There was something terrifying about Tuesday night’s draw with Bayern Munich in the Champions League. In more than 50 fine years of Manchester United’s participation in European competition rare has been the occasion on which United was so palpably adrift of the opposition. Defeat to Barcelona at Camp Nou in 1994 springs to mind; two destructive Champions League final defeats in 2009 and 2011 to the same opponent follow in the slipstream. Rare indeed, though, has United approached a game in the mindset of absolute inferiority.
It is hard to analyse Tuesday’s draw any other way despite the positive spin in the aftermath. This was fear personified no matter the result gained, nor the wave of rationalisation that has swept over United’s fan base since. After all, there used to be a time when the United way was an unspoken concept that supporters instinctively understood. Cliché or otherwise.
Yet, in willingly conceding more than 75 per cent possession to Pep Guardiola’s Bayern Munich, United resorted, at the theatre of too often broken dreams, to a strategy of desperate hope – and the long ball, with 23 per cent of United’s passing going aimlessly long. Hope that a breakaway might catch Bayern unawares; it very nearly did on an off night for the Bavarians.
It was a night when United created three solid chances to score, and Danny Welbeck fluffed the best of them. But also one that had so much to do with Moyes’ pragmatism, and too little with the hopes of generations spurred on by Sir Matt Busby’s European dream.
Of course there is plenty of argument in mitigation. Some say that United had no other choice. Indeed, data points such as possession say much about patterns within the game, but often so little about context.
The context is, of course, a season in which Moyes’ side has lost 13 times in all competitions, including seven at Old Trafford. That’s just about as many as the Reds had given up in M16 over the past three seasons. Hardly confidence building stuff, let alone a record to inspire fear in the opposition. Fortress Old Trafford no longer.
Yet, in conceding all of the control, if not total impetus to Bayern, United largely threw out whatever way the club once possessed. Moyes’ season-long fear of expression was finally delivered into a performance of which he was overtly proud. There are plenty of supporters who were not, despite the battling draw.
There is another context though. One that says whatever trophies have been gained by a fabulous Bayern side in the past year, and however dominant Guardiola’s outfit has become, not every opponent has approached a fixture with the south German side devoid of ambition. Except perhaps Braunschweig Eintract – 32 per cent possession in a 2-0 away defeat – and Hamburger SV, 25 per cent, at home. The pair currently lies last and second bottom of the Bundesliga respectively. That’s no company for United to keep.
The real debate is not even really in the data though, but in a view of the approach. Perhaps it is a certain generation for whom football is entertainment, not the cynical dash for results. Not everyone is entertained.
Nor, in fact, is this a game of polar extremes; on one flank United’s anti-football as evidenced on Tuesday, and on the other an open attacking philosophy bent on tactical self-destruction. To argue otherwise is indeed disingenuous. The balance eschewed by Moyes was illustrated aptly by Shinji Kagawa’s omission while the utterly hapless Marouanne Fellaini started.
Yet, every decision Moyes made in the build up fell into the former – an ideology framed by trepidation. Real-politik on the pitch. Everything and more that apparently kept José Mourinho from Old Trafford’s door this past summer, and drew significant mire outside of west London for the Blues’ path towards glory in 2012. Or, indeed, that of Internazionale three years before. Those that hold no hypocrisy in this may cast the first stone.
It is a role, however, with which Moyes is intimately familiar. Comfortable even. In a decade at Everton’s helm Moyes’ greatest results were those pressed against the odds, facing opposition with more talent, technique and ambition. His reputation has been forged in fighting those odds.
United’s clash with Bayern was perfect then. Not only because the Scot could barely lose, but that it fell into a tactical sphere at which Moyes excels. It is perhaps, at least on this season’s evidence, the only arena in which that claim can be made.
Little wonder that Moyes was bullish in the aftermath; this was the moment that he finally found himself. His plucky United side had taken on the European champions “toe to toe” and clung on for dear life. In the court of public opinion the judge’s decision has gone with the Scot, although the final round is yet to come.
“We’re delighted with the performance,” said Moyes. “I was a bit disappointed that we conceded a goal in the end, but I thought it was a really good performance. There was a real determination tonight to make sure that we did well. It’s a competition we’ve got really good history in, and I think the players went out and realised that we were playing a really good side tonight.”
There was, of course, a time in which United was the “really good side.” No longer. Or indeed when the Reds faced the very best and took them on at their own game. Barcelona, Juventus, Inter, Munich in the ’99 competition, for example.
The exceptions, such as United’s victory over Barcelona in 2008, or the draw with Real Madrid last season, are now used as a justification for the performances of today. It is little more than comfort in illogical reasoning.
Or to put it another way, there is a greater ideal. As Sir Bobby Charlton once said of Busby; “He always told us that football is more than a game. It has the power to bring happiness to ordinary people.”
“I never wanted Manchester United to be second to anybody,” Busby once said. And yet he was also prepared to concede that “winning isn’t everything. There should be no conceit in victory and no despair in defeat.”
