Man United: Title Forgotten, Now We Must Avoid Humiliation
Patience is a virtue, and one that Manchester United fans, after two decades of near constant success, are having to re-learn, along with a selection of other qualities, such as humility and self-deprecation.
It would appear that when Sir Alex Ferguson cleared out his office last summer, he made off with the twenty-time champions' swagger. The result is the most feeble title defence in living memory, and a fall from grace so shocking that, if things don't drastically improve soon, the damage to David Moyes' reputation, if not necessarily Manchester United's long term standing in football's pantheon of giants, may be terminal.
It was noticeable, before Sunday's match, that the club's fans were as pessimistic as they have been in as long as one can remember about the evening's fare. Twitter reflected the city's pubs and bars, where supporters gathered as always, but with the old buzz of entitled expectation having been replaced by nervous fidgeting and the crossing of fingers.
Where not long ago the talk would have been about the certainty of competitiveness, if not outright victory, now it is about the desire to avoid humiliation and keep things respectable. The positive punter occasionally pipes up with a claim of 'having a good feeling about this,' but is quickly shot down by the cold, harsh voice of reason and logic, which only has to point to any number of wretched results and pitiful performances from the first few months of Moyes' reign.
United have lost to lesser lights than this this season, and there is no great shame is succumbing to Jose Mourinho's Chelsea under the Stamford Bridge floodlights, as even the mighty Sir Alex will attest.
Still, despite a promising start to the match, during which the champions looked up for the challenge and played some reasonably decent stuff, at no point did Chelsea look particularly vulnerable.
This has been the case with alarming regularity this season, with United's ability to look the better side, or at least as good as the opposition, less of a problem than their lack of that most important of footballing things: end product.
Sunday's match, however, left many United fans feeling even more despondent than the previous limp displays against more humble foes, for however low our expectations in the build up to this test, we expected at least a whiff of the positivity provided in the second half against Swansea the previous weekend.
Yet Shinji Kagawa was dropped to the bench, where he remained for the entirety of a match crying out for his brand of quick-thinking flickery, no doubt wondering if it is worth all the trouble and dreaming of the welcoming arms and warm bosom of Dortmund, where he is adored.
Dropping the Japanese meant playing Adnan Januzaj behind Welbeck, where the eighteen year old was, by his own startling standards, relatively ineffective during the first half against Swansea, and pitting him against the brutish partnership of Cahill and Terry.
It seems absurd to persist with playing Januzaj in this role. He is young and inexperienced and has many years of football stretched before him in which to make the transition from wing to centre. Playing out wide, Januzaj is a far more potent threat, where his slalom runs and sublime skills regularly bamboozle flat-footed full-backs.
As for playing Phil Jones in midfield, while his high energy, swashbuckling style has reaped rewards when utilised here in the past, it has usually been with the direct order to latch, like a Jack Russell, onto a certain opposition player of particular importance. Unfortunately for Moyes, Chelsea have an abundance of such players in their midfield and Jones, just returning from injury, looked exhausted by the mere thought of having to either swash or buckle at all.
In the end the team descended into indisciplined farce. We were, once again, exposed for the brittle, wounded beast that we are, as Chelsea eased their foot off the gas almost sympathetically. Moyes looked on with grim disillusionment as his captain was sent from the field and seemed, once again, utterly devoid of ideas, an image made all the more stark by his opposite number playing to the gallery throughout in the home technical area.
Moyes is paid a great deal of money to make big decisions. His decision to discard each and every shining light from the previous match, simultaneously undermining any upsurge in confidence that had resulted from it, has left many questioning whether he is cut out to make decisions of such magnitude at all.