All In The Head?

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gylfi-sigurdsson-swansea-cityWell, the Premier League finally kicked off yesterday and there was a real buzz going into our game against Swansea at Old Trafford.

Yes, we had a number of injury problems but with the likes of Rooney, Mata and Herrera in the starting line-up, we surely had enough about us to overcome Swansea but something very weird happened… Swansea took the lead within half an hour.

Well… it would be weird except that this is something we’ve become accustomed to seeing at Old Trafford for the last twelve months.

Last season, we put it down to David Moyes and his negative tactics, the fact that he couldn’t seem to get us playing as a team and that he lacked the necessary footballing brain to make the changes necessary to reverse the tide when things weren’t going our way.

Under Louis van Gaal, this was all supposed to end but everything about this match smacked of life under Moyes all over again.

If there’s one thing about the Moyes era that was markedly different from the Fergie era, it was Moyes’ inability to do what was necessary at half-time if things weren’t going to plan.

How many times under Fergie did we find ourselves behind at half-time but we’d say to ourselves with complete confidence “Fergie will sort them out at half-time” and, sure enough, the team would come out in the second half looking completely different and the game would be won?

This seemed to have come back under Van Gaal as he changed the formation, made a half-time substitution and it came as no great surprise when Rooney pulled us level within ten minutes of the restart but then it all seemed to go away again and whilst we huffed and puffed, it was Swansea who regained the lead to make it 2-1 just after the seventy minute mark and that’s the way it stayed.

The slightly worrying thing is that Van Gaal seemed to turn into David Moyes midway through the second half and just before Swansea got their second, he made the somewhat baffling decision to replace Herrera with Fellaini.

To be fair, Herrera wasn’t having his best game as Swansea ensured that his welcome to the Premier League wasn’t one he was likely to forget – he’ll no doubt have one or two bruises to remind him this morning.

The tactic once Fellaini came on just seemed to be long balls onto his head (none of which I can actually remember him winning). The free-flowing and exciting football of pre-season had disappeared to be replaced with an agricultural style that is surely anathema to every footballing philosophy Van Gaal truly holds.

But there it was before our very eyes.

Unsurprisingly, it didn’t work and so yet again we found ourselves beaten at Old Trafford by a team that had never won a league match here in their history (the records continue to tumble).

I can’t help but feel as though a lot of this is in our head, though. It’s happened one too many times over the last twelve months and it can be no coincidence that probably our worst display of the season came when we played Valencia at Old Trafford.

Whilst Swansea have some decent players, I can only think of two or three that would even come close to getting into our squad (Ashley Williams being the standout) and whilst freak results can and do happen, we’ve long passed the stage where Old Trafford defeats can be viewed as freak and there’s something more to it and I’m starting to believe that there are psychological issues with this squad and it’s becoming hard to make opponents believe that they have no chance at Old Trafford when we clearly don’t even believe it ourselves any more.

Over to you, Louis… good luck.

Moyes Does It Again

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rooney-wondergoalDavid Moyes has been criticised (not least by myself) for a variety of reasons this season – the results, the performances, his negativity, his decisions (or lack thereof), the silly things he says to the media and for just … well… being David Moyes.

You see, although we’re nowhere in the Premier League title race, our domestic cup runs were ended at Old Trafford by teams that really shouldn’t be beating us at Old Trafford and our Champions League campaign was very nearly ended by a team we really should have beaten out of sight, it isn’t just the results that have led to a large section of the fan-base starting to go against him.

For this little Red Devil, at least, the worst thing about this season has been the awful football we’ve played most of the time.

A lot of it has been (supposedly) safe, predictable and boring. Get it out wide, smack it in, watch it get cleared, repeat.

However, following his finest hour (or two) against Olympiacos in midweek, there seemed to be a new David Moyes in front of the TV cameras . After looking like a dead-man-walking for the best part of the season, David Moyes suddenly cracked a couple of smiles and he expressed in more than just a monotone how delighted he was to have been in the Champions League Quarter Final draw and that we drew Bayern… so what? Bring ’em on! (OK, he didn’t quite go that far).

It remains too early to say whether the result against Olympiacos was a turning point for David Moyes in terms of how the hierarchy at Manchester United are viewing the situation but, for Moyes himself, it seems to have given him a shot in the arm.

As we went into the match against West Ham on Saturday evening, we all knew that this was precisely the kind of banana skin we’ve been slipping on with the kind of predictability that long ago stopped being funny to the extent that even our fiercest rivals have been asking, “Why does he keep doing that? Why is he even still being allowed to do that?”

However, I did describe this one as something of a “free hit” for David Moyes in my pre-match write-up and suggested that the result wasn’t perhaps all that important because despite Arsenal now starting to tease the teams just below them with the promise of one almighty collapse, I feel that we’re simply too far behind with not quite enough games to make up the difference and finish in the top four.

We also knew that, for a variety of reasons, Moyes had to make several changes to the team that had beaten Olympiacos in midweek.

What Moyes went with against West Ham surprised everybody, though.

Chris Smalling has been spotted leaving a nightclub singing, “We’re Manchester United… we’ll do what we want!” and I can only assume that Moyes was humming this to himself as he selected the starting eleven for this one.

Carrick at centre-back, Buttner at left-back, three Number 10s all in the same team. “We’re Manchester United… we’ll do what we want!”, sang Moyes as he applied his signature to the bottom of the teamsheet… probably.

However, I’ve said a couple of times this season that Moyes’ squad is top-heavy and this line-up probably served as the perfect illustration.

Carrick was playing in central defence because we had no other fit defenders, Buttner was playing left-back because he really is the only cover we have for Evra but the fact that Moyes was then able to bench Welbeck, Januzaj and (perhaps less so) Nani shows just where the shortages are in this squad.

Anyway, with this decidedly un-Moyes-like line-up blowing our minds prior to kick-off, we looked forward to seeing if this Rooney/Mata/Kagawa triumvirate could tiki-taka their way through the opposition defence in the same way they’d always done in our dreams.

In some ways, Wayne Rooney spoiled it all, though.

With just eight minutes played, Rooney demonstrated that he has his very own “Third Way” – bypass the opponent’s half completely and score from the halfway line. Simples.

It was a stunning goal and one which drew immediate comparisons with that scored by (the onlooking) David Beckham way back in 1996. For what it’s worth, I don’t think I’ll ever tire of watching either but Rooney’s just edges it for me.

Given that we’ve only seen two goals like it in the best part of twenty years, it’s clearly not something that we can rely on to win us too many matches though so thoughts quickly turned back to how this sexy line-up would go about scoring more orthodox goals.

