The Queen of England described 1992 as an “Annus Horribilis”, and if David Moyes was asked to describe the first six months of his reign at Manchester United I imagine it would be something similar, probably less printable. The uncertain start to the season seemed to be correcting itself with a run of six straight wins and a move to within touching distance of the top of the table.
This run even saw Moyes shortlisted for the manager of the month for December. Unfortunately the world came crashing down with three limp defeats in three different competitions. To Spurs (League), Swansea (F.A. Cup) and Sunderland (League Cup). So rather than focusing on what went wrong, let us look forward and see what does 2014 hold for “The Chosen One”?
The question on everyone’s lips seems to be will United strengthen their team in the January transfer window? The ever turning rumour mill has seen us linked with seemingly every midfielder in Spain, along with countless other players across Europe and beyond. Moyes is caught between a rock and a hard place, does he purchase now, knowing that most top players will not want to move mid-season, or does he risk waiting until the summer, where a season of potential Europa League football will not be as appealing as the Champions League to Europe’s elite?
It is obvious we need a new full back, with Evra’s attacking strength masking his obvious defensive deficiencies. There is constant links with Moyes’ former player Leighton Baines and Southampton’s Luke Shaw, who at $30 million would represent a ridiculous gamble. I believe that a resurrection of a move for Madrid’s Fabio Coentrao, initially on loan is the most likely. He is out of favor at the Bernabau, and with a World Cup looming he will be desperate for the chance of first team football.
Moving onto midfield, in every transfer window for the last five years United’s need for a new creative midfielder has been highlighted. I don’t think we will strengthen in this window unless we lose some of the dead wood in the (rotund) shape of Anderson. I remember Anderson’s first season, when he bossed both Fabregas and Gerard in midfield and thought we had finally found the replacement for Scholes. Unfortunately he has turned out to be a fat Kleberson.
If we do manage to ship out Anderson, I would look to bring in the excellent Everton Ribeiro from Brazilian side Cruzerio. He has spoken of his desire to join United, and would add something different to the mix. Even without reinforcing the midfield, the return of Darren Fletcher, and hopefully the improvement of a fully fit Fellaini should be enough to get us through the season.
So apart from potential new players, what else is required in 2014? Obviously more wins and more goals. Our goal difference of +11 this season is tame compared to the final of +43 last season. At the current rate United will finish the season having scored 20 less goals than last year. The obvious difference is that in our 32 games so far this season Robin Van Persie has taken part in half (16), and scored ten goals. Getting the talismanic Dutchman back to full fitness must be keeping Moyes awake at night.
His consistent return of two goals in every three games for United would surely see them further up the table if he had remained fully fit all season. It is worrying that in the previous eight seasons at Arsenal he only managed over 40 games in a season twice; hopefully we can coat him in enough horse placenta to get another 20 games out of him this season. A partnership of RVP and Rooney would surely help United find some semblance of form, and help them push for the Champions League places.
Surely the biggest difference this season to last is United’s lack of resilience in gaining points from a losing position. In an almost comical fashion, last season United went behind 1-0 a staggering 22 times, 16 times in the Premier League alone. This season, the form has continued with United falling behind in 12 games however this is where the similarity ends. Out of the 16 games last year, United went on to take 29 points or 1.81 points per game. This season this has dropped to 10 points, or 0.83 points per game.
To put this in simple terms, if United regained their ability to come from behind, they would be second, one point behind Arsenal. We saw a glimpse of the old resilience in the victory at Hull, but things would be much simpler if we just took the lead, where in fact we average 2.44 points per game so far this season.
Amidst all of the current negativity it must be remembered United are 90 minutes away from the League Cup final (admittedly against the goal happy Man City), have a great chance of progressing into the quarter finals of the Champions league, and are only five points off of a Champions league place in the League. While this season is not what us United fans are used to, there is still plenty that can be salvaged, and we can be safe in the knowledge that Moyes is learning every day what is required by the manager of Manchester United.
I will leave you with this; a recent poll in The Guardian found that only 7.26% of United fans believed that Moyes should be sacked, while 72.98% believed he should be given another season no matter what happens. I was recently lucky enough to attend a game at Old Trafford (and we actually won 3-1 against West Ham), and the mood was of optimism. We have known for a long time change was going to come sooner rather than later, and knew that patience would be needed. As United fans we have been spoiled over the last 20 years, but we have taken heed of Fergie’s final words to us:
All my staff stood by me, the players stood by me, you stood by me – and your job now is to stand by our new manager. That’s important.