Sir Alex Ferguson giveth, and now he must taketh away.
After Manchester United's 3-0 loss to Liverpool at Old Trafford on Sunday, it has become clear that Ferguson, if asked, has to do what’s best for the club, even if it means giving his friend and chosen successor a vote of no-confidence.
As we all know, Moyes was Ferguson's hand-picked successor when the latter retired last year after more than 26 years in charge. Looking back on the decision, Ferguson probably appreciated Moyes' work ethic and attention to detail, as well as his record on a tight budget at Everton. But I hope that, after what we've all witnessed, Ferguson is not going to defend Moyes simply because he was Ferguson’s choice.
I hope Ferguson understands and sees what’s happening. For the good of United, he has to recognize that the decision he made was perhaps wrong. Nobody wants to see Moyes fail, as he seems like a nice enough man, but maybe it's time for someone to put him out of his misery, and he may even welcome that.
Let’s look at the facts.
Manchester United are the defending Premier League champions, and Liverpool last season were nowhere near them. But after Sunday's result, the swing between United and Liverpool this season stands at 43 points, as reported by The Guardian's Jamie Jackson.
But on Sunday, United were outplayed every way possible, at Old Trafford of all places, against their biggest rival bar none. Remember, this was against a team that, according to Ferguson's autobiography, needed eight more players to be considered title contenders. That, to me, is mind-boggling, and I'm not sure where that leaves United.
Against Liverpool, Moyes was out-coached from the first whistle. When I think of United at their best in seasons past, especially at home, I think of an aggressive, fast-paced team with very dangerous wingers that maintain width.
It’s inconceivable to me that United or Moyes would even think of playing Adnan Januzaj and Juan Mata in wide positions against a team like Liverpool. These two players not only don’t have the pace needed for the wings, but both also drift inside and look to be playmakers.
Against Liverpool, who have superb pace in transition, it was an incredible ask for Mata and Januzaj to track back consistently and help out full-backs Patrice Evra and Rafael.
From time to time, Liverpool have players like Luis Suarez, Daniel Sturridge and Raheem Sterling drift into the wide areas, which of course is simply unfair on opposing defenses at the best of times. But certainly with players like Mata and Januzaj on the wings, it's too much to handle.
Even though Ashley Young and Antonio Valencia haven’t been at their best this season, at least they could give you a bit of pace and, in the case of Valencia, physicality. Heck, even Danny Welbeck for me would have played a better role out wide, which is something he has done from time to time.
Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers threw Moyes a curveball as well with Sterling playing at the tip of an attacking diamond—which I imagine Moyes did not foresee. But even though Sterling played extremely well in that position, I actually think that Liverpool can be more devastating in a 4-3-3 with Sterling out wide.
Here’s the thing, though: Sterling playing centrally was a great move by Rodgers because it occupied the two central defenders in Phil Jones and Nemanja Vidic. Without Sterling in the middle, Jones and Vidic might have had a better chance to help the full-backs in the wide areas.
But Moyes did not make the proper adjustments, which meant that Marouane Fellaini and Michael Carrick not only had to split the pitch in half and help Mata and Januzaj in wide areas—which is normal—but they also had to deal with Sterling running in between the lines behind them.
Moyes could have changed the shape—which would have meant dropping Wayne Rooney deeper—or he could have added width pace and physicality by withdrawing either Januzaj or Mata with the likes of Valencia. That potentially would have allowed either Fellaini or Carrick to focus on Sterling and not worry as much about the wide players running through.
Quite simply, United were overwhelmed by pace, a lack of tactical adjustments and the numbers that they had to deal with going forward. For Moyes to fail to make his first substitution until the 76th minute shows that either he did not read what was happening in the game, or that he was afraid—which in my opinion was the case—to withdraw some of his underperforming stars.
This, for me, is the gist of the matter, because his authority has been undermined by the results. Moyes can't give players the hairdryer treatment like Ferguson, because if someone like Rooney or Robin van Persie is unhappy, Moyes could be done. The thing he has to do is keep players happy, but he’s doing that at the expense of the team.
What we have to ask is, are there any players that have improved under Moyes? The answer, simply, is no. There isn't one player that I can think of that has thrived under him.
Mata hasn't had much time, but he's been worse since his move from Chelsea.
Van Persie, injuries or not, is nowhere near his best.
Rooney got his payday but again is looking off-pace.
Carrick, who’s been a very reliable passer on this team, can't put passes together.
You could make a case for Welbeck, who has been scoring, but he hasn't been rewarded for his displays and instead sits on the bench.
I have to give Moyes some credit for Januzaj, but again, in recent matches he’s been nowhere near where he was early on. Admittedly, his age might have something to do with that inconsistency.
Young, Valencia, Shinji Kagawa and Chicharito are, for the most part, forgotten men. And if they haven't been forgotten, then they aren't capable of getting the job done.
Finally, the most experienced player, and the biggest leader, Ryan Giggs, doesn't even make the bench. I am sure that there are 15, 20 or 30 minutes here and there in which Giggs would be of value to United in critical moments.
I realize it’s easy for all of us to pile pressure on any manager from miles away. But given the reality of the situation, I don’t see how a club like United can be led in this transitional period by a man with a questionable pedigree.
Having said all that, I still think that the biggest problem that Moyes has is Roberto Martinez, his successor at Everton. The difference in progress, in terms of style of play and change within the same period of time for both managers, is vast and undeniable.
Martinez's flexibility is something that Moyes lacks, and it’s being proven at Everton, even though Moyes deserves credit for what he accomplished there.
With what we know now, it's probably not a coincidence that Wigan not only won the FA Cup last season, but also that they are doing so well again this time. Even though the Latics dropped to the Championship last season, Martinez laid a solid foundation at the club, and reaching the FA Cup semi-finals again this season, even without him, shows that his work is paying dividends.
So in closing, I have not enjoyed one sentence that’s written here because it pains me to see Moyes and his expression on the touchline, as he’s obviously expecting a lot more from the players. But ultimately, he has to take responsibility for not inspiring them to greater heights.
I think, to a degree, we were all skeptical when the announcement first came, as Moyes had no pedigree in winning trophies. When I think of Manchester United, I used to always think of them as being capable of getting the best players in the world. When it comes time to get a new manager, United have to be looking at the best available managers as well.
The days of the likes of Ferguson and Arsene Wenger are gone. In my lifetime there will not be another manager in the Premier League that will stay with one club for so long. Times are simply different, and financial pressures do not allow managers to develop. It would be silly in general to think that there would be another Sir Alex Ferguson anyway.
But regardless of who’s going to be in charge next season, it is incredibly thoughtless for some to be condemning Manchester United to several years without success. Be careful when you make those statements, because although United are not too big to fail, I think that they will fix this relatively quickly.