There is no contradiction here. Busby sought both to be the very best, nor feared the consequence of failing. Moyes is after neither; a man too keen to wrap his anxiety in the liberation of inferiority.
The subtle irony is that Moyes’ side didn’t actually achieve a positive result; not in the context of a two-legged European tie. This was a scoring home draw, achieved against the backdrop of unmitigated caution. United will have to repeat the pattern and then win at the Allianz Arena in just under a week. Bayern remain heavily odds-on to secure passage for good reason.
“We know that we need to score a goal,” admitted the manager. “But I said tonight that we wanted to go into the second leg with a real chance, and I think we’ve done that.”
It is a level of ambition that Busby might find odd. Plenty of supporters too. Then again Moyes is a manager who admitted in the summer that “there has to be an element of fear that comes with managing a club like Manchester United.”
He has so ably demonstrated the point since.
39 thoughts on “Moyes’ fear finds its way”
“Or indeed when the Reds faced the very best and took them on at their own game. Barcelona, Juventus, Inter, Munich in the ’99 competition, for example.
The exceptions, such as United’s victory over Barcelona in 2008, or the draw with Real Madrid last season, are now used as a justification for the performances of today. It is little more than comfort in illogical reasoning.”
Notice how the exceptions line up neatly in the timeline with the current side, and the performances you cite as contrasts come from more than a decade ago.
Yes conceding 75% possession to Bayern is an insult to the traditions that Busby laid down. But to lay that at Moyes’ doorstep is wrong. He doesn’t have a midfield to battle Bayern with. Give him another transfer window, and let’s gauge his team’s ability then.
To do what? Buy another lemon like Fellani?
Or buy Mata out of desperation and then use him completely wrong on every occasion, except when injury FORCED Moyes to play him at number ten?
The guy is a joke.
Further if you think United will buy big and be able to attract big names this summer, you are dreaming…
If you remember correctly, he was “FORCED” to buy Fellaini as well. Your view is completely blinkered.
Stop defending Moyes!! He doesn’t deserve our support. I don’t want years of watching Everton again..the guy is clearly not for us and never will be…thats the simple truth.
I agree, to an extent. He’s 90% a goner. But, there’s always the nagging 10% possibility that he’ll prove us all wrong. It’s happened often before.
It’s not wrong to lay it at Moyes’ doorstep at all.
It is true that his defensive options forced a defensive set up on Tuesday. But SAF would’ve had Janujaz or Kagawa start though; shown SOME attacking ambition.
Uhh, the same SAF who started with Ji Sung Park in every big game possible?
Another Idiot living in his delusional world. Yeah give him another year so he can really mess it up permanently.
So far he certainly has shown us that he can turn it around. David Moyes is the best manager in the world. Hint considering that you are an idiot the last two sentences were sarcasm.
The anger and bravado in name calling over a football discussion on a blog clearly shows me as the idiot, and you as the wise sage.
Since you are not an idiot, I don’t have to point out whether the above was sarcasm or not.
gritty,to the point, realistic, disheartening. Good real-world overview of Tuesdays and possibly next weeks battle zone.
“….liberation of inferiority..”
Inferiority a perfect word for #MoyesOut
AgentMoyes got the best from his raw materials – painfully slow defenders and midfielders who are pylons/bollards. Bayern’s midfielders are second-to-the-very-best – Iniesta and Xavi and Biscuits; UTD’s midfielders are … Carrick and Fellaini and Giggs and Cleverley and a brave man who has just recovered from very, very serious surgery. Given the yawning gulf between the quality of Bayern’s midfielders and UTD’s, what was the alternative – play the Busby way and get tonked 6-1 ?
I agree with you regarding this game. Moyes had no choice but to defend the defence. BUT… Kagawa or Janujaz couldn’t have done WORSE than Fellatio defensively, and they’re miles ahead technically.
On the Kagawa debate, I think he does decent work shadowing a full back, makes up for his lack of physical presence in this way. Has to start for attacking reasons too, of course.
Indeed. It’s not like Fellaini was winning the aerial battles (against shorter opponents).
I’d be interested to see his stats for the 2nd half. Where can we get these? (Ed?) He did seem better… but that’s not hard.
I think that must be my favourite ‘Rant’ article yet. Absolutely nailed on with your analysis. I liked it. A lot.
As SAF grew old, he become much more conservative in his approach to football, but at times his personality still shone through in his teams. Even last season his team could be swashbuckling, spontaneous, aggressive, full of verve and a determination to succeed but this season, Moyes’ personality appears to have made the team, as if by process of osmosis, become an insipid, predictable, worthy team of what now appears to be journeymen. Against Bayern we played like Everton, unrecognisable from anything gone before, except Dave Sexton’s United.
Of course it’s a results based business, but the tradition of stylish, attractive cut and thrust, the United of ‘we didn’t lose, we just ran out of time…’ appears to be dead, and stood over the cold, grey corpse is David Moyes. Jesus Christ how did it come to this?