As it turned out, it worked well but, personally, I would have liked to have seen it yield one or two more goals although some credit has to go to the West Ham ‘keeper Adrian who had to pull off several half-decent saves.

In the second half, we started to drop a bit deeper and this allowed West Ham to get forward a bit more but to no avail as the defensive partnership of Carrick and Jones held firm despite the constant aerial threat of the likes of Andy Carroll.

I don’t really want to talk about the game though – I said beforehand that it was a largely meaningless fixture in the great scheme of things so I’m not going to try to suggest it was the be-all and end-all now that it’s won. It was a good result and a very good team performance but more worthy of comment were the performances of a few of the players.

First, Fellaini. With two goals (one of them the aforementioned “wonder strike”) and a generally very good all-round performance, Wayne Rooney was always going to be awarded Man of the Match but running him a close second was surely Fellaini.

Eyebrows were raised when Moyes signed Fellaini. “Never a Manchester United player”, spouted the eternally ABU Jamie Redknapp at every opportunity and I must admit that watching the ungainly Fellaini misplace passes, fluff shots and generally look a little out of his depth earlier in the season, I too had my doubts.

However, I do remember the times he played against us at Everton and thinking what a bloody nuisance he was and this is what we saw from Fellaini today.

There must have been times when West Ham thought we had more than eleven players on the pitch because Fellaini was absolutely everywhere. He was obviously playing in midfield but he’d miraculously appear in our penalty area whenever West Ham were sending in the aerial bombardment and then would appear in the West ham box when we were on the attack.

I was so interested to see how much distance Fellaini had covered in this match that I looked up the stats and was quite surprised to see that two other players actually covered more ground – West Ham’s Mark Noble and our own Shinji Kagawa.

Still, it was an impressive shift from Fellaini and despite all this, he was still able to pick up the ball just inside the West Ham half in the dying minutes and run into their box despite Nocerino and Collins both pecking away at him. It came to nothing in the end as Fellaini went to ground as he took his shot and I’m still not sure if it was because he was cleanly tackled, fouled or he simply collapsed due to exhaustion but this lad has one hell of an engine in him and from this day forward I will be referring to him as the Belgian Beast.

Then we come to Shinji Kagawa. Another player who worked his socks off in this game and made up the numbers in all areas of the pitch. It’s impossible not to feel enormous sympathy for him, though.

When players are out through injury for a couple of months, they’re always given the benefit of any doubt in their first couple of games back. “He needs a few games to get his sharpness and match-fitness back”, come the words of the wise footballing sages.

Shinji Kagawa seems to be in this situation every time he plays (even though he’s never actually coming back from injury) and it just seems so unfair that his entire United future seems to hinge on every little touch when he’s never even been given the type of run in the side necessary for him to settle.

I thought he did well in this game but, as has happened several times in his previous appearances, he doesn’t always seem to be quite on the same wavelength as his team-mates but surely that is a symptom of rarely being played?

With Van Persie now looking increasingly likely to be missing for the rest of the season, I do hope that Kagawa is given more opportunities to show us what he can do.

He’s no stranger to victories over Bayern Munich, either.

Thought that I should also give a mention here to Buttner. He’s one of those who tends to come in for some heavy criticism from some United fans. The general opinion is that he’s decent enough going forward but the defensive side of his game leaves a lot to be desired.

The funny thing is that Evra has come in for much the same criticism over the last couple of seasons.

The feeling is that Moyes gave him an opportunity in this match in order to give Evra a rest before the City game and to give Buttner a run-out with one eye on the Bayern game for which Evra is suspended.

I would have to say that on this evidence, he seems to have brought a bit of balance into his game. The attacking side of his game was still there but his defensive side seemed much improved.

Obviously, West Ham aren’t Bayern Munich but I just have a feeling that he’s one of those players who can be counted on to give 100% and at this moment in time, I still think he represents the best alternative for the Bayern game.

I could go on through the team as there were many very good individual performances – Jones did his permanent centre-back claims no harm in this one and whilst Carrick might not like to hear it, neither did he!

Mata looked far more at home in this one, showed some great passing and control and was only denied his first United goal because West Ham’s goalkeeper Adrian generally had a very good game himself.

I’m afraid that Ashley Young continues to do little to justify the undying love and support he’s been getting from Moyes this season and I can’t help but feel that if Kagawa had been given half the love Young has been shown then our season may well have been different.

And then we have the man himself – Wayne Rooney. Celebrated what is surely going to become a regular Captains role with two goals to take him above Jack Rowley and into third in Manchester United’s all-time record goalscorer table. His first harked back to the ridiculously audacious prodigy Moyes will remember from the first time he was his manager, his second was more a case of being in the right place at the right time but that’s never a bad thing for a striker, is it?

As I’ve said, he will surely be our official Captain next season and more than likely for the majority of our remaining games this season and if he continues with this goalscoring rate then I can certainly see him overtaking Denis Law to take the second spot by the end of next season and then Sir Bobby Charlton the following season.

Finally, I’d just like to pass a few comments about the player who wasn’t out there in this most experimental of David Moyes’ line-ups – Robin Van Persie.

There can be no doubting that Van Persie does the most important part of football (sticking the ball in the net) better than most, I do feel at times that his very presence on the pitch almost forces us to adopt a more rigid and therefore predictable style of play.

A few weeks ago, he was complaining to a Dutch reporter that sometimes his team-mates play in “his” areas which means he has to adopt positions where he feels he is perhaps less effective.

On the evidence of this game, I would suggest that the opposite is actually closer to the truth – that RvP actually gets in the way of his team-mates and that the team plays far better without him.

RvP is looking very much like a player who likes to be the “main man” –  Van the Man – but when asked to sacrifice even the tiniest portion of his game for the greater good of the team, starts to spit out the old dummy.

It’s hard to say whether this team line-up was just Moyes going with what he had in the face of a lengthy injury list or whether it’s something he has wanted to try for some time but if it’s the latter then he would have my wholehearted support if he decided not to wait for Van Persie to be injured before trying it again.

So, anyway. A very good week for Manchester United and great week for David Moyes on a personal level but without wishing to appear churlish, the likes of Olympiacos and West Ham are not the barometer by which Manchester United sides are judged.

That level is currently set by the likes of Manchester City and Bayern Munich and if Moyes can continue this against those two in the next week or so then not only will I have to eat an awful lot of humble pie, I would be delighted to do so.

In the meantime, Well done David Moyes and well done to the players for not wasting the opportunity to show the manager how well things can go when you remember that we are Manchester United… and that we can do what we want.

A Stay of Execution?

