Sitting 7th in the league with well over half the season gone, it is fair to say this has not been the greatest of starts for Manchester United manager David Moyes. Taking over from Fergie was always going to be a tough task, however I doubt many were predicting such a disastrous campaign. True, they are still in the Champions League with a relatively easy draw against Olympiakos, but surely only the most optimistic of United fans have to realise that their chances of winning are very, very slim. Moyes has repeatedly looked confused and seems to only have a Plan A, which involves sending as many crosses into the box as possible (a record 81 on Sunday against Fulham). This seems bizarre as they have three fantastic players in Mata, Rooney and van Persie, all of whom enjoy playing centrally. After a weekend which Moyes described as “as bad as it gets,” the question that arises is, how exactly can United improve?
Moyes currently has United playing in a 4-4-1-1 formation, with Mata on the right, boy wonder Adnan Januzaj or Ashley Young on the left and Rooney playing up behind Van Persie. Despite having what is (on paper at least) one of the best attacks in the league, Moyes seems insistent on enforcing tactics which suit a team such as Stoke City considerably more than the Champions of England. They produced a record 81 crosses against Fulham, while only a meagre 23% of their play came through the middle third – almost half the 43% of time they attacked on the left. This is a tactic that is relatively easy to defend against, as Fulham centre-back Dan Burn can attest (the 6ft 7in defender made a total of 22 clearances). For a team with the history and tradition of Manchester United, it is worrying that they seem to lack any sort of a Plan B, while even their Plan A leaves a lot to be desired.
Although their attack seems to be underperforming, it is in defence that the biggest changes need to take place. They have conceded 31 goals in 25 matches so far this season, more than the likes of Southampton and Hull City. In fact, only Tottenham have conceded more amongst the top 7 clubs (even that stat is skewed by two poor performances against Liverpool and Man City, conceding 5 goals in each game). Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand have looked a shadow of their former selves, while the younger Chris Smalling and Phil Jones have failed to live up to their reputation, mainly due to being played out of position. It is only really Jonny Evans who has not under performed at centre-back, which suggests Moyes may want, or even need, to buy in the summer.
At full-back, Rafael has looked decent but nothing more, while Patrice Evra deserves more credit than he is given for consistently good performances. Their replacements have so far failed to perform however, which is why Smalling and Jones have been forced to cover. Fabio, Rafael’s twin brother, played one match this season and has subsequently been shipped out to Cardiff City, while the Dutchman Alexander Buttner has looked terrible every time he’s played. It is hard to pinpoint exactly why they have been so poor defensively this season – it may just be down to some ageing players – however what is certain is that United will need to invest in this department heavily in the summer.
In order to improve, I propose the following changes: –
- Tell the team to play more centrally and rely on the technique and skill of players such as Rooney, Carrick, Mata and Van Persie to be able to unlock the stubborn defences they usually come up against. Moyes must soon realise that he must set his side up different to his Everton of old – he has enough star players to make a proactive, possession-based team.
- Stop playing Smalling and Jones out of position, unless absolutely necessary. If these two young English defenders are going to develop, it has to be in one position and I would say centre-back is best for both.
- Moyes has no other option than to play Mata on the left, however he should give him free rein to drift into the middle and hope that the two defensive midfielders can cover for him. The Spaniard is at his best when playing between the lines, not playing as the left midfielder in a 4-4-2.
- Play Januzaj as much as possible. As the football adage claims, if you’re good enough, you’re old enough. The 19-year-old is clearly already a better player than Young and Nani so needs to play as much as possible. The Nandos-loving youngster has scored more goals and made more assists than those two put together in a similar number of appearances.
- Below is the team that I would look to play as much as possible in the rest of the current campaign.
This summer’s transfer window is vital if David Moyes is going to improve this side. Not only does he need to invest in two new centre-backs, a central midfielder and maybe a full-back and a winger, but also he needs to get rid of the deadwood at the club. Ashley Young, Buttner, Cleverley, Kagawaand Nani have not lived up to expectations, while Rio Ferdinand is past it and Vidic is leaving the club anyway. The rumours will abound about incoming transfers, and I feel it is too early to comment on any potential signings, as I’m sure Moyes and the board have their eyes on numerous players already. What is for sure, though, is that United have to improve soon, otherwise they could find themselves out of Europe and searching for another manager.