The feeling of shock wouldn’t just be isolated to Manchester United fans. There is something unfamiliar and unnerving about what’s going on at Old Trafford. Stripping away the matter of rivalry from those who are doubtless enjoying United’s plight, it’s difficult not to feel sorry for David Moyes at this time.
Four home losses in six is a shocking run of form; it’s horrific when it’s that of a club like Manchester United. The worry is that there’s a theme to these losses, one that can’t really be rectified by looking in house.
Manchester United lack imagination and adventure. Against Swansea on Sunday, the home side saw plenty of possession by did very little with it. Questions should be asked of the players and their levels of performance, some of whom simply aren’t doing enough to merit a place in the team and help with bettering the overall picture. But there is a lasting problem of a lack of identity, and I mean that in the way United play.
Javier Hernandez isn’t the same type of centre-forward as Wayne Rooney or Robin van Persie, who are both able to play as No.10s and help to dictate the game if need be. When the Mexican comes into the team in the absence of one or both of the others, the dynamics of the team changes. Hernandez, someone who stays very much in the final third, can look isolated and left feeding off scraps.
It’s worrying therefore that Moyes has stated this January will be a quiet one for the club. The United manager obviously has his targets, who you’d hope are capable of elevating the team and club overall. But he has doubts about their availability midway through the season. Another six months of uninspired performances, then?
I feel sympathy towards Moyes because no one should have expected him to carry on where Alex Ferguson left off. One because he’s not the same manager, nowhere near; and two because this squad have come to the end of their cycle. Youth players are staking their claims as regulars in the first XI, while signings through the market are needed to balance out the lack of quality in certain areas. Patience is needed with one, obviously, but an attitude of wanting to do better is needed for the other.
It’s of little use to anyone for Moyes to dismiss any signings this month, even if he doesn’t believe in what he’s saying. The club need a lift; the players, the fans. That has to come via the market because the club’s star names are either relapsing into old injury troubles or facing problems over general fitness. There isn’t much in the way of a lifeline in the United squad that Moyes can lean on at this time.
The need is a central midfielder, one not only of sufficient class but of high class to go some way to righting the ship. It’s not all United need, but it’s a step in the most obvious direction.
In Tom Cleverley, United have an academy graduate who does little at either end of the pitch. He’s not good enough to be a Michael Carrick, nor is he capable of acting as the team’s anchor or holding midfielder.
Shinji Kagawa, who was a creative dynamo at Borussia Dortmund, sadly looks lost and without purpose. There’s no confidence, the team aren’t set up to work to his strengths, and rotating in and out of the side and in various positions along the attacking midfield three is of benefit to no one. He’s good enough, of course, but he’s a long, long way off from what he produced in Germany.
But even with a full strength squad, there isn’t anything else United have in the way of a positive influence in midfield. Marouane Fellaini may prove to have a position in the team in the future, but from a footballing perspective, he was a signing United could have afforded to look past.
United, rather than looking like a unit who can pummel an opponent into submission, are now overly reliant on the contributions of one or two. Unfortunately, where van Persie helped to take Arsenal over the line into fourth during his final season in north London, he hasn’t been consistently fit this season to help a United team in similar need of inspiration of the leadership of a world-class player.