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giggsy2Last night we beat Olympiacos 3-0. We needed to. That was one of the few feasible scorelines which would ensure our progress.

I’ve been on Moyes’ back all week and with good reason but he does deserve some credit for last night’s result.

The decision to play Giggs was inspired. Despite RvP scoring a hat-trick, Giggs was my man of the match as he rolled back the years once again to produce a vintage display.

I’ve been likening our Champions League campaign to that of Liverpool’s in 2005 all season so I’m not going to stop now.

Rafa Benitez has a Champions League win to his name but make no mistake about it – their win in the final was born and bred in Liverpool.

That final win was down to two Liverpudlians showing their passion and love for their club and their names were Gerrard and Carragher.

When everyone else had let their heads drop, those two dragged them on by the scruff of their necks to the most improbable comeback imaginable.

Danny Welbeck was our very own Manc out there last night and he had a stormer. Just as he did last season. In fact, I would say that Danny’s best ever performances in a United shirt have been in this competition – he seems to love it!

Giggs might not have been born in Manchester but he was certainly bred in Manchester and Manchester United runs through him just as much as Liverpool runs through Gerrard and Carragher.

Giggs knew that a big performance was essential last night and he led by example.

This win wasn’t for Moyes, it was for Manchester United and the fans.

Why do I think this? Well, it’s from the post-match interviews made by Geoff Shreeves immediately after the match.

Geoff asked both Rooney and Giggs (who are, along with Rio Ferdinand, the most senior players at United right now) whether this was a performance for the manager.

Both neglected to mention the manager.

Rooney almost mentioned the manager but he cut himself short. His words came out as something like, “This was for the fans, the man… everyone at Manchester United.”

At one point, as Rooney was mentioning the fans, Giggs who was standing right beside him, nodded his head vigourously as if to say, “That’s right, Wayne. Keep going on that track.”

Giggs himself was more specific, “This was for the fans and the club”.

I still don’t believe that Moyes has turned a corner as far as these players are concerned.

That all said, this was a bit more like it from Manchester United. There was a drive, a passion, an aim. The aim was to score three goals. We scored them.

That we did so without conceding one is what proved to me that these players are going to give their all in this competition from here on in.

Olympiacos got themselves into dangerous positions but a combination of good defending from Rio and Jones and great saves from De Gea thwarted them on every occasion.

What all this means is that it is going to be very hard to judge anything until we play out our Quarter Final.

At this stage, our Premier League campaign is as good as over. We can’t be relegated, we are 99% certain of not finishing in the top four. I don’t think anyone at the club even wants the Europa League.

I suppose we still have to go for the top four until it is mathematically impossible.

However, the most logical thing to do would be to put all of our eggs in the Champions League basket.

In this respect, we are a little bit like Liverpool in 2005. Everyone else will still have important league games to navigate. We don’t. Moyes is in a position where he need not risk anyone unnecessarily. He can concentrate 100% on this competition.

In some ways, this puts Moyes in a fairly enviable position right now.

He has just five games to worry about.

Can he guide us to just three wins and two draws from those five games? That would be enough. It might be unlikely but it’s really not beyond the realms of possibility and even if you think it impossible, I’m sure someone once said, “It always seems impossible until it’s done”.

The players proved to everyone last night that they’re up for that challenge and we can now look forward to the draw on Friday and take it from there.

Barca? Bayern? Chelsea? Whoever.

What I’m more concerned about it the things Moyes says and does from here on in and there are a few things I really don’t want to see and (for what it’s worth) my advice for Moyes is something along the following lines:

Don’t ever again say that any team comes to Old Trafford as favourites. There are only one set of players who are favourites at Old Trafford and you’ll be able to spot them because they wear Red.

Don’t ever again bring the mental toughness of these players into question. They have fought and won battles you can only imagine.

Don’t ever again bring into question the quality of these players, they have achieved things you are still dreaming of.

You have a lot to prove but most of the players you have inherited have beaten every one of those other seven in that last eight draw.

Us United fans have no worries about the quality of the players. Our main concern is YOU, David.

Sort this “try”, “hopefully”, “somehow” crap out and we might start to be able to believe in you, too.

Where Do You Start?

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carrick-rooneyI’ve been watching Manchester United for several decades now and, during that time, I’ve witnessed some dire, dire performances but last night’s debacle against Olympiacos must easily be in the top five or even top three worst performances that I can remember.

It wasn’t just that we lost the match. We’ve now lost eleven matches already this season (and there are undoubtedly a few more defeats to come before we can consign this hellish season to the dustbin) it was the way we played that was the most disturbing.

In all honesty, I think a half decent manager could have picked eleven Premier League names at random from a hat and have them better organised in a week than the Man Utd team that played last night.

I suppose the best place to start is at the back.

De Gea didn’t really have a great deal to do (so I suppose that’s a positive) but there was little he could do about either of the goals. De Gea is one of the few who came from this game with reputation somewhat intact.

Next is the defence and Moyes chose Smalling on the right, Rio and Vidic in the centre and Evra on the left.

The trio of Vidic, Rio and Evra have now been playing together for around seven years but you wouldn’t have known it last night.

Vidic wasn’t too bad. At one point an Olympiacos player ran half the length of the pitch as our entire midfield and defence parted like a sea of Red and it was Vidic who somehow got back to put in a great last-ditch block to stop what could well have been a goal.

Rio Ferdinand, once again, looked every one of his 35 years and in the moment I’ve just described, his legs deserted him once again and never looked likely to get back.

Rio has been a great player for us down the years and deserves for his career to end on a better note than this but I have to say that I feel that it’s now over for Rio. The signs have been there all season and it is now getting as painful to watch as it is probably as painful for him to play.

Evra was a little unlucky to pick up a booking after just two minutes for a handling the ball (looked harsh to me – the ball was flicked up from close range) which meant he was walking a tightrope for pretty much the entire game but even so, whilst he got forwards a few times, the defensive side of his game left a lot to be desired.

And then we come to Chris Smalling. It remains tempting to think of Chris as a kid but at 24, he’s not any more. His rise from playing for Maidstone United just 6-7 years ago is one of football’s great success stories and he has, on occasion looked like he could yet make a decent back-up central defender.

However, if Moyes ever plays him at right-back again it will surely be because there are simply no other options.

Technically, Smalling looks awful. He looks like he’s going to fall over backwards every time he does something so fundamental to football as actually passing the ball.

He’s big, he’s tall and when he gets going, he can shift a bit but put a ball at his feet and he looks like one of the most unnatural footballers I can remember in the Red of United.

I don’t even know why Rafael wasn’t chosen for this game. Apparently he was fit having recovered from his nasty-looking fall the other week.

