It takes a little gallows humour to find mirth in the ‘records’ achieved by David Moyes this season. They include, among others, a first defeat to Everton at Old Trafford since 1992, the first reverse to Newcastle United in Manchester for 41 years, and the first defeat to Swansea City at home, ever. West Bromwich Albion hadn’t won at Old Trafford since 1978, while Sunderland secured a first win against the Reds in 20 matches. Add to that list a trio of losses in as many games this calendar year, which is the first time that has happened since 1932. Meanwhile, United hasn’t lost three games in January for 40 years, nor three games inside a week for 22.
Rant isn’t sure whether any side has ever beaten United twice at Old Trafford in the same week, but should Swansea City do so on Saturday afternoon, it will probably be another record of some kind or another. You get the picture; such has been life under the former Everton manager this season.
It can’t go on though. If ever a United match lives up to the clichéd ‘must win’ then it is surely Saturday evening’s game. Yet, lying seventh in the Premier League, some 11 points behind leaders Arsenal, there is some irony that United’s fixture against the Swans supersedes mere league position. After all, the title is already gone; Moyes credibility might just go with it should United lose a fourth match in succession – the first time that will have happened since 1961.
Still, the wheels haven’t quite fallen off United’s campaign yet. The Reds do have a Champions League Round of 16 fixture with Olympiakos in February, while many will back Moyes’ side to knock Sunderland out of the Capital One Cup when the return leg comes round in 10 day’s time. Still, the odds on United securing silverware this season are long and some fans’ patience is wearing thing.
And in all of this perhaps the most galling aspect is not United’s downturn, for no club has a divine right to win forever, nor even the turgid style with which Moyes has his men play, but the Scot’s excuses for failure. It is not bad luck, nor poor officialdom that has brought the side to its knees, but abject performances. Beginning with, it seems, the manager.
It is not an analysis with which Moyes’ concurs though. The 50-year-old, perhaps protecting his players – covering himself certainly – believes that luck, referees and poor finishing are at the core of United’s decline. It is, says the Scot, just another challenge in a career that has seen plenty of difficult periods.
“A lot of the performances have been fine but things have gone against us, decisions have gone against us,” said Moyes on Friday.
“They haven’t helped but I think we’ve played pretty well. We just need to be a bit more clinical in the final third and make things count more. All the things you look for in terms of stats have been pretty good but the only thing that matters is goals and we’ve not been scoring enough recently.
“Obviously not winning can affect your confidence, it plays a big part in football but prior to that we’d won six games in a row and we were not talking about confidence in the game after that. It can happen – you lose games in football – but we need to try to get back to winning ways and get those three points.
“I’ve had equally challenging times at other times in my career. It’s all the same – losing games makes it difficult. Overall, there is a lot of attention but it was to be expected.”
On the pitch Moyes is hardly aided by a rash of injuries this season, although not all in the game believe it to be bad luck, with the Scot’s ‘hard-running’ training regime branded “Jurassic Park” by one prominent commentator. Indeed, injuries to Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie persist. Each was laid low after being rushed back from injury this season. Neither will feature against the Swans, with Rooney instead jetting off to warm-weather training in the Middle East.
“With Wayne we’ve sent him away on a hot-weather break,” said Moyes.
“His groin isn’t quite recovered yet so we’ve sent the fitness coach with him and he’s away with his family. It will give Wayne a bit of break. We always hoped to be able to do it at some time in the season and the groin is not as good as we’d hoped. Hopefully we can get him fit for Chelsea but we’ll see how he is.
“Robin is going to be a little while. We’ll do everything we can to get him back quickly. It’s a thigh strain similar to the one he had at Arsenal so we are having to manage it correctly.
“He has been to Holland to work with the guy he knows over there and we are doing everything we can. There are some injuries you can play with but not the thigh.”
Meanwhile, Jonny Evans could miss the game after coming off in United’s defeat to Sunderland with a back injury. With Rio Ferdinand and Phil Jones also sidelined, Chris Smalling and Nemanja Vidić may play in the centre of defence.
Up front Danny Welbeck should continue to lead the line, while Adnan Januzaj, Shinji Kagawa and Javier Hernández may compete for two attacking spots.
Swansea manager Michael Laudrup is without wingers Pablo Hernandez and Roland Lamah due to injury, while goalkeeper Michael Vorm is still out with a knee problem. This week Jonathan de Guzman and Dwight Tiendalli joined long-term absentees Michu and Nathan Dyer on a potentially crippling injury list.
Indeed, Swansea’s league form is such that the Welsh side remains just four points above the relegation zone, having seen a paper-thin squad stretched during the Europa League campaign. It is perhaps little wonder Laudrup has chosen to downplay Swansea’s visit north for the second time in a week.
“It will certainly be more difficult to win this weekend than it was last weekend,” claimed the Dane.
“I expect them to come out and have a right go at us. Let’s face it, they have to win this game so we must be ready for what they throw at us. They will be desperate to show they are better than the things that are being written and said about them.
“I don’t think the United players like what they are reading and what they are hearing at the moment about these negative records so I know this will be a very tough game for us. But football can change in a very short space of time. If they beat us, win their next game then beat Sunderland 1-0 in their second leg, suddenly they’re back near the top four in the league and in a final at Wembley.”
Laudrup’s is a positive spin in a very difficult week for United, although the reality of the Reds’ form is that it will probably require other teams to fail in the coming months if Moyes’ side is to make next season’s Champions League. A sobering thought indeed, another record Moyes doesn’t want.
Manchester United v Swansea City, Premier League, Old Trafford, 5.30pm, 11 January 2014
United (4-4-1-1): De Gea; Rafael, Smalling, Vidić, Evra; Valencia, Carrick, Cleverley, Kagawa; Januzaj; Welbeck. Subs from: Lindegaard, Fabio, Buttner, Carrick, Fletcher, Zaha, Anderson, Giggs, Hernández
Swansea (4-3-3): Tremmel; Rangel, Chico Flores, Williams, Davies; De Guzmán, Cañas, Shelvey; Routledge, Bony, Pozuelo. Subs from: Amat, Taylor, Britton, Cornell, Alvaro, Vazquez, Zabret
United 10 Draw 5 Swansea 7
Referee: Chris Foy
Assistants: P Kirkup, J Flynn
Fourth Official: R Madley