Man United: Moyes Must Forget Playing "The United Way" & Go Back To Basics
Settling down to write an article about tactics represents something of a challenge for a Manchester United fan this season. After all, tactics have been conspicuous by their absence for large parts of the champions' current campaign. So much so that I had to rack my brains to remember exactly what the damned things are.
However, I did eventually manage to recall a dim memory from the distant past, when my beloved team played with a level of collective coherence that has been so sorely lacking in this new era. It was at this point that I realised that I barely knew what tactics were even then.
Tactics are, for a footballing simpleton such as me, shrouded in a certain amount of mystery. I view them with a mixture of suspicion and wonder, like a Neanderthal given a glimpse into the future we now inhabit.
At times, this season, it has seemed very much like our new manager is as flummoxed by the concept of tactics as I am, though in reality he must surely know more than he's been letting on. It would be depressing to imagine the manager of Manchester United fumbling through his team talks with the aid of some Subbuteo figures and a few salt and pepper shakers.
More likely is that Moyes has simply been struggling to come to terms with the immense pressure that exists in his new post, terrified of the consequences of one wrong move on the tactics-front.
Thus he has chopped and changed his team selections with unnerving regularity, with the flailing desperation of a blindfolded man hurling darts at a map in order to pick a destination, rather than the detached self assurance of his predecessor and, what has arguably been most striking is his habit of throwing caution to the wind (not a trait most would associate with him), often cramming a surprising number of the creative players at his disposal into his starting eleven.
At times, most notably in Europe, this method has worked, with the 5-0 thrashing of Bayer Leverkusen the undoubted high-point of his tenure so far.
Yet such successes have been few and far between, because it isn't enough for him to simply shuffle his pack of cards and chuck them onto the pitch. The players need a system and, all to often, whatever method there has been has quickly descended into madness, with skilful, gifted, championship-winning professionals resorting to agricultural hoofing of the very football they once caressed.
Confidence has inevitably taken a hit, last season's swagger having been replaced with nerves that reveal themselves through poor technique. Hence, the sight of Antonio Valencia ballooning crosses high over the heads of his despairing teammates, or Javier Hernàndez's first touch comprising of the ball essentially pinging off his shins like a pinball, have become depressingly commonplace. These are just two examples, out of too many, of top footballers appearing to have forgotten how to play.
Therefore, it is essential that the manager acts now to make his charges believe in themselves once more and, in the process, begin to restore some of the fear-factor that, until this season, went hand in hand with an opposing team's trip to Old Trafford.
Moyes, for now, needs to forget about trying to please the fans or the media by striving to play 'the United way,' because it patently isn't working. Instead, he and his players need to get back to basics. It may not be as thrilling as we've grown accustomed to over the last twenty years, but even Ferguson himself had to occasionally sacrifice beauty for solidity in order to stop a degree of rot. Just last season, for example, when the team was conceding goals with alarming regularity, Fergie tightened things up over the course of a few relatively drab performances.
The match against Swansea today gives David Moyes an opportunity to move quickly on from the disappointment of losing to Tottenham Hotspur on New Year's Day, and the FA Cup could come as something of a relief to the beleaguered manager.
What is most crucial is that United do not loses another home game. So, the fullbacks need to make defending their primary duty, the central midfielders need to offer improved protection for the back four, and the wide men need to track back where necessary.
This may all sound pathetically simple, and indeed it is. Yet it is amazing what a few simple, solid, perhaps a little dull, one-nil victories can do for team's morale. Not to mention a manager's.
Follow Paul on Twitter, @PaulGunning1.