And then we come to midfield.

Moyes went with Young on the left, Valencia on the right with Carrick and Cleverley in the middle.

Carrick did what Carrick does although we were so negative in our play that he was often seen doing it on the edge of his own penalty area (Carrick was nutmegged on the edge of our area just before their second goal).

What Carrick has always done well, though, is to provide a barrier in front of the defence. The number of times he’s stopped an attack down the years simply by reading the pass and stretching out one of those long legs of his is beyond counting. But what he needs alongside him is someone who will play a more advanced role and do the attacking shift.

Step forward Tom Cleverley. 24 years old, in peak physical condition, a decent engine in him, not too shabby on the ball and capable (honestly) of scoring decent goals on his day.

Step forward, Tom. Take the ball, run with it, play a killer pass or run past people with it. You CAN do these things. I’ve seen you do it.

Or just play it five yards sideways or backwards. Your choice.

With neither Carrick or Cleverley playing the ball forwards, it was left to Rooney to drop deeper and deeper in order to get the ball.

I’m sorry but I look at Tom Cleverley these days and I really cannot see the point of him being on the pitch. What does he do?

And then we have the wingers – Young and Valencia.

Valencia has shown in the past that he can take the ball and run with it. He’s also very good at then blasting the ball into the area. Sometimes it even hits a teammate and goes in.

Last night, I can only remember him getting into an advanced position once and his attempted cross sailed over their net and out for a goal-kick.

Ashley Young did something. I’m sure he did. I just have a hard time remembering exactly what it was now.

By the time the new season starts, Michael Carrick will be 33 and so must go on the “phase out” list. What this means is that the entire midfield Moyes played last night could well need replacing.

Carrick should stay, he’s still good enough for a couple of years to come I think but the other three are simply not good enough.

Then we come to Rooney and Van Persie. As was said on several occasions before our Champions League campaign got back underway, when you have those two in your team, you always have a chance.

Of course, this is absolutely correct. But they can only be dangerous when they have the ball. With the team playing so negatively that it seemed like there was some kind of invisible force-field across the half-way line that was preventing us from crossing it, Rooney was dropping deeper and deeper and basically doing the kind of job I think Tom Cleverley should have been doing.

This then left RvP completely isolated and he barely had a touch all game. By the time he actually found himself in front of goal with the ball at his feet, he leant back and his shot blazed over the bar. He’d forgotten how to shoot.

And this is what is so… what’s the word? Frustrating? Annoying? Depressing? I don’t know but what I do know is that I can’t remember seeing a United side look so un-United.

Disjointed, lacking cohesion, lacking any kind of plan, lacking confidence, lacking any kind of belief in what they’re doing, lacking any attacking intent whatsoever.

The United I know take teams like Olympiacos and they rip them to shreds. They tear at them from the opening whistle with wave after wave of attacks from all angles.

Last night we had 4 shots and only one was on target and that was in the 89th minute.

We can turn this around at Old Trafford but I’m not too sure that I even want that to happen. If we can be made to look like complete chumps by the likes of Olympiacos then I shudder to think what the likes of Bayern Munich or Barcelona will do to us. It could be the kind of massacre that will require counselling for both fans and players to recover from.

The problem for us from here on in is that we seem to have a squad of players whose confidence is at its lowest ever ebb. We’ve now lost six of our twelve games in 2014.

Olympiacos are the type of team that isn’t accustomed to losing. Their league is so poor that they haven’t lost a league game all season. The difference that makes in the attitude in the two sides was there for all to see.

They played with abandon, they played with freedom and they played to win.

We seemed to be playing not to get hurt some more and it becomes a vicious circle as playing so negatively can only lead to more defeats. I repeat: one shot on target in the 89th minute. You’re not going to win many games with that kind of stat to your name.

The recent “get away from it all” trip to Dubai seems not to have worked at all and the players have returned looking as fragile as ever.

Before last night’s game, I had the belief that the players would rally for one last big push in this competition. Make no mistake about it, for some of these players, it could well be the last time they will ever play in the Champions League – certainly in the Red of Manchester United at any rate.

It now looks 99% certain that any of these players that are left at United next season won’t be playing in this competition.

We’re not going to finish fourth and we’re not going to win the CL this season.

I just thought that the players would realise that there’s now very little left to lose this season and would simply go for it.

I was wrong. The players looked like they have already downed-tools and thoughts have already turned to some exotic beach they intend to occupy the day after our last league match of the season.

If he has it in him, Moyes needs to give these players a bloody good shaking – literally and metaphorically.

He also needs to have a serious word with himself.

Why did he buy Fellaini for £27million and then choose Cleverley ahead of him in this match?

Why did he send Zaha out on loan and then play the likes of Young and Valencia?

Why did he wait for an hour before bringing on Welbeck and Kagawa when it was obvious that we needed more pace, more movement and more attacking intent in our play?

And beyond all this, the “high ups” at United need to have a serious word with themselves. Why did they appoint a manager who has absolutely nothing to his record to suggest that this season would end any other way than this?

Aston Villa 0 – 3 Man Utd (Premier League 2013-14)

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villa_welbeckMoyes rang the changes yet again for this one with a team made up of perhaps half and half youth and experience (although the “youth” part made up the larger number) and I do wonder if this is the sort of team we’re going to see more of this season.

If you read my preview of this match, you will have seen that I was hardly optimistic about our chances and, when I saw Cleverley and Welbeck in the starting line-up, I’m sorry to say that my heart sank even further.

Two players who are supposed to be creative/goalscoring types whose touch in front of goal has seemingly all but deserted them. Indeed, it had been twelve months since Cleverley had last scored for United before he netted our third here yesterday.

Villa actually started the brighter in this match and looked like they wanted to become the latest team to finally get one over on United by taking advantage of the fact that we’re not playing with a great deal of confidence right now.

However, a quick-fire double from Welbeck before twenty minutes had elapsed took much of the wind from their sails and we started to look fairly comfortable after that.

The most pleasing part of this was our right sided threat of Valencia and Rafael. Villa’s left-side were terrorised throughout and simply couldn’t handle the speed and the sheer brute force of both our players.

What was also very pleasing (and I don’t know if it’s Moyes’ influence or it’s coincidence) but Valencia actually played a couple of very good balls with his left foot. Under normal circumstances, Valencia will run halfway around the pitch in an attempt to get the ball on his right foot but here he whipped in a superb cross with his left peg and I don’t think I’ve even seen him attempt that before.

Rafael was great going forward and showed great anticipation to get back to thwart a Villa attack. He’s certainly becoming a more rounded player than he was a few years ago.

