It has been Manchester United’s worst campaign of the Premier league era. This is undeniable. The rumblings of discontent with David Moyes that have been present since the Scot joined the club last summer have surged in recent weeks as United fell to Liverpool and then Manchester City. Yet, it is the campaign among some to have Moyes removed that is particularly unfair.
Those excruciating defeats to Olympiakos and then Liverpool and City marked the lowest period of a particularly sobering season. Yet, it is also irrefutable that defeats to United’s great rivals were in large part due to the form of the two title contenders; each unplayable on the day, while United’s squad is no longer up to the club’s traditional standards.
City has now beaten United in four of the past five meetings, setting a pattern in which the Blues have disposed of the Reds with some ease. Even Yaya Touré scoring in the fixture has been commonplace. And lest we forget this is a United side that was beaten 6-1 by what many observers judge as a weaker City team than the one of today.
Meanwhile, the rise of Liverpool this season can only be met with begrudging admiration. This is a side that was rotten to its core before being rejuvenated under Brendan Rodgers. In contrast to United Liverpool has frequently dished out masterclasses in counter-attacking football this season.
When the Scousers arrived at Old Trafford last month it seemed inevitable that United would suffer destruction of this nature. Liverpool has progressed to a team now at its peak, with a striker who is simply one of the best players in the world. But then again, would the United team of last season have beaten such formidable opposition, in such form? It is doubtful.
It may even be nostalgic to believe that some of United’s finest side – the team of Roy Keane, Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs, and Gary Neville for example – would have disposed of this Liverpool team, in this form. The Scousers may not win the league, but they have played some of the most attractive football in the Premier league era.
In reality it is defeats to the Premier League’s ‘lesser’ sides, such as West Bromwich Albion, Tottenham Hotspur, Swansea City and Newcastle United, that have truly cost Moyes. It is these defeats that remain unacceptable; especially the way the Reds have lost some of those matches.
Defeat to Olympiakos was one of the more shocking in recent years, but it certainly wasn’t unprecedented. Is this not the same group of players that threw away a two goal lead against FC Basle, or failed to qualify from the group stage just a few years back? This does not excuse the nature of the loss in Athens, nor the pattern it seemed to follow, but these results do happen – to United and other teams around Europe.
In truth Moyes has rarely excelled this season and has made plenty of questionable decisions. There are myriad discussion points from a disappointing campaign, such as United’s playing style, the lack of combination between Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie, defensive chaos, or Marouane Fellaini’s performances.
Perhaps the most evident issue is the lack of identity showcased by the side, together with the failure to play any attractive football. Moyes must take responsibility for this. His ideas have not been taken on in the capacity to which he would like, while the Scot’s signings have flattered to deceive. Even Juan Mata, good player though he may prove to be, looks increasingly the panic buy mirrored in Fellaini’s acquisition last summer.
In this scenario support for Moyes has dwindled during the low points of the season; understandable given the scale of disappointment to which supporters of United have borne witness.
Reds have so often been kicked while they are down. In a season of relatively few highlights the derby could have been the perfect remedy in softening the pain of previous months, even if expectations had hit a new low. However, United simply performed in the manner to which they have all season long: poorly. Perhaps the most significant negative to arise out of defeat to City and Liverpool is that they were simply unsurprising.
Despite this, the way in which the atmosphere surrounding the club has turn toxic following two devastating, but understandable defeats, seems over-the-top to many United supporters. Especially regulars at Old Trafford. In reality the Reds were well beaten by two sides that are simply better than United this season. That has little to do with the manager.
And even if United fall short in Munich next week there is no obvious replacement to fix all United’s ills this season.
Moyes may well turn out to be the ‘Wrong One’ as the now infamous plane claimed. It was a dumb stunt, but to sack him at this point, with so little time on the clock, now that really would be stupid.