For the majority of David Moyes’ first season in charge at Manchester United, there has been a criticism of the Glaswegian’s inability to shake the mentality he held on to while at Everton: the mentality of the underdog.
Moyes quickly understood the vastness of his new club; he’s alluded on a number of occasions to just how overwhelming his new working environment is compared to the expectations he held prior to the move.
The constantly reloading rifle told of the dissatisfaction at seeing a Manchester United team play as if they were the weaker side in a tie, even if playing at Old Trafford. Moyes was conservative in his approach to tactics. Of course, he was handicapped by the severe lack of creative outlets in the centre of midfield, but he hardly ever gave the impression he was abandoning caution and sending his team out to pummel at the door of the opposition defence, as United have been known to do under Alex Ferguson.
The tie against Bayern Munich in the Champions League does give Moyes that opportunity to call on his ace card, the one that became such a valued ally while at Goodison Park.
Moyes hasn’t become a bad coach over night. The job at Old Trafford has exposed some of his shortcomings, but this is still a manager who was praised for the organisation of his Everton teams, building from the back and going out not to lose. It’s not the United way, but it can be over the course of two legs against Bayern.
United don’t have two of their three most important cogs to call on. Robin van Persie is out injured and Juan Mata is cup tied. It may force a recall of Adnan Januzaj to the starting XI, as well as a stay in the team for Shinji Kagawa, who has shown some promise in recent games.
But United, like most, have a steep climb. They’re unlikely to outscore Bayern if it turns into a back-and-forth, open game. Guardiola’s side can be irresistible going forward when they choose to turn on the style.
Instead, it should be about damage limitation. There is still a lot to salvage in the league, even if Champions League football is out of reach. A strong finish to the domestic season will be a boost to the rebuilding phase of this summer.
At Everton, Moyes knew how to prepare his sides defensively. Phil Jagielka and Sylvain Distin’s excellent partnership this season has the Moyes stamp all over it. It’s given Roberto Martinez a strong base with which to build his own team.
It’s not to say it will be easy against Bayern. Patrice Evra is out through suspension and Rafael has at least one mistake in him over the course of two legs. Adding to that, Nemanja Vidic is no longer the centre-back he once was, and, evidenced by the home derby defeat to Manchester City, United can suffer immensely from a lack of protection in midfield.
But that was when Moyes needed something. He threw caution to the wind with his team selection and went for a positive result. We’ve seen on a number of occasions this season that attacking, expansive football isn’t his strong suit.
Against Bayern, it will be time to call on his defensive preparation. His organisational skills as a manager have been plain for all to see over the years. He does have players currently at his disposal who are capable of working the flanks and tracking Bayern’s runners. Stacking the defences and forcing the game wide when in possession – which can bring a lot of promise if Rafinha is chosen at right-back and isolated – is part of what brought Moyes success at Everton.
The clash with Bayern won’t be used as a means to measure Moyes as a United manager. It will be an opportunity for him to show his credentials as a good coach, a coach his builds defensive stability. His Everton sides may have had a poor record against the top teams in England, but you never expected them to get mauled to the tune of five or six-nil.
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