I do believe that Moyes has to go with those two as first choice on the right from now on.

The left is not so straight-foward. Januzaj was given the “left-wing” spot with Evra behind him but I’m afraid Evra is looking more and more a liability at this point.

He still talks a good game and said all the right things in an interview before the match. There can be no doubting his commitment to the United cause but maybe time has finally caught up with the player who will hit 33 at the end of the season.

Moyes also went with Jones and Evans in central defence. This is the position Jones wants to play in and, on this evidence, I didn’t see much to suggest that he can’t handle it.

Giggs was deployed in midfield alongside Cleverley and had one of his more comfortable afternoons.

Welbeck did well to score his two goals. Both were instinctive finishes which probably helped him as he had no time to think about what he was doing.

So, a very welcome three points but I’m not going over-board just yet. With all due respect, this was Aston Villa and this was one win. We’ve shown a few times this season that we’re capable of good performances and good wins. What we have yet to show is that we can string a few together.

I think that part of the reason for this is Moyes’ over-tinkering with the team. Fergie was obviously the master of rotation but he would usually restrict changes to two-three per game. Moyes has been changing six or seven at times which is far too many.

I’d like to think that at this stage, he now knows his players enough to know where they perform the best and which are the best for the job. We still have a couple of weak links out there and I hope that Moyes has solutions for those in mind and will be successful in his attempts to address them.

One other bit of good news that came from yesterday was the return of Darren Fletcher. how much higher up the table would we be if we’d had a fully fit and at-his-best Fletcher available this season?

He was obviously a little rusty here and he does seem to have lost a lot of weight to me but, for his sake, as much as our own, I hope that the worst of his illness is now behind him and he can enjoy a decent number of appearances for us between now and the end of the season.

Cardiff 2 – 2 Man Utd

rooney-mutch

rooney-mutchThe display here wasn’t entirely awful but as an example of everything that’s wrong with United at the moment, it did the job quite well.

As expected, with Carrick out injured, Moyes had no choice but to go with Fellaini and Cleverly in midfield. Against a team who were playing their football in the Championship last season, he just about got away with it.

Stick those two in the middle against one of the top sides and I think we’ll find ourselves in all kinds of trouble.

Fellaini seems to be getting an awful lot of stick from the fans at the moment – not so much because of who he is but more because of who he isn’t.

Our midfield has been screaming out for a creative, attacking player for years. It was an issue Fergie dodged for his last few seasons with us and, in making Fellaini his only purchase of the summer, Moyes has followed suit.

I actually have no problem with Fellaini. At £27million, he was vastly over-priced because I see him as no more than a squad player at the moment and if a squad player was all we were after then I think we could have got someone in for £20million less than that who could have done everything Fellaini has done so far in his United career.

As for Cleverly, well… he’s got a pass in him but he doesn’t show it nearly enough and in this game, he created little more than Fellaini.

So, Carrick gets injured and all we have left right now is a pair of plodders.

Moyes gave Valencia and Januzaj the wide roles but, perhaps because they had to compress into the middle a bit more to help Fellaini and Cleverly, neither were particularly effective in the wide areas.

Moyes went with Rooney and Hernandez up front but with little supply coming from the midfield, Hernandez got few chances to make a mark.

Once again, our best player was probably Rooney but an incident with the game barely started almost saw him red-carded.

We all know that Rooney can be a bit of a hot-head but, as he has matured, it is a side of him which is becoming less and less apparent but this was Rooney of old again. Battling on the wing with Mutch, the Cardiff player got the better of him and Rooney lashed out with his foot.

It was innocuous but it was dirty and, by the letter of the law, he should have received a red card. The ref, thankfully, took a lenient view and showed him a yellow.

Personally, I don’t think that what Rooney did deserved a red card. Had it been an opposing player who did that to one of our players, I wouldn’t want to see him red carded.

It’s a foul and a yellow card but no more in my book.

I see some horrific, studs-up lunges aimed straight at a player’s lower leg and I ask myself, “Is what Rooney did as bad as that?” The answer is: No. Unfortunately, those in charge of the game think that it is and so Rooney should have been sent off.

And didn’t Martin Tyler on Sky Sports keep reminding us of this fact? Almost every time Rooney got the ball, we were reminded that he shouldn’t even be there.

When Rooney scored our first, we were reminded. When Rooney provided the corner for our second, we were reminded. When Rooney fluffed a golden chance in the dying seconds we were reminded with the addition this time along the lines that there may have been some justice in it.

I know that you can;’t go around kicking out at people and that it has no place in football but does any real lover of football want to see the game ruined by players getting sent off all the time?

On Saturday, there were a record 13 red cards shown across all four top English leagues. I didn’t see them all and I’m sure some were well deserved but I know for a fact that a few weren’t. Is this what we want to see more of, though?

No. Nothing ruins a game more than players being sent off. Wherever possible, we should be looking to keep it XI v XI.

Anyway, rant over but I’ve forgotten where I was with the write-up…

Yes. Rooney.

That’s another thing that seems to say a lot about our midfielders these days. How come none of them can take corners? When we have a corner on the left, RVP takes it. When we have a corner on the right, Rooney takes it.

Rooney took a number of corners yesterday and they were all excellently delivered. One of them was nodded in well by Evra for our second goal.

I can’t help but think that the goalscorers should be in the penalty area at corners… not actually taking the corner. Looking back down the years, I can’t remember the likes of Cole, Yorke, Van Nistelrooy, Hughes, Cantona and Ronaldo taking corners on a regular basis.

Being around five and a half feet and possessing the scoring record of a defender, I can’t see what use Cleverly is in the box when we have a corner. Perhaps some time could be spent working on his corner-taking ability leaving Rooney to take up a position where he’d be more likely to score?

And then we come to Giggs. As expected, he did make an appearance in this one when he came on for Hernandez in the 73rd. Maybe the old man was a little bit emotional at getting to play against his hometown team for the first time in his career but his first couple of minutes were a little underwhelming as he tried to get to grips with the pace of the game but then he produced a couple of lovely balls over the top.

One of them came in the dying moments and sent Rooney clear through on goal. Rooney fluffed it but the ball from Giggs was delicious.

And that annoyed me, too.

Ninety minutes and our midfield produces barely anything of note. A guy a few days short of his fortieth birthday comes on for quarter of an hour and says, “Look. This is how you do it.”

The other midfielders look on and say, “Oh yeah. Why didn’t we think of that instead of playing all those pointless and stupid sideways and backwards passes all game?”

It’s a damning indictment that Giggs at near forty is as good as anyone else in our midfield because, let’s face it, he’s not exactly been challenging for the Ballon D’Or this last few years, has he?

