When United won their 13th Premier League trophy last April, their 20th league title, it would have been unthinkable that the same team would be in such disarray just 11 months later. United never mounted a defence of that title under Moyes, which is just about forgivable. Finishing outside the top four is not.
And so, with just 11 Premier League games remaining, it seems pertinent to take a look at why this season has shown that Moyes is not the man to lead United forward.
Tactics, Tactics, Tactics
There have been a number of problems with United this season—injuries, underperforming players and transfer market activity being some of the most prominent—but Moyes’ tactical shortcomings have been the most detrimental.
Moyes’ proclivity to line up in a more traditional 4-4-1-1, with an emphasis on width, is predictable, ineffective and outdated. Players like Robin van Persie, Wayne Rooney, Adnan Januzaj and Juan Mata are more than capable of playing in a more fluid, interchangeable 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1, and yet, Moyes has stuck with his favoured four-man midfield.
That decision has seen Ashley Young and Antonio Valencia relied upon out wide. Given the aforementioned quartet, it’s baffling that Moyes prefers to line up in a formation that leaves some of his star players on the fringes of the game.
Ultimately, United have looked lethargic under Moyes. We’ve been waiting for a noticeable change in approach and attitude, but it hasn’t happened.
A Question of Time for United and Moyes
In the same way that United have fallen from grace in less than a year, it would take them more or less the same period of time to claw their way back into the Premier League title race. If they stick with Moyes, that is.
The Scot would need to spend big in the summer and completely restructure the team. It would be a lengthy process.
A new manager, however, could bring in one or two new faces and inject some energy into an otherwise lifeless side. That’s what the best managers do.
Really, the United board face a tricky conundrum. If they stick by Moyes, then it will be a long, arduous road to recovery. If they act during the summer and opt for a manager with a proven record, though, then next season could see United back where they belong.
Is Moyes out of His Depth?
The wider context to United’s failure this season is the appointment of a manager who has never won a noteworthy piece of silverware—unless you count his Community Shield win this season, or his Second Division title he won with Preston North End in 2000, that is.
Moyes said all the right things at the start of the season, of course. Graeme Yorke of the Daily Mail had the quotes from the Scot, before a ball was kicked back in July:
When you are at Manchester United my thinking is you have to go for everything, you attempt to win everything. Maybe you miss out sometimes, but you have to try to win all the trophies. I’ve done it everywhere else I’ve been and I’ll certainly do it here because I have a bigger squad, quality players and a club with the tradition of being used to winning things.
Except things haven’t really worked out like that. Instead, United look set to miss out on all four major trophies, without even mustering a challenge in one of them. That speaks volumes. Equally concerning is the suggestion that Moyes has already lost the support of his players. ESPN’s Raphael Honigstein has the latest on that front:
Two disappointing transfer windows (Juan Mata aside), three competitions out of reach by March and a fight for fourth place. It hardly screams of a manager comfortable in charge of the reigning Premier League champions, does it?
Moyes took charge of one of the top three or four clubs in the world and, sadly, he's looked out of his depth.
So What Will Happen to Moyes?
Well, the answer to that question will depend on what happens in the next two months. Overturning a first-leg defeat to Olympiakos in the Champions League, paired with an unbeaten end to the season in the Premier League, would probably be enough to keep Moyes at the Old Trafford helm.
But, for many, the damage has already been done.
There has been little to suggest that Moyes can lead United to domestic or European glory any time soon, which is what his job demands. Talk of transition and life after Sir Alex Ferguson would not have been so easily bandied about had Mourinho, Pep Guardiola or Jurgen Klopp taken over.
That much is without question.
And so, perhaps the Glazers would be better off thinking about life after Moyes, because it’s abundantly clear that even if he does manage to turn things around, it won’t happen any time soon. That cutthroat attitude is lambasted in modern-day football, but it’s the reality of the situation.
United would be better off without Moyes in charge.