Down and Out, Where do we go from here?
Manchester United tonight suffered their first defeat to Greek opposition. Moyes and his players were comprehensively outplayed over the 90 minutes and deservedly lost. On another night it may have been by a bigger margin as leadership was evidently lacking amongst the players. It really did appear as if Moyes has lost the confidence of the players.
Disappointing team news was read in the absence of Kagawa and Januzaj. The later may have been rested due to the scale of the match along with atmosphere and his lack of experience but given the creative wake of destruction that Kagawa left in Leverkusen, their joint omission was surprising. It was also a surprise to see the ageing duo of Vidic and Ferdinand start again at the centre of defence for consecutive matches.
The first half was one filled with much frustration. With the performance abject, lacklustre and uncreative at best. Again we saw vivid evidence of the 4-4-2 formation that Moyes seems determined to proceed with. After Patrice Evra was given an early booking for a dubious handball, Rio Ferdinand gave a good account of his legs no longer being at their best. It is by no means my intention to slate Rio Ferdinand but he looks a shadow of his former self this season.
The all round play was almost angering to watch. Standing off the ball, constantly playing it backwards were all signs that Moyes was playing for the draw. As we continued to show them too much respect, Rooney and Van Persie were dropping deep to search for the ball.
Aside from a few half chances coming from an Evra cross and a Young through ball that went out of play, creativity was nowhere to be seen on the pitch. It took until the 16th minute for United to muster a shot on goal, as Tom Cleverley blazed over from a corner. Too often attacking positions were squandered before the ball knocked all the way back to De Gea. There were no signs of passion, intent or desire amongst the eleven men, where was the leader?
Poor play was made to count when on 37 minutes, a deflected shot from Domingo wriggled past the outstretched palm of De Gea. It was a goal that summed up a lamentable first half for United, with they perhaps to only be one goal down. You could almost see the half time team talk as Moyes brands the players “unlucky” but to try more crosses. Given that these tactics haven’t worked, it was again evident that a brief chanced attack down the middle might be worth a go.
The second 45 failed to offer any improvement. Even from kick off a poor pass from Cleverley across his own penalty area added to any existing woe. There was no evidence of the sloppy play disappearing as midfield continued to easily give away possession. The night went from bad to worse on 55 minutes. Poor marking from Carrick allowed on loan Arsenal Winger Joel Campbell to curl in a fine finish from 25 yards past a flailing De Gea. As shock settled in, so came the expectant changes, Kagawa and Welbeck replacing the woeful pair of Valencia and Cleverley.
Did the goal signal a shift in play? A level of intent and determination as United looked to rescue either a point or snatch an away goal? Far from it. Instead the ball was hoofed forward in search of Van Persie with ugly football becoming more and more evident. Then came another half chance at goal. Work from Young down the right saw a cross palmed away with Welbeck sticking a leg out in vain hope of catching a rebound. Seconds later came the best chance of the game. Smalling beat the offside to find the on running Van Persie, before chaos struck. After a cushioned first touch to take the pace of the ball, the Dutchman then leant back and fired wildly over the bar.
The remaining embers of the game only saw United continue their poor run. The sole remaining parts of which were quickly being put out. Perhaps the brightest moment of the game came as the clock struck 90. A sprightly run through the middle from Kagawa hinted at the glimpses of form that he so regularly showed for Dortmund. Where can we go from here? As the final whistle blew it was as if they were being put out of their misery.
Where do/can/will United’s season from here. The season has now been all but a write off but are there any positives to take from it? His stubborn nature to persist with a 4-4-2 is finally being showed that it can’t work on the pitch. The image of Kagawa hugging the touch-line late on best illustrates the failings in the current side. Playing class individuals out of position is hardly going to inspire them. Tonight illustrated all of the above. Three goals are now needed to save the European ambition. The players looked demotivated and as if the shirt meant nothing. With such a long period until the next game, plenty of thought and reflection is needed before the challenge of West Brom.