To top it all off was the last minute equaliser for Cardiff.

I’m not going to accuse Moyes of negativity again here (although there was an element of that) because I think the subs he made were justified. Welbeck on for Januzaj was fair enough. Januzaj was nowhere near as effective in this one as he has been in previous games and Giggs for Hernandez was something I would have liked to see earlier.

Hernandez provided plenty of movement and nuisance value up-front but he was largely ineffective because he found himself having to drop deep to gather the ball due to our inept midfield and Hernandez is no Number 10.

A bit of help and creativity in midfield was what was needed and Giggs was the best option available.

However, with fifteen minutes or so to go, there was an element of “let’s stick with what we have” again here. One passage of play around the 79th minute smacked of us trying to keep the ball and run down the clock.

A fine tactic with one minute left to play but 11 minutes plus stoppage time? When will we learn our lesson?

In the end, Cardiff deserved their point and it was all we deserved, I’m afraid.

The good news is that the table is still looking pretty cramped towards the top end. Arsenal are seven points ahead of us but I still cannot believe that they will sustain this beyond February.

Our other main rivals are still well within striking distance.

We just can’t afford to drop many more points like this, though. Let’s hope Moyes has some masterplan for the January window.

Real Sociedad 0 – 0 Man Utd (Champions League 2013-14)

fellaini-red

fellaini-redFirst things first, I need to hold my hands up. I got the situation completely wrong in yesterday’s post when I said that we needed a win to secure qualification and anything less than a win would mean Real Sociedad would be out.

Because of the way our Champions League group is going, even a win here last night wouldn’t have secured qualification – we would still have needed a point from our last two games.

Also, because the match between Leverkusen and Shakhtar ended in a draw then Sociedad can still actually qualify but they need to win their last two games and they also need us to beat Leverkusen and at least draw against Shakhtar.

In short, this group is a bit messy but a win in either of our last two games will see us through and that’s all I’m really concerned with.

As for this one, it was almost identical to our first match against Sociedad at Old Trafford but whilst we enjoyed a bit of luck with the own-goal in the first game, our luck ran out last night.

Much like the first game, this one was largely frustrating. Sociedad offered very little and it felt throughout that if we just upped the tempo a bit and played with a bit more urgency then we could have won this one comfortably but we seemed happy to play well within ourselves and 0-0 was not an entirely surprising scoreline in the end.

We had our chances, though. There’s speculation about Hernandez’s future at United and Moyes seemed keen to show him that he is still very much part of his plans here and handed him a start ahead of RvP.

For much of the game, Hernandez was a peripheral figure but this is often how it goes for goal-poachers and we all knew that he would only need a sniff of a chance to make all the difference. That chance came in the second half when Kagawa played across goal to set up Hernandez from just four or five yards but the Little Pea blazed the shot well over the bar (there may have been a bit of a bobble just as he connected).

Kagawa was also given a chance to shine but was again played out wide and, one or two moments aside, wasn’t too convincing. However, when Moyes took off Rooney after around 63 minutes, Kagawa was played in his favoured central position and looked a completely different player.

He was involved in almost everything for the last half hour and looked the most dynamic player on the pitch.

The problem is, though, that for all his good work, I suspect the consensus is that Rooney is overall a better Number 10 than Kagawa so I don’t think Kagawa should get too comfy in that position. Great option, though, on this evidence.

I was a little surprised to see Rio and Vidic starting in central defence for this one and, given that back-to-back games are not a strong point for this duo, I suspect that this means Moyes has something else in mind for when we play Arsenal at the weekend but with five days’ rest, maybe not.

In any event, Sociedad offered so little in attack then I think this was one where Moyes could have played almost anyone in central defence. Vidic put in a few excellent tackles and made his trademark headed clearances and Rio had a largely comfortable night.

Fellaini had a decent game, perhaps his best in a United shirt so far but still managed to get himself sent off in the last minute for persistent fouling. To be fair to the referee, I thought he could have sent Fellaini off much sooner, he was skating on thin ice throughout the game and, given that he spent much of the game on a yellow card, some of his tackling was bizarrely clumsy.

Ashley Young impressed in our recent win against Norwich and was brought on for the last half hour along with RvP but I’m afraid that we saw the ugly side of Young which, unfortunately, is rapidly becoming the dominant side of Young.

A couple of stupid passes which lost possession in decent positions were capped off with one of his trademark dives in the penalty area. Had this happened in England, I suspect the ref would have been wise to it and Young would have been booked but Italian referee Nicola Rizzoli (you’d think he’d know a dive when he sees one) awarded us the penalty.

Up stepped RvP but his spot-kick hit the post and, to be fair, justice was done.

I do hope Moyes had another strong word with Young after this, though. He was already an embarrassment with his ridiculous diving; he’s now becoming someone to be ashamed of and his wearing of the United shirt is something I’m becoming increasingly uncomfortable with.

The good news is that with the emergence of Januzaj, Young will get fewer and fewer opportunities to do his Tom Daley bit.

So, overall, a decent away point and our unbeaten run now stretches to eight matches in all competitions which is good and I’m certainly starting to feel like Moyes is getting to grips with things here but we really should have won this one.

It wasn’t just Chicharito’s missed chance and RvP’s missed penalty, it was our overall play. Sociedad are a decent enough side but they’re well below us in terms of quality and we really should have brushed them aside with ease.

So, the pressure is still on in this group. Absolutely nothing is certain and we need to do a lot better than this in at least one of our final two games.

That’s Better

hernandez-two

I’ve been giving David Moyes a bit of stick of late, mainly because I felt that he has been too negative, but last night’s 4-0 win over Norwich in the Capital One Cup suggested that maybe, just maybe, he is now getting to grips with things.

Once again, as this competition seems to dictate, he rang the changes and actually put out a very attacking line-up.

Rafael and Buttner in the full-back positions was positive, Zaha, Jones, Cleverly and Young across the midfield was all very positive, Zanujaz just behind Hernandez in attack was yet more positivity.

After me suggesting that he had perhaps turned his back on the tried and tested (but aging) central defence of Vidic and Ferdinand, he picked them and they kept one of our few clean sheets of the season!

Even the subs of Rooney, Anderson and Fabio were positive moves.

Last night’s win was our third win on the bounce in all competitions and means that our unbeaten run now stretches to six in all competitions and I’m just starting to get a feeling that perhaps a corner has been turned.

Moyes has now had a decent look at almost all of his options (Fletcher made a comeback for the reserves the other night so it will be interesting to see what happens with him over the next few months) and whilst I think he’s still mulling over the central-defensive positions, I think he’s coming to a few conclusions in other areas.

