It’s very important to maintain a solid base level of objectivity I feel, for the sake of the informative integrity of the match previews I write. It would however, be totally dishonest of me to pretend that I find the travails of Manchester Utd this season anything other than entirely hilarious. And the same goes for the invective upsurges of fickleness and insecurity emanating from the club’s fan base, the majority of which are learning to cope with failure for the first time in their supporting careers. It isn’t hard to understand their frustration in fairness. For not only is their team losing, and losing at home and losing at home in painfully flat matches; but losing at home in painfully flat matches, having been comprehensively outplayed by mediocre sides – something which even the most prudent/realistic fan couldn’t have been prepared for at the beginning of the season.
I feel annoyed however that discussion of David Moyes and his work so far has become so polarised recently, into two trains of thought – one which depicts the Scot as an incompetent moron and utterly out of his depth; whilst the other exonerates him of almost all blame and asks ‘what more could he be doing with such a poor squad’?
Personally I think people should try harder to find a balance between these two propositions. The squad is an undeniably poor mixture of aging, unmotivated and unqualified players and Moyes was certainly left with a lot to work out. But having said that, firstly no one can deny his performance in the summer transfer market was terrible – he must be kicking himself in hindsight to have arrived without a much clearer idea of the status of the squad, where it needs strengthening and who might be available. But more importantly, it can’t be argued this current Man Utd team is worse than any Everton side he ever coached in 11 years on Merseyside; in which time I can hardly recall the Toffees being as feeble and lacking in tenaciousness as United are now. Since the beginning of 2014, I actually think the 2013 champions have been the least impressive, most disorganised team off the ball in the entire Premier League. So those saying Moyes is doing as reasonable a job as could be expected, given the circumstances, are talking some serious nonsense in my opinion.
In comparison, our current form/overall position looks positively peachy. There has been a massively noticeable change in our performances since the League Cup defeat to Sunderland, when Mourinho effectively drew a line under this attempt at to committing to a more proactive style of play and began to focus on forming a side more defensively adept. Since then, not only have we conceded only once in six games, but we’ve also become much more efficient going forward, creating certainly no fewer chances than before and taking them much more confidently.
The change in approach has also seen an obvious change in Mourinho himself. Having reverted back to more trusted methods, more or less finally settling on a best XI and with the added professionalism and consistency in Eden Hazard’s performances, the Portuguese, for the first time this year, is beginning to look and sound like a coach who feels his players have the collective intrepidity to go all the way in a race to the title with Man City.
It hardly needs saying, but the diminishment to the overall quality of Manchester Utd’s starting XI caused by the absence of Wayne Rooney and Robin Van Persie, is simply immense. The ease with which Darren Fletcher has walked back into the side, and the speed with which Adnan Januzaj has become such a key player for his manager, demonstrate aptly how desperately bereft of true quality their midfield is. That they were patently unable to cope with movement of the gifted but raw, Ross Barkley in their home defeat to Everton, makes me wonder how on earth they’ll manage to deal with Eden Hazard and Oscar in their respective current form.
For ourselves, I think there’s virtually no chance of Jose making chances to the back or front four which have been so solidly impressive in this run of victories since boxing day. The only real selection decision he has to make is who partners Ramires in midfield? Mikel has proven his reliability in big matches on numerous occasions and would be the more sensible choice over having David Luiz play out of position once again. Alternatively, if deemed ready to play, Sunday could be the perfect chance for Nemanja Matic to make his debut and his mark on the Premier League, by giving Shinji Kagawa hell all afternoon.
Match-Ups of Potential Consequence:
Ashley Cole vs Antonio Valencia – Our ability to deal with crosses meant the number of times Cole was beaten by Ahmed Elmohamady on the outside against Hull City was an all but irrelevant aspect of the game. The ease with which the Egyptian went past him in the first half is a real cause for concern however – a good performance from Antonio Valencia could be enough for United to get a result.
Eden Hazard vs Chris Smalling/Rafael – Whoever starts at right back on Sunday, Eden Hazard is likely to have his usual big impact on the game. Naturally being a centre-half, Chris Smalling tends to defend quite narrowly which could potentially mean more space for the Belgian to operate. Whilst last year, Rafael’s ridiculous kick out at David Luiz exemplified the sort of potential for recklessness any marker of Eden Hazard you’d have thought needs very much not to have.
Welbeck vs Cahill & Terry – Credit to the young English forward, who in a difficult season has taken the opportunity presented to play centre forward really impressively, showing a sense of responsibility and commitment largely lacking from his side’s overall displays. Our English centre half pairing are looking solid at the moment though. Petr Cech has been in great form for a while now also, conceding only twice in nine games.
The clear advantage we enjoy in terms of form and quality (especially in midfield) makes it difficult to predict anything other than a Chelsea victory. Provided we aren’t as needlessly cautious as we were at Old Trafford in August, you’d expect Ramires and Oscar to be largely in control of the midfield throughout and so as long as we’re able to deal with the counter attacks and set pieces, I think we’ll be alright. We should of course be wary of over-confidence however, despite almost every factor being in our favour; only a fool would count out Manchester United – even when if they’re this shit.