Tony Wilson defined the appeal of Joy Division as articulating something more than the “f*ck off” of punk. In that spirit, now we have all had a good rant, how do we think Manchester United can get back on track?
Despite the shock of seeing United lose three games already, nothing is decided in September and, as for our rivals, it is not like City or Chelsea do not have issues to ponder as well while Arsenal and Tottenham have much to prove.
If we set a short term target of a respectable title challenge with a top four spot as the absolute minimum and a longer term target of closing the gap on the best in Europe, what should Moyes do to increase his chances of meeting those objectives?
1. Formation. We currently have the worst of both worlds – impotent in attack and leaking goals. The components of the team look isolated at times with the back four exposed, our star striker struggling to get into the game and the midfield overrun in defence and struggling to contribute offensively beyond playing it out to wide players who are either struggling for form, inadequate or inexperienced.
The obvious answer would be to adopt a more compact, narrow formation and move away from our classic wing play to a more fluid style involving Cleverley, Kagawa and a deeper sitting Rooney with Nani encouraged to move in from the right as well. Rafael and Evra could provide the width.
2. Identify your best players. Switching to the style described above is easier said than done but it would be helped by consistency in team selection. This approach also makes a virtue out of necessity since, with the Premier League showing greater strength in depth as the money flows in, the days have gone when United could field a reserve team and expect to win.
Moyes should identify this core group together with key back ups. If this means less squad rotation than usual with the increased risk of burn out, so be it at least for this season. I doubt we’ll be involved in the latter stages (beyond last 16) of the Champions League anyway.
3. Freeze out the consistent under performers. The flip side of point two but I can’t see any value in giving more game time to the likes of Anderson. Players should either be performing at a high level or demonstrate potential to reach that level.
The difficult part is distinguishing a period of bad form from genuine inadequacy. For example, is Rio Ferdinand finished at top level or just going through a bad spell? In any case, players in this indeterminate category need to be taken out of the firing line for a while rather than being constantly picked.
4. Play hard ball with the owners in January/next summer. The first three posts attempt to put a positive light on things but there’s no doubt there has been under investment in the squad as United have slipped back from the glory days of 2008.
Without serious investment, Moyes’ tenure is likely to be nasty, brutish and short as he tries to meet very high expectations without the resources to achieve them. He knows what is needed so if Woodward and the owners won’t loosen the purse strings, he should be prepared to issue a ‘back me or sack me’ ultimatum.
5. Manage the media. Just as the Pope is indeed Catholic, the British media are a pack of bastards. Nothing sells copy like a crisis and when the crisis involves United, it’s no surprise reporting of Moyes at United is being framed through a narrative of “over promoted manager destroying Fergie’s legacy.”
Moyes is currently inadvertently pouring petrol on this fire by giving honest, reasonable answers to questions such as his Champions League musings that have now warped into ‘we can’t win the Champions League’.
He needs to realise he can’t be as open as he was at Everton and start framing his answers accordingly. If this requires outside media consultancy, the club should not be shy about bringing in somebody to make that happen.
What do you think David Moyes should change to get Manchester United back on track? Leave your comments below.