Moyes probably won’t want to do it but I feel that Januzaj now has to be a regular starter. Once again last night he made things happen.

Hernandez scored two but could have scored four or five and, had he had a little more game time this season, perhaps he would have.

Zaha finally got a game and didn’t disappoint with an assist for Hernandez’ second.

Even the much-maligned Ashley Young looked to be far more effective than he has been for much of his time here at United.

 

A great result, a very good performance and Moyes seems to be getting the most out of every player.

The future’s looking a little brighter than it was a month or so ago.

Sunderland 1 – 2 Man Utd (Premier League 2013-14)

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I don’t really know where to start with this one. The over-riding emotion is one of relief. That the over-riding emotion is relief having just beaten the club rooted to the bottom of the table probably says it all, though.

There was just so much about this whole game that said so much about what is wrong at United at the moment that words seem inadequate. Just watch the game again.

For a start, Moyes started with Vidic and Jones in central defence. Nothing wrong with that in and of itself but that actually represents the fifth different partnership in the last five games.

Now I know that injuries and such may have had something to do with it and I know that Moyes is “still getting to know his players” but really… what does he not know about our players?

I was thinking about this today and whilst it may well be different when you’re up close and personal with the players on a day to day basis, I would have thought that a man who has managed a Premier League side for the last eleven years would have a pretty good idea about most of our players already.

This messing about with the defence is not doing us any favours. Reading between the lines, I suspect Moyes recognises that the Rio/Vidic partnership has reached the end of the line or at best has one more season in it and so a new combination has to be found going forward. I have no problem with that.

But is changing it every damn game going to point him in the right direction?

This excessive rotation policy must surely be unsettling for the players and within five minutes of today’s game, we looked all at sea in defence (again) and our opponents found themselves 1-0 up.

Personally, I thought Jones was to blame for not just clearing the ball but some quarters seem to think that Vidic was to blame for not controlling the ball Jones blasted at him. I tend to think that the last thing Vidic expected Jones to do was to pass the ball to him in that situation and his reaction to such a pass was the mess we witnessed.

Defensively, we are looking as bad as I can remember for a long time. I seem to remember times when defensive injuries were so bad that Fergie had to resort to playing Carrick and Fletcher in defence and we didn’t look this bad.

Hopefully Moyes will be forming some kind of opinion as to what represents the best partnership going forwards and will stick to it for a few games.

Then we come to the midfield…

Carrick did what he always does (although some of his passing could have been quicker, I feel) and deserves credit.

Cleverley remains something of a dilemma for me though. Can I say, hand-on-heart, that we could not go out and buy someone better? I’m afraid not.

At this moment in time, Cleverley looks like a decent midfielder but nothing special. You have to look really, really hard to see what magic ingredient he adds to the recipe and even then, you might not see it. Maybe it just isn’t there.

Nani did ok. Got himself about a bit and had a couple of decent long-range efforts. I would still take Nani over Young any day of the week and I’m glad he’s still here. It’s a big season for him, though, I feel.

And then we come to Januzaj. He’s looked a bit special for quite some time now. He and Zaha were the two bright sparks in our pre-season tour. They both got people off their seats and made things happen.

Whilst Zaha seems to have been left in the cold for whatever reason, Moyes seems to have taken a bit of a shine to Januzaj and has been threatening to unleash him just as soon as the opposition wasn’t quite A1.

Moyes appears to have decided that today was the day and handed the lad his Premier League debut.

This 18 year old got Moyes out of all kinds of shit.

At this moment in time, Januzaj has yet to sign a new contract with us. I don’t know what kind of contract is on the table but right now, Moyes should feel compelled to offer him a portion of his own wage if it gets him to stay.

Januzaj looks destined for the top. For reasons known only to himself, Moyes keeps telling us that more shit is yet to come.

Obviously, I hope Januzaj stays but if he decides the grass is greener elsewhere then right now, I wouldn’t blame him.

Today, Januzaj found himself in the company of the Premier League champions and stood out by a mile.

Should Januzaj question whether our ambition matches his own then I hope no one holds it against him should he be persuaded to stay…

The last time I saw such a debut from a youngster was when a certain Wayne Rooney scored a hat-trick. Maybe there are other parallels to be drawn?

And that brings me on to the forward line-up of Rooney and van Persie.

Rooney got himself about the pitch well but this was perhaps one of those games where much of what he tried didn’t quite come off. That’s not a criticism. The fact he was there for it to not come off alludes to the effort he put in.

Van Persie is going through a lean spell, though.

There was one moment towards the end of this game where he was given the chance he craves on a plate by a through ball from Valencia. One-on-one with the goalkeeper, it was the type of situation you’d put your house on him scoring from. He messed it up.

Last season, he would have buried the opportunity.

I do get the impression with Van Persie that he is not an nine-month man. He’ll have periods where he’s not quite with it but when he gets in the groove, he’s unstoppable. A goal is always around the corner with RvP in the team and if you don’t play him, then the question always remains unanswered.

The Rooney/RvP partnership isn’t quite hitting it off right now, though and I do get the impression that, once again, Rooney finds himself sacrificing his own goal-threat in order to do a team job in order that RvP can be the one who gets to hang around the goal.

All in all, whilst the three points were good to get our hands on, there was an awful lot about this performance that didn’t greatly encourage.

I repeat once again that we were playing the bottom club in the league. Yes, Sunderland have fantastic support and are no pushovers at home but had we lost today (and, at one stage, I have to admit that I saw this as a possible outcome) then we would have taken seven points from seven games and that is relegation form whichever way you slice it.

The sad fact is that we have only beaten three teams in the Premier League so far this season and when we kicked off today, two of them were in the relegation zone whilst the other sat just below us.

Wake me up when we get a win against City, Chelsea, Arsenal, Liverpool, Tottenham or someone half-decent.

Well done today lads but forgive me if I don’t get too excited just yet.

Man City 4 – 1 Man Utd (Premier League 2013-14)

moyes-sad

moyes-sadWell… where to start?

First of all, much credit needs to go to Manchester City and, in particular, their new manager Manuel Pellegrini for their performance here.

I thought that this one would be a tight and cagey affair with neither team really willing to over-commit to the attack.

I was half-right. We weren’t willing to commit to the attack but Manchester City were. Oh, how they were and oh how they made us pay for our timidity.

Within five minutes of this game starting, I knew that it was going to be nothing like I expected it to be and when Aguero put City ahead after just a quarter of an hour, I knew that this wasn’t going to end with a low scoreline.

