2013 has got to be the most memorable year as a whole for Manchester United football club and their supporters for several reasons. Both right and wrong. A year that was both eventful and uneventful. In May 2013, the club lifted its 20th league title which happened to be an English record for the most number of titles won by a single club in English top flight. The same month, the club announced the retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson, quite simply the man who made it all happen, who changed the lives of the supporters of Manchester United and clubs elsewhere around the country. There was much talk about the person he hand-picked to succeed him, to fill in those enviable shoes of his; a fellow Scot that goes by the name David Moyes. The appointment did garner mixed responses and reactions. From branding it a ‘safe’ option to carry the club forward to questioning the ability to win trophies with such incredible consistency.
David Moyes and the changes that followed
Though a lot of fans would have wanted a person of Jose Mourinho/Jurgen Klopp’s calibre to take over the reigns from Sir Alex, I felt the club was right to hand it over to David Moyes, a manager who has neither won a trophy with Everton nor has the experience in managing European games. He’s said to have never felt the pressure of winning every single game whilst at Everton (no disrespect) and he always had to work with limited funds there. At Manchester United, he was going to let his team play in front of 76,000 week-in week-out with the fans’ expectations sky high every game, the media and critics on the social networking sites ever so ready to pounce on the club after every defeat, writing the club’s chances off every single time. With the departure of club’s ex-Chief Executive David Gill who had played a major role in all of club’s influential transfers, his deputy Mr.Ed ‘the woody’ Woodward took over and has been failing miserably ever since. In what turned out to be one of the worst summer transfer windows in recent times, Manchester United managed to sign several sponsorship deals ranging from Apollo tyres to Aeroflot to Chinese soft drinks company Wahaha in June and July yet only one notable player; midfielder Marouane Fellaini on the deadline day, in a deal worth £27.5 million.
David Moyes did want to stamp his authority on the club and its performances. He wanted Manchester United to play the game the way he feels right. Hence, the entire backroom staff were replaced by Moyes’ own men – Steve Round, Jimmy Lumsden and Chris Woods. In addition to that, he roped in former homegrown lad Phil Neville to assist him and gave Ryan Giggs the coaching duties – a move that was lauded by many.
The transition was complete.
Wayne Rooney and a Few Other Positives
Rooney was the name that constantly featured in the papers for handing in a second transfer request in three years. With Chelsea having bid for him a couple of times (both the bids were rejected) before Mourinho claimed it was ‘unethical’ to talk about him right before the game at Old Trafford, things were about to go from bad to worse. Fortunately, Rooney had made his mind to stay at the club and what a player he has been so far! Numbers don’t lie, they say. He’s got 9 assists (Highest in Europe’s top 5 leagues) and 9 goals for the team. Thereby, he’s contributed to 18 of the team’s 33 goals this season (55%) already. For all his lack of commitment off the pitch, he’s proved his doubters wrong. Wayne Rooney has literally shouldered the burden in the absence of Robin Van Persie and has been the club’s best player by a country mile. Though a contract extension is unlikely given the team is languishing in mid-table at this stage, he cannot afford to miss one last bumper contract that would see him top the payroll for the next 5 years.
Adnan Januzaj has been stealing the show of late with remarkable match-winning performances, sometimes match-saving too. The Belgian, born in Kosovo who could also play for England (apparently?) settled much quicker than people thought, lighting up the otherwise dull Old Trafford crowd with glimpses of brilliance. His well constructed brace against Sunderland at the Stadium of Light was kind of an announcement to the masses that he was sure to become one of the best players in the future. If he could only reduce his urge to dive or simulate as well as keep his head down and do his job, Manchester United can confidently hand that #7 shirt to him to carry on the legacy that is associated with it. The latest of the positives this season is the return of Darren Fletcher. An inspiration, a role model every player in the dressing room should look up to. His mere presence should provide us the spark to win games.
Hapless Home Games
Old Trafford has become a difficult place to get three points. Yes, even Manchester United cannot do it. Title winning teams are normally very strong at home. They win almost every home game and pressurize the teams around them. United’s cross-town rivals Manchester City have been doing exactly the same. Though some of their away performances were shocking, they can sort that out eventually. United on the other hand, have lost 6 games already in the league in which 4 of them were at Old Trafford. Before this season, United had lost 9 home games in the last 9 campaigns.
It is not the results that are worrying, it’s the way the team got beat in those games that worries the fans. Losses to West Brom, Everton, Newcastle, Tottenham AT HOME before the turn of new year is abject to say the least. Add to that, a home loss to Swansea in the FA Cup which eventually dumped them out of the competition. There were times, when teams lost at Old Trafford even before they played. Once you lose the aura of invincibility, you will have to dig deep every game to get the maximum points out of it. And United lack both the quality and quantity to see out games and come away unscathed.
Lack of Creativity
Manchester United’s lack of a creative midfielder has been forcing them to play wide against almost all the teams they have faced so far. The club notably has had some prolific wingers in the past in Giggs (younger version), Beckham, Kanchelskis, and Ronaldo who set up a lot of goals in addition to scoring them. The current crop are no match to what they had and this has to be said. Manchester United top the Premier League for crosses per game, swinging in an average of 26.65 of them in their 20 league games so far this season. In the New Year’s Day defeat at home to Tottenham, they took their idea to new heights. A whopping 47 crosses were lobbed goal-wards for Vlad Chiriches and Michael Dawson to deal with. That was a United high for the season and more than in any game they played last term. But, it isn’t proving an efficient use of the ball in the final third.
This is precisely the area of the field where the best teams will play an intricate through-ball to find a breakthrough. It leads to better quality opportunities and United are eschewing plenty of them: 423 of the 533 crosses hurled in have failed to find their target (again, a League high). That’s 423 chances to do something better in the last third that have been wasted.
So far, United’s wide men Young and Valencia share a crossing accuracy of an astounding 19% for a team that relies so much on crosses and wide-men. Unsurprising results, really.
At the moment, it looks like the fans are going to witness a four horse race for the 4th spot, with Liverpool, Everton, Tottenham competing with United. And Manchester United can only boost their chances of achieving Champions League qualification, if and only if they invest in the January transfer window. And as usual, we will have to wait to watch the second half of the season unfurl.