Champions League and domestic failure in 2012, was given Javi Martinez and Mario Mandzukic. Bayern were far from a bad side before that, but they needed more.
In comparison, Moyes hasn’t had any of that. He’s inherited a squad whose positives do little to outweigh the negatives. Is he solely at fault for the club’s failure to bring in adequate reinforcements in the summer? No. Even Ferguson had the aid of David Gil in negotiations. Bringing in two new faces in key areas, Moyes and Ed Woodward, will naturally raise problems of speed and fluidity in the market.
United are a poor squad, but some perspective is needed. The match against Everton could have gone the other way. What if one of United’s many chances went in? Wayne Rooney’s efforts, Patrice Evra’s? It’s fine margins. If they had won, it would have been described as a gritty victory and one telling of a team who know how to win ugly. Instead, the loss will wrongly focus on any shortcomings of the manager.
Moyes of course does have his flaws. You still sense that he needs to adopt a winning mentality now that he’s moved up the ladder. But he hasn’t been entrusted with turning this team in champions. Anyone could have seen that this United team didn’t have the strength or quality of Manchester City or Chelsea. The form of Arsenal thus far has only further highlighted the inadequacy of this team to generate long winning runs.
As it’s so often called, Moyes has a project on his hands to overhaul this squad. They don’t need one or two; many are right when they say United need six or seven new players. Struggles and inconsistency, therefore, are to be expected.
Moyes will have the aid of a January window, where you’d hope the club make better use of it than they did in the summer. We can fully weigh up and judge how well Moyes has done by the end of the season. But what this season is highlighting so far is the skill of Ferguson to turn this squad into contenders and champions; this group’s final offering of note.