Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Moyes Departure Leaves United At A Crossroads.

The David Moyes era (does ten months count as an era?) came to a sticky end at the hands of his former Toffees. In the most cruel of ways, the return to his old comfort zone coincided with the arrival at boiling point of the pressures he had been under since taking on the formidable task of replacing Sir Alex Ferguson as Manchester United boss.

The display he presided over was all the more hard to swallow, given that he was just beginning to show signs of adapting to the Man United way (at least in his team selection, maybe not in tactics). Juan Mata and Shinji Kagawa were starting to strike up an understanding, and the recent 4-0 romp over Newcastle also saw Adnan Januzaj deployed to complete an exciting attacking midfield trio.

Yet at Goodison Park, United were lethargic, lacking in movement, and worst of all, utterly beaten once going a goal down. Moyes' side had a good record after taking the lead, but have been hopeless at rescuing lost causes, Olympiakos over two legs aside.

Most significantly of all, the Everton defeat left Champions League football out of reach, and even a Europa League slot looking unlikely. The final confirmation of United's downfall proved to be the same for Moyes, as he paid the price for a slump of alarming speed. Truthfully, the damage was done in the most harrowing of winters. Cup defeats to Swansea, Sunderland, both at home, plus the Stamford Bridge hammering, were signs that Moyes was losing support fast.

With Moyes now consigned to history, perhaps this is now the time to finally move on from the past. In the cack-handed way that United handled his departure, they suddenly resembled almost every other Premier League club in recent memory. Chelsea, Spurs, and Man City all have managerial fiascos to be ashamed of, yet the 26-year reign of Fergie was held up almost as a beacon to be learnt from. The moral high-ground lay resolutely at Old Trafford, but it is easy to act high and mighty when you have someone like Fergie in charge. Had he retired in 2002, as he threatened to, United may yet have turned out as unstable and as volatile a proposition as Chelsea and City have proved to be.

Now the soon-to-be-deposed champions must adapt to life in the wilderness. They must no longer crave stability for the sake of it. They must find a manager worthy of sticking with. Admirable as Moyes' achievements at Everton were, they were in a completely different environment, and he quickly proved unable to match the expectations of the board and fans. He may have been working with a weaker squad than last season suggested, but there are many managers out there who would have made a better fist of it. It is hard to imagine Mourinho, Guardiola, or Klopp, spending £70m on a Chelsea misfit and Fellani.

Moyes may have got it right, given time. Yet the same could be said of any failed manager at any level. Roy Hodgson may yet have turned around his fortunes at Liverpool, but what further damage could have been done before then? In today's short-term and media-driven football world, a point of no return is sadly reached much quicker than it used to be. The only thing to save a manager is results, and as long as there are league tables, we will continue to see half the managers get sacked each season. Eventually, only the table-topping coaches will survive, and even then there will be discontent if they don't score 100 goals in the process.

Who would be a football manager? The pay-offs may be lucrative, but is it worth the endless bashing? One thing is for sure, only Van Gaal, Guardiola, Mourinho, or Klopp will satisfy an Old Trafford crowd crying out for some strong leadership. The ship is off course, but as Liverpool have demonstrated this year, any drifting vessel can be turned around through one inspirational captain. One can only hope Moyes finds one small enough for him to handle. There are a number of bottom-half clubs who are probably rubbing their hands in glee at the Scot's availability.

It was an opportunity he couldn't turn down, but the past must be laid to rest. So too must Fergie's involvement in club affairs at Old Trafford. There is a place for him in an ambassadorial level, for sure, but any new manager can have nothing to do with the old legend. Moyes is no shrinking violet, but as the image of Giggs, Scholes, Butt, and Phil Neville taking today's training session shows, there is just too much baggage as it is.

The next move remains fascinating. Who will United turn to next?

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Manchester United 1-1 Bayern Munich

Manchester United's European hopes remain alive going into the away leg against Bayern Munich after a gutsy 1-1 draw at Old Trafford.

 Nemanja Vidic raised hopes of an unlikely victory with a 58th minute header, but that lead only lasted nine minutes, with Bastian Schweinsteiger sweeping home on the half-volley.The German then harshly saw red in the final minute of normal time, receiving a second yellow for a challenge that Wayne Rooney made more than a meal of. He will join Javi Martinez on the sidelines for the return leg, after the makeshift defender saw a yellow card that triggers suspension.

The first half played out how many predicted it would, minus the expected boat-load of Bayern Munich goals. The away side, like many at the home of the soon-to-be-unseated Premier League champions, enjoyed the bulk of possession, with their share reaching an eye-watering 79% for the first half. Despite that, David De Gea only had one strenuous save to make, with a fine diving stop from an Arjen Robben effort keeping the score at 0-0.

As the half wore on, while Bayern remained camped in the United half, the home side were occasionally dangerous on the counter attack. Danny Welbeck had already seen a third-minute goal disallowed, somewhat harshly for a high foot, but he had another chance to open the scoring. Clean through on goal, he tried an optimistic chip over Bayern keeper Manuel Neuer when he should have merely slotted it past the on-rushing keeper.

In reality, the away side never got out of second gear, happy to patiently probe at a timid United side, but beleagured boss David Moyes smelt blood, sending Shinji Kagawa on for the aged Ryan Giggs. While Kagawa had little influence on the game as a whole, there was a greater intensity about the home side, and Vidic's guided header from a Rooney corner was on balance deserved.

Any side that is already Bundesliga champions for the season, not to mention the Champions League holders, always has something in their locker however, and Schweinsteiger's equaliser from Mario Mandzukic's knock-down should not be begrudged. Man United would have been lucky to see out the game without conceding, but Moyes will be thrilled to have avoided defeat in this toughest of European tests.

For United to operate on the counter was entirely understandable, and some would argue that this was Moyes in his comfort zone, as the home side were expected to play in their shell, but there can be few complaints with the overall display.

Bayern Munich undoubtedly had complaints about the refereeing display, as they felt Antonio Valencia should have been sent off for an admittedly dicey challenge. The referee Carlos Velasco Carballo saw it as a 50/50 coming-together, but for Schweinsteiger to then be sent off for a challenge that had the strong whiff of a Rooney dive would have stuck in the German craws a bit.

Man United must play with more adventure in Munich, as the away goal they conceded will prove their un-doing if things remain the same, but the more resigned and pessimistic among the Old Trafford support will be grateful to still be competitive. This Man United season isn't over just yet.