David Moyes – A half year in review

by Ed Diggins

David Moyes UnitedSixth in the league, six wins in a row, sixth in the form table and six months on, David Moyes’ time as manager of Manchester United could be summed up in many ways – Indifferent. Underwhelming. Inept. Transitional. Promising.

From the first day that Moyes got the job the expectations of the vast majority of United fans seemed to drop dramatically and it became apparent very quickly that this was rubbing off on the everybody else connected with the club, especially the players.

It all started so poorly. Moyes and new Chief Executive Ed Woodward oversaw the most farcical and embarrassing transfer window in recent memory and this for sure is a factor in United’s slump in the league.  It went from having players in before going on tour, to dashes home from Australia and then embarrassing deadline day scrambles in Spain and on Merseyside with only the latter coming to fruition.

Despite the general consensus that United’s squad is really poor, I disagree. The squad is equipped to carry on the record of only finishing outside the top two once in 11 seasons. It is the first 11 where the problems are.

These problems could easily have been solved by setting out an ambitious and detailed transfer plan in early June to sign two world-class players, players that a club of United’s size and stature should be able to acquire without the drama and fumbling that we witnessed all summer long. Moyes and Woodward failed this basic task and turned the club into a laughing-stock with penny-pinching, somewhat insulting bids for players who perhaps where never interested in signing for the club. Meanwhile realistic targets were left aside and went elsewhere.

Much has been made of the poor form of Marouane Fellaini and again, the farcical lead up to him signing ten minutes before the deadline passed. If Moyes was so interested in him, a deal should have been done in June allowing the player time to go on holidays and then get a good preseason with the club, rather than being thrown into a team who were struggling to get their season under way. The decision to delay his hand operation to allow him play in the last two qualifying games for the World Cup has also backfired as United now have not only had him missing for the past month anyway, but will be without his services until February.

While it is admirable that Moyes wanted to be his own man, bringing in an entirely new coaching team has not helped either. It makes his “learning one day at a time” excuse look ridiculous as he had one of the most trusted and experienced backroom team in place already in Rene Meulensteen and Eric Steele to help him learn about the players as they were, rather than having to start from scratch.

In the media Moyes has made several faux pas – from criticising the quality of the players that won the league, to saying the only reason they won it was due perhaps to the poor quality of the other teams. His après match comments have also been baffling with his positive analysis of the Liverpool defeat being the pick of the bunch.

Looking at the current league woes from afar, the main damning statistic for Moyes is that United have only picked up six points against the top nine teams in the league so far this season, with only one win albeit against Arsenal.  If this continues, United will not only miss out on a title push, but will struggle to even finish in the top six.

As Moyes trudged off after the defeat to Newcastle four weeks ago, he could have no complaints had it been his last walk down the tunnel as manager of Manchester United. Realistically it was never going to happen, it is just not in the clubs nature and the fans by in large were still 100% behind him as he was clapped off the pitch. In saying that, This loyalty will be severely tested if there is no champions league football at Old Trafford next September though again it would appear that barring a complete disaster, Moyes will get at least one more summer transfer window to rectify it and turn the club around.

The first thing Moyes needs to do is address the dramatic slump in home form. As United entertain Spurs in the late kick off this evening at Old Trafford, they go into the game with only the 10th best home record in the league picking up just 14 points compared to 20 on the road. Everton, West Brom and Newcastle had a combined winless record of almost 100 years before  their recent successes and the partly return of 11 goals scored at home is only better than five other clubs.

Without trying to restate the obvious, Moyes needs to adequately strengthen the midfield area as United are about as creative now as a nun picking the Anne Summers Spring range. This will not be addressed in January as the necessary players are not available so it is a problem that is going to haunt Moyes until the summer at the earliest.

This need to strengthen will be further pressurized by the fact that Rio Ferdinand and Ryan Giggs will retire with Patrice Evra also nailed on to quit the club in the Summer. With the future of players like Shinji Kagawa, Anderson and Nani also in doubt, a complete over haul of the squad is on the horizon. Whether Moyes and Woodward possess the ability to successfully achieve this remains to be seen.

The first 11 as it stands needs stability and its pretty shocking that Moyes appears to still be no closer to knowing his starting team than he was when he took over in July. Too many changes, too many poor tactical substitutions, too many inept performances have followed since and regardless of what people think about the quality of the playing staff, the bulk of this lies with the management of the team.

The standard of football on offer at the moment is just not appealing though in fairness to Moyes, this has been a problem for years at the club and the recent success of the current squad has been based on resilience and being solid, with flashes of individual brilliance from De Gea, Vidic, Carrick, Rooney and Van Persie thrown in. Too many of the players have been off form this season, leading to the argument that Moyes is just not capable at the moment of getting the best of out them like his predecessor or more to the point, he doesn’t know how to.

On the flipside  despite the poor league form, it can be argued that United and Moyes are nicely poised overall as we pass the seasons half way point. Unbeaten in Europe with a decent last 16 draw, coupled with the prospect of a Wembley final appearance in late February adds plenty of solace for Moyes and United fans.

Realistically the league form can only improve.  Three points this evening is definitely within capability of United and with the visit to Chelsea sandwiched in between two home games against Swansea and Cardiff, Moyes will also have a reasonable chance of improving both home and top half records before January is out. Four wins in these four games will be enough to reignite a title challenge that slipped to odds of 25/1 three weeks ago, something not heard of in over 25 years at this stage of the season.

It can also be argued that United have been haunted by injuries all season to key players, with eight first team regulars missing for the trip to Norwich last Saturday. These players will all return and with momentum already building the outlook is certainly more positive than it looked four weeks ago.

Moyes form over the past nine years shows that his points tally normally increases by about 25% when you compare the second half of the season to the first which would in theory see United end up around 77 points come May. Whether or not Moyes can actually achieve that of course is another question .

While 77 points would be enough for at the very least a top four finish, to do this United would need to pick up a minimum of around 16 points against the top teams around them,  a tall order based on what we have seen so far this year.

Did David Moyes deserve the Job of Manchester United? Probably not. Has he done much so far to change this option? Not really. Can he turn this around and become a success? Yes he can. It appears that slowly but surely he is learning from his mistakes, players are regaining form and fitness and some luck is turning. A player or two signed in the next month can also help, but it is likely that nothing will happen on this front until June.

Whatever happens until then will be nowhere near as dramatic and problematic as the first six months in charge…well at least United fans will hope not anyway.