Man United: Weak, Incompetent & Embarrassing, It's Almost Time For Moyes To Go
Sport is cruel. Indeed, its inherent cruelty is a crucial ingredient in what makes it so compelling. As spectators, we watch with morbid fascination as weaknesses are first exposed, then exploited with cold detachment before our eyes.
The Britannia Stadium was host not only to a football match on Saturday, but also to a very human drama. As the scale of Manchester United's problems was laid bare, and our players were bullied like babies in a bear-pit, it became an increasingly harrowing spectacle watching David Moyes on the sidelines, as he tore his greying hair from his head in despair.
Many prestigious scalps have been taken at the home of Stoke City since their promotion to the Premier League, and the conditions could not have bee more appropriate for the mauling Moyes' men were subjected to. It may not have been a Tuesday night, but cold, wet and windy it most certainly was. All that was missing, by the time the referee blew his final whistle, was the unleashing of the hounds of hell to pursue the beleaguered champions off the premises.
United fans have had to put up with their fair share of dross so far this season, made all the more difficult by our having been spoon-fed success for so long, but this plummeted new depths and left many of us feeling as bitterly enraged as the brutal elements. Moyes' decision to start with Juan Mata on the right wing, with centre back, Phil Jones, behind him and right back, Rafael, on the bench, was just one baffling decision he made on a day that was littered with them.
The Scot could perhaps cite mitigating circumstances for what followed, in the shape of early injuries to two of his back four, yet the sight of Danny Welbeck entering the fray to replace Jones, causing a re-shuffle that saw Wayne Rooney dropping back into a midfield already shorn of make-shift central defender, Michael Carrick, while Darren Fletcher remained huddled on the bench, was staggering. Perhaps Fletcher was thought to be too unfit, or too tired, or too lightweight to take part but, if that was the case, why have him on the bench in the first place?
The entire fiasco screamed, yet again, of dire incompetence, as a team brimming with talent pounded Stoke's penalty box with crosses that the home side swatted aside with embarrassing ease. It is simply unacceptable that, in the face of squaring up to a team renowned for their aerial prowess and agricultural style, the English champions' only response was to emulate such medieval tactics themselves. It would be unimaginable to think that the likes of Barcelona would be reduced to such an approach, despite their own famous lack of brutishness and brawn.
This is far from the first time we have been so ragged. Time and again we find ourselves watching in horror as both players and manager react to adversity with the reckless, dishevelled abandon of a pack of rabid dogs chasing a lorry.
Bemoaning the same deficiencies week after disheartening week is becoming tiresome for United fans. The lack of leadership; the total absence of tactics; the festering wound of our central midfield; and the floundering incoherence of Moyes' ludicrous excuses and outlandish claims of being the 'better team' or succumbing to simple bad luck.
I wrote, after Mata's first match, that his presence in the team, while welcome, also served to magnify the squad's more pressing deficiencies. Seeing him utilised as an old-school right winger against Stoke now leaves us harbouring doubts that his new manager has the slightest idea of how best to use the Spaniard's considerable gifts. The fear is that Mata, like so many of his new team-mates, will be sucked into the swirling vortex of rank mediocrity that has taken hold of our club. As honeymoon periods go, his signing has been painfully short-lived.
Manchester United's fans have so far been remarkably understanding and admirably patient with their new manager, but for how much longer remains to be seen. Suggesting that he has inherited a squad in need of wholesale rebuilding is wearing extremely thin as the gulf in class, not just between us and our rivals, but between us and ourselves from this time last year, grows more chasm-like with each grim display.
Sport is indeed cruel and, on a purely human level, it is impossible not to sympathise with Ferguson's successor. There is, however, little room for sympathy in an arena where the stakes are so high and the repercussions of a fall from the top so great.