David Moyes has a problem; one that stems, it seems, not from the raft of changes in Manchester United’s coaching staff this summer. Nor the painfully embarrassing approach to the transfer market. And certainly not one born of the Scot’s tactics, no matter how jumbled the defensive mess fans have witnessed in recent weeks. No, Moyes has a problem with speaking. Particularly words. In English. And especially the kind that draw not the quizzical eyebrow to which the Scot is becoming depressingly familiar.
Indeed, it is a problem that Moyes has brought to light in the past week, twice raising the real challenge that the former Everton manager believes he faces in his first season as United manager: the quality of his team. Or lack thereof.
From the assertion that his side is six players short of winning the Champions League, to the contention that United won the Premier League by fault of others’ weakness, to an oft repeated belief that United must buy to compete; it’s the Scot’s penchant for motivational speaking, Rant suspects, that won Moyes the United gig in the first place.
“To win the Champions League, you need five or six world-class players,” Moyes said ahead of United’s trip to Shaktar Donetsk this week.
”Look at Bayern Munich, they have it. Look at Barcelona, who had it in the past and Real Madrid, who have maybe got it now. That’s the level you have to be at to win it. We’ve not got that yet.”
This week has delivered a double-dose of foot in mouth disease from the Scot. It was not, said Moyes last Wednesday, United’s quality that won the Old Trafford club a 20th league title last season, but “other teams that were poor.”
Way to throw cold water on supporters’ ongoing celebrations. Still, it must come as little surprise to the Scot that his players have looked so listless in recent weeks. He seems keen to let the world know just how bad they are.
Successive Premier League defeats have come. First to Manchester City at the Etihad, followed in abject style by Saturday’s loss to West Bromwich Albion at home. Moyes is yet to comment on which caused more humiliation.
That double-header made it three league defeats in the past four, with no goals scored from open-play since United’s victory at Swansea City on the opening day of the season. And if United’s attacking play has been dysfunctional, then the back four, as one, is seemingly one pint short of the full pub team.
The campaign for change on the pitch, if not the managerial hotseat, cannot be far away.
Still, the surprise is not in Moyes’ analysis, but that it has been made public at all. After all, City’s degeneration under Roberto Mancini put-paid to the former champions’ hopes last season. Meanwhile, Roman Abramovich’s rapid-fire dismissal of nine coaches in as many years ensures instability reigns in west London.
Neither do many, but the most one-eyed supporters, believe United will take the Champions League this season – not given the disparity in quality between the Reds and the best. Especially in midfield. It is, after all, debatable whether any of United’s central midfield would make Bayern Munich’s bench, let alone the first team
But this is a debate for the terraces and a post-match pint, rather than the manager and the fourth estate. Not least because it ensures Moyes sounds just a little too Benitez-esque for comfort.
Still, if a change in personnel is to come – and how could it not after three defeats in seven Premier League games – those players on the fringes of Moyes’ team, who brought respite against Liverpool in the Capital One Cup last Wednesday, need fear not. For the manager’s guns are squarely aimed at those who more frequently adorn the starting XI.
“We’ve got work to do,” said the 50-year-old. Work to acquire players that “will go right into the team.”
“The job when I took over was always going to be that we’d have to make changes and improve as we go along. I wasn’t going to come in here and say ‘such and such isn’t good’, not at all. But, in time, obviously I’ll have to make some changes.”
Cynics might wonder whether it is 25 years of unprecedented success that Moyes changed first. Rant couldn’t possibly comment, although it is hard not to take a cynical view after back-to-back league defeats of such calamity.
Four goals conceded at the Etihad on Sunday last proved humiliating in both execution and meaning, but it is the weekend’s defeat to West Brom that will cause most concern at Old Trafford. After all it wasn’t complacency, or a rare off-day that caused United’s downfall, but a tactical and technical mess all of Moyes’ own making.
The Scot can do little but issue the now frequented mea culpa.
“I don’t think it was only one department where you’d say we were lacking,” the Scot admitted post Saturday’s match.
“I think it would be unfair to single any out – it was the whole thing. We were lacklustre in nearly all the areas. There were lots of things that disappointed me. We should be scoring more from open play. And we should be defending better. We couldn’t do it at either end.”
How how the tables have turned. It’s not four weeks since the former Everton manager declared that he was “really impressed” with how his team played in the utterly miserable 1-0 defeat at Anfield. A performance so good that Moyes could now “see why they’re champions.”
United managed just four shots on target at Anfield. Reality, it seems, has now struck home hard.
“I may have to take a few more blows, definitely,” admitted the Scot. “Maybe even more than that. Maybe all season I have to take a few blows.”
Respite comes in the form of European competition, with United jetting out to Ukraine on Tuesday morning. It is, of course, the competition in which the Reds scored four against Bayer Leverkusen last time out.
Shaktar, you have been warned. Just don’t be disappointed when United fail to turn up with a raft of world-class players. Dave wouldn’t simply have it.