Yet again, Moyes sprung few surprises with his team selection. Vidic and Rio continued at the back, Evra on the left, Smalling on the right. Young and Valencia took up the wide positions with Fellaini and Carrick in the middle.

The only surprise was another which was seemingly forced upon him as Van Persie was apparently injured so Welbeck and Rooney made up the attack in a 4-4-2 or 4-4-1-1 type formation.

With Rooney able to drop into midfield alongside Carrick and Fellaini, the aim seemed to be to congest the midfield with Carrick and Fellaini providing a solid defensive shield – it didn’t work. City cut through it all as though it wasn’t even there at times.

A five minute period around half-time saw City extend their lead from 1-0 to 4-0 and we looked absolutely shell-shocked.

After this, Moyes made his only change (bringing on Cleverly for Young) which saw us enjoy lots more possession for the last half hour or so which culminated in Rooney’s excellent consolation goal but I suspect that it was more to do City sitting back as their work was done and by now Pellegrini was bringing players off in readiness for their next match.

Now, I’m loathe the criticise Moyes in any way. He’s taken up the biggest footballing job in England and one of the biggest, if not the biggest, jobs in world football. It was never going to be easy and it was never going to be seamless. When we saw the fixture list, we all knew that the start of his task was almost as difficult as it was possible to imagine.

On the one hand, taking on the job suggests that Moyes has bigger balls than most. On the other hand, his team selections and tactics so far have been largely “safe”. I think I’ve already mentioned that he seems to be incredibly risk-averse.

I’ve always felt that in order to win, you have to risk losing. Moyes’ attitude seems to be don’t lose first and foremost and hope the quality comes through for the win.

To be absolutely fair, I did detect a bit of this creeping into Fergie last few years in charge – I have no stats to hand to back up this claim but it did feel like we won far more games 1-0 over the last few years than at any other time in his reign.

However, it seems clear that this was exactly what Moyes was hoping for here.

But City weren’t playing ball and had their own, very different ideas.

The difference in the approach between the two teams was so obvious that it was embarrassing at times.

When City attacked, they attacked in numbers. Time and time again, they got 4, 5, 6 players in and around our penalty area.

When we attacked we had one sometimes two and that didn’t really change until it was far too late and even then we perhaps risked three.

In picking his team, Moyes seemed to be hoping to nullify the physical threat of City. With the defensive unit of De Gea, Rio, Vidic, Smalling, Carrick and Fellaini, we had half a team of giants.

But when you consider that the three goals scored by Aguero  and Nasri (both around 5′ 8″) and all three came from crosses then it might be seen as though something went wrong for us but it was actually just a case of City being brave, committing numbers and getting it right.

Even the goal from the larger Toure came off his thigh as a result of the same approach. Nagredo’s header was going wide but City had so many players in the box that it was 50/50 that it would land to one of their own. On this occasion it landed to Toure two yards out and I’m not sure he even knew much about it but it was the killer blow right at the end of a first half which City did edge and were good value for their 1-0.

2-0 was a bit of a kick in the teeth.

To be brutally honest, though, City’s passing and movement was far superior to ours. At times we looked statuesque and our passing was ponderous and predictable.

City also out-worked us by defending and attacking in numbers – it did look at times like they had more players on the pitch than us.

I’ve already commented on how City pumped men forward when on the attack but it was quite noticeable at times how our own players were actually to be seen running backwards and getting into defensive positions even when we were still in possession of the ball.

It’s really not that hard to see why we haven’t scored many from open play so far this season.

Anyway, as the second half started, no changes had been made and it was vital that we got the next goal and the earlier the better. The win was probably out of the question at this stage but a 2-2 draw didn’t seem completely beyond us – especially if Moyes had given one or two a bit of a hairdryer during the break.

What happened with the second half barely begun was unforgivable and City were unforgiving. Aguero was found completely on his own five yards out for the kind of chance he’s never going to waste in a month of Sundays.

Valencia was probably to blame for City’s first goal as he failed to track the overlapping runner to leave Smalling hopelessly exposed two-on-one but to be fair to City, they still had a lot to do to make that goal happen. The cross was wicked and the way Aguero took it to convert it into a goal was absolutely top-notch.

This one saw Fellaini fall asleep to allow Aguero to coast by him for a tap-in by his standards and it was as soft as they come. I suspect this one will have hurt Moyes more than anything else that happened in this whole match.

After the sickening blow that was City’s second at the very end of the first half, this was game over. Any thoughts of a comeback went out of the window to be overtaken by thoughts of another humiliation such as we suffered in the 6-1 against City a couple of seasons ago.

3-0 down, Moyes decided to make his move and had Cleverly stripping off for action but by the time he came on, it was 4-0 as Nasri found himself unchallenged on the end of a cross to volley home.

As I said earlier, we enjoyed a fair bit of possession from here on in and eventually Rooney grabbed a consolation goal with a terrific free-kick but even that wouldn’t be enough to prevent the inquisitions.

City were just generally better all over the field here. Their passing and movement was far better, their defending was far better, their work-rate was better.

Having said all that, I don’t think it’s time to go overboard on the obituaries for United just yet. There were several niggly little things about this game that went against us. The timing of City’s goals meant that the impact was more than just a goal. Several little things we tried didn’t quite come off. Sometimes it was just the bounce of the ball that went against us. Evra saw a header come back off the post with ten minutes to go. City were better but I do think the scoreline was harsh.

But sometimes you have to make your own luck and by being far more brave and adventurous in attack than we were, City gave themselves every opportunity to exploit mistakes and lucky breaks.

Our players have to take their fair share of the blame for this one – defensively we looked amateurish at times but Moyes also has to have a bit of a word with himself, I think.

Sticking with the tried and trusted partnership of Rio and Vidic for game after game may have seemed like a good idea but there’s a reason why Rio in particular hasn’t played so many consecutive games over the last couple of seasons and I think this game showed it because he looked leggy at times and I’m convinced Evans should have made an appearance before now.

I also feel that Moyes should have tried something more adventurous with our attack. If Chris Smalling has a long-term future at United then I’m pretty certain that it’s in central defence and not in the full-back position.

I believe that there was a case for taking Smalling off, switching Valencia to right-back and bringing on Nani. We just needed a bit more in attack and at 2-0 down there didn’t seem much more to lose by going for it – it ended in humiliation anyway.

But that’s where I started with all this and Moyes’ seeming reluctance to chance his arm and change things up a bit beyond the tried and trusted.

Maybe now the “tough start” is out of the way, we’ll see Moyes broaden his outlook beyond the same fourteen or so players. I hope so because what he’s doing right now isn’t really working.