I hope we’re all wrong and he becomes SAF circa ’99, but I doubt it. And the thought of Moyes spunking 150 million on crud makes my piss boil. SAF has a lot to answer for, regardless of what he did for the team, but that’s the past, and in the present we’re giddy with a plucky draw at home to Bayern Munich, and hoping to scrape a 0-1 over there.
As a United fan, I’m disappointed that our manager appears satisfied playing anti-football, devoid of joy, hope and ambition, and I wish he’d piss off.
Well said..100% agree…he has to be sacked asap
very very good read and i had to chuckle at count dante’s reply which again good read.
This must be the best article this season bst none imo. The deep and thoughtful analysis is so coherent to what i think is wrong with united. The ultimate question surely must be when and not off Moyes is relinquished of his duties and not before time!! MOYES OUT!!!
When asked what i think is wrong with united this season, i answered simply, the wrong set of guys passing communicating the very wrong sets of messages to players and fans… The players seem to be more confused than the fans.
thank you. Finally. I was thinking was I the only one who saw how sad the state of affairs were in that game. I sat in a bar…
We now see all the new players coming in……They won’t if Moyes is there……If he stays we will get Joleon Lescott, Tim Cahill, Darron Gibson back and Duncan Ferguson.
He is about to sell Zaha, Powell, Fletcher and Raphael.And he has not given Perreira or Lingard a chance yet, because he thinks that he know’s better.
His player development at Everton was a joke according to Kevin Sheedy. He does not coach or develop players or instill them with confidence.He has constantly played Kagawa as a winger, which he is not.Yet he plays that goat Fellaini in his so called best position.
There is no mention of Young or Fellaini going.
So he is determined to throw out many of the players that SAF left him, which is all part of the Moyes revolution. Anyone who thinks ‘He needs time’, such as Charlton and Joe Royle need there heads examined.We have got a plat station, fantasy football chancer in charge. The sooner he goes the better……
thinking this is how most teams would play against us. Wanted to cry when idiots were saying how great the result was. To see..
people clap this manager when he is killing everything that is United makes me wonder, we support him because it’s the United ..
way but he is killing everything that is United. Oh the irony of it all
Just hearing that City have wrapped up the ‘Mangala deal’………..I believe that Moyes and co., watched him 37 times….just to be sure….he does not scout players, he stalks them…..So it looks like Lescott!
This article is way shallow….we would’ve gone down by quite some margin if we’d played the “Busby way”,I bet you enjoyed the SAF shivers when Barca run riot against us the last final!,,,if Moyes had lost by three nil playin the “utd” way,you would still be calling for his head,,,he approached that game in the best way United could get a reasonable result
I’m in David Moyes’ corner till he gets his own bunch of players to squeeze results out of,
I’ll best judge him next season regardless of who he brings in….for now give the man a break and credit where it’s due
You’re in Moyes corner because he doesn’t have his “own” players?
He’s got players who won the league last season, and lost on the final day the season before. He’s added Mata and Fellaini, and inherited Zaha and Janujaz breaking into first teams.
If you’re “in his corner”, you’re clearly a Bertie in disguise!!!
And why does he deserve credit?
Its just sad to see my beloved united being reduced to championship team…i agree wth this article 100%…
Well-written piece Wouldn’t criticize #Moyes for drawing with BM! Getting trounced 6 nil with sexy football hardly ideal either!
Definetly the best article about the idiot dismantling United a game at a time. But the real villians here such as SAF, SBC and the sandwitch brigade at OT will be denying this fact for the forseeable future.
No matter how much I hate the seeing Moyes as United manager, a part of me wants him to stay and waste the alleged money. It will be enjoyable to watch.
What will the professional Xenophobe SBC say? What excuses will the main stream British media come up with? What will the grandeous bunch of C@*Ts, also known as the OT crowd, sing in praise of Moyes? I will enjoy that even if the team will enevitably be SHIT.
“Rare indeed, though, has United approached a game in the mindset of absolute inferiority.”
— A very good point Ed, and under Moyes we have digressed so far that our mindset is negative even against ‘wee’ clubs.
Well, what could one expect from a manager who’s greatest accomplishments does not include winning cups or titles but fighting spiritedly against better teams. Basically, he is turning us into another Everton.
How can Moyes be ‘delighted’ by drawing 1-1 at home in the QF of the CL? Agreed that we were far inferior to Bayern but his words reveal his mindset, which remains that of a small-time manager.
Someone should remind Moyes he is the manager of the biggest and most popular club in the world. If he cannot behave like one, perhaps, he should try acting like one.
A very good article, Ed.
“Busby sought both to be the very best, nor feared the consequence of failing.”
And what can we say about Gollum?
“Moyes sought to meet the owners’ minimum criteria.”
p.s. It should be “, and never feared”, not “, nor”. Sorry to be picky 🙂
Think we’ve got some blues winding us up… http://t.co/Mo90rVnwzO
Wait. How did that happen?! Twitter comments end up here? This is me obviously.
That performance cut away pieces of my heart. But he has the temerity to say we played well. I really wish he would go.
Moyes can keep his Ford Focus, I want my Ferrari back.