“I can see why they were champions,” said David Moyes back in September. “I thought we were really good today. We did an awful lot of good things.” His side had lost at Anfield in abject fashion only moments earlier. Yet, Moyes’ assessment of Manchester United’s performance in losing 1-0 to Liverpool – a match in which the visitors forced ‘keeper Simon Mignolet into just four saves – is a pattern fastidiously pursued by the Scot this season. He was fooling nobody then; fewer still today.
United’s eighth Premier League loss of the season to Stoke City on Saturday – a 10th defeat in 35 competitive matches – is a record unmatched by the Scot’s forebears. In the preceding months his side has lost at home to West Bromwich Albion for the first time since 1978 and to Newcastle United for the first time since 1972. United hadn’t lost to Everton since 1992 and to Swansea City, well, ever.
While the records keep tumbling, the excuse remains the same. United’s 2-1 defeat at the Britannia Stadium was the first since 1984. “I don’t know what we have to do to win,” claimed Moyes in the aftermath.
“I thought we were extremely unlucky. We played well,” he added. Few of the 3,000 travelling Reds concurred with the Scot. Aside from delivering just five of 33 attempted crosses, in another glaring confirmation Moyes’ sole tactical approach, United also succeeded with just 13 of 47 long balls launched into the swirling Potteries wind.
Yet, Moyes’ affirmation of United’s performance at Stoke serves only to underline the Scot’s failing credibility. It is perhaps so damaged that the predictable post-match analysis has become the nation’s favourite sitcom. Except this one isn’t funny; a farce that has long since past it’s scheduled end in a series with such deep roots that the gag has become pastiche.
The Scot slipped into denial early though, pressure building from the moment he stepped across Carrington’s threshold and into the goldfish bowl. “It is one game,” said Moyes in September, after Manchester City had thrashed United 4-1 at Eastlands. “There are plenty more to come and plenty of time to fix it.” There were plenty more to come. Fix it Moyes has not.
Later that month the Scot mused that United had “controlled the game” in the Reds’ 2-1 home defeat to West Brom, before adding a few weeks later that the loss to Everton “was very similar to the one against Newcastle,” which came in early December. “If we had come out on top in both games I don’t think anybody would have said an awful lot about it,” he reflected with that unerring Glaswegian stare. Part threatening, part rabbit in caught in the brightest of headlights.
As a chaotic 2013 tumbled into the New Year Moyes believed that his side “deserved to win” in defeat to Tottenham Hotspur at Old Trafford. “I thought the team played really well, certainly should have had a penalty.”
Spurs, winning in Manchester for the second season running, enjoyed a 22 per cent conversion rate compared to the home side’s five. In such details are games won and lost; a reputation for integrity built or shattered.
Neither did United “deserve to lose” to Swansea City in the FA Cup a week later, claimed the Scot. Except once again the former Everton manager betrayed his lack of ambition, adding only that United needed “to be hard to play against.” The 50-year-old coach had teed up the Reds’ Premier League loss to Newcastle with the hope that his outfit would “make it difficult” for the travelling Geordies. Ever the underdog it seems.
But so much worse was to come. Moyes’ side was wretched in defeat to Sunderland in the Capital One Cup first leg at the Stadium of Light in early January. The 2-1 loss against the Premier League’s bottom side was United’s third in succession. Another record: the Reds hadn’t secured that prize for 13 years.
Defeat on Wearside also revealed Moyes’ penchant for blame. Attribute defeat to the players, the weather, luck, the Gods, and especially officialdom. Certainly not, however, to the manager.
“We are having to play referees as well as the opposition at the moment,” claimed Moyes after Fabio Borini’s 64th minute penalty. “We’re actually beginning to laugh at them, that’s the thing. It’s really terrible, it really is.”
Less than a fortnight later Moyes would claim, to José Mourinho’s palpable humour, that United would not “throw in the towel” and that his side’s job was to “finish first” before promising that “we’ll try to do that. This is a project and I know what I’m going to do.”
“I don’t think David will be upset if I say the reality,” was Mourinho’s predictable rejoinder.
Few supporters who suffered through United’s 3 – 1 defeat to Chelsea on 19 January shared Moyes’ faith. That the west Londonders barely raised a sweat in brushing Moyes’ outfit aside only compounded the mockery dripping from the Shed End.
It is not only in the aftermath of defeat that Moyes proffers the air of a man out of his depth. In the summer the Scot repeatedly refused to deny that United had bid for Gareth Bale – months after Real Madrid and the Welshman had agreed a deal. Moyes’ public naivety continued through the club’s failed attempt to lure Thiago Alcantara, Cesc Fabregas, Anders Herrera, and Leighton Baines to Old Trafford.
Nor did the manager inspire confidence in claiming of Shinji Kagawa that “they keep telling me how good he is.” Or that “everybody tells me that last year Robin van Persie came up with the goods.” External assessment was not required of the Premier League’s top goalscorer. “They keep telling me that he needed to change his number,” added the Scot of Antonio Valencia.
Yet, Stoke could be a nadir, not only in United’s performances, but Moyes’ approach to the job. It is hard to imagine United’s star falling from here, or Moyes credibility sinking deeper into the gutter. With the club seventh in the Premier League – seven points and goal difference behind Liverpool – United is unlikely to qualify for next season’s Champions League.
Still, “they” have not yet told the manager of a tactical plan B, with the Scot’s one-dimensional approach pervading in the Potteries: “It was our downfall we didn’t score from chances,” said Moyes after United’s latest defeat. “But we must have got to the byline eight or nine times.”
Not that United’s new man would heed the advice. After all “they” told the Scot that criticism is “a trait at Manchester United.”
So was winning. Once.