Man United: Lack Of Fitness, Not Moyes' Tactics, Are To Blame
Simply put, the results this season have not been good enough.
What’s more is that the team are playing a brand of football that is not conducive with what the Manchester United faithful have grown accustomed to. Perhaps the worst part of it all is that the teams that took the spoils earlier on in the season hardly dominated - Newcastle aside, who possessed the ball very well. Everton departed from their usual style of play under Roberto Martinez and picked us off on the counter attack, as did West Brom and Tottenham.
So on the occasion that our two biggest rivals rolled into Old Trafford, bouncing off their walls after having exceptional and competent seasons respectively, Moyes needed to show to the fans that this Manchester United team could be the same adventurous selves that they have shown themselves to be over these last few years. Given that there is little else to fight for, there no longer had to be a safety first strategy and the players could begin to play in an expressive manner. First, to please the fans and secondly, and probably most important, for the supporters to see that if the Scottish man is the man to take us forward in the near future. He failed, in quite literally ever aspect. This was a dominating display from the Liverpool and Man City XI. The most soul crushing defeats of the season unravelled before our eyes.
Throughout the season, there have been glimpses of what Moyes has been trying to build. The thumping of Leverkusen away in the Champions League and the League Cup victory over Liverpool were the teams, formations and style where it all seemed to click and the vision of Moyes’ plan for Man United seemed like it would continue to roll on from there. However, through one case or another, it has not been realised. Whether that be through a lot of injuries meaning that players have to be played out of positions or playing players that do not fit the role of what Moyes wants fulfilled. Because of this, not many Red Devil fans seem to know what direction the club is going in, in terms of style of play.
A feature of Moyes’ tactics over the years has been that the teams he has had have employed a system of high press, especially in the big games. Where once before he had defenders with quick recovery speeds, such as Sylvain Distin, Leighton Baines and Seamus Coleman, he has often had to play slow CBs like Nemanja Vidic and/or Rio Ferdinand along with Patrice Evra, who is extremely lazy in getting back behind the ball. To compound this further, Rafael’s injury-prone nature has meant that Chris Smalling has often been used as an alternative at right back and given that the main width is provided from the full backs in the way Moyes wants to play, having a centre back deputising there is something that mitigates the effect. The effect of this is that the whole defence has to drop deeper to make sure space is not given up for runners in behind.
Consequently, this leaves a chasm between the defence and midfield. The team has one player capable of running to cover enough ground but as shown in my last piece, Tom Cleverley is not the player that is good enough on the ball to play from a deeper position. Especially with the focus of having players that are more suited to playing the number 10 role on the wings, it means that the pairing has to execute ball circulation to a high standard. The large gaps occurring all over the pitch is making it harder for the players to keep the ball. The problem could be easily solved by having an energetic and disciplined defensive midfielder alongside of midfielder who is able to pass the ball like we had when Paul Scholes or Carrick would line up alongside Owen Hargreaves. A midfield combination that Moyes has been readily scouting for all over Europe.
If the manager wishes to continue with two up front, then one of Robin van Persie or our starting attacking midfielder on the wing is going to be affected by it. Much has been said of Van Persie not having the same joy as he had last season because of the change in tactics. This is because that the ball is not being served as quickly to him as it was before. The Dutchman complimented Paul Scholes on being able to find him with early passes when he came on against Southampton early last season. Having Ryan Giggs do similar led to Van Persie having the same effective performance he regularly put out last season. Wenger utilised this by having Alex Song provide him with these passes. His goals come from him making early movement to move into the space that the defenders have yet to cover. By providing to him, it would mostly mean bypassing our attacking midfielder who prefer to quick, short combinations behind the front line.
In essence, Moyes’ blueprint relies heavily upon players being fit enough to carry out their defensive jobs. In possession of the ball, it seems that he wants to move away from the flying wingers that United are synonymous for and look instead to play a more continental style. When all our best players have been fit, the team has been better at keeping the ball, except for the defeat at the hands of Liverpool. If Moyes is allowed to continue, that seems the blueprint of what he wants his team to play like. Moyes being able to execute it properly is whether he will be able to keep the job for longer than next season.