When David Moyes was officially announced as the next Manchester United manager, one attribute that stuck out in comparison with Sir Alex Ferguson was his ability to set-up a well organised team. Sir Alex frequently relied on a possession based game and had the flair to send players out to play a certain way week-in, week-out. On the other hand, the expectations at Everton always meant Moyes had to be tactically astute and adapt to who he was playing and where.
However, since taking over, Moyes seems to have been sapped of his ability to change into another gear or up the tempo at a whim. Of course, the squad needs reinforcing as Moyes himself has said but the lack of flexibility is startling. The squad is not full of one-hit wonders. They are fully established, experienced players but what has resulted in a unfortunate run in the Premier League so far this season?
The first issue is possession. United are usually reliant on ball players and this has always aided their ability of keeping the ball. Especially at home, United are always expected to control the game with their passing whilst also dictating the tempo and pace of the football. However, Moyes has been setting the team up with a quite rigid 4-4-2 more often than not.
Having two outstanding strikers like Robin van Persie and Wayne Rooney would force any manager to fit them into their starting XI but Moyes seems to have neglected certain qualities they both possess, which has a severe knock-on effect on the balance of the team. By playing Rooney alongside van Persie, the gap between midfield and attack is wider than it should be. Link-up play cannot take place as fluently as it could or should.
This means one of the two central midfielders must come out and try be the link between midfield and attack. This plays into opposition teams’ hands as they often set-up with three in midfield which means United are always overran in possession. The wide players are also expected to hug the touchline which leaves the team fairly stretched, especially in the middle. The lack of imagination from the wide men means one of the forwards always has to drop deep which takes away from any attack to and allows the opposition to take control away from United.
The second issue is tempo. For a team who still has a relatively large amount of pace, the speed of passing and the tempo is extremely lacklustre compared to what is usually expected at Old Trafford. Simple passes can often raise the tempo of the game but due to the positions the players start from, riskier and complex passes are attempted more often than not but without control of the ball, it allows the opposition to set the tempo and frustrate United. This has become highlighted more so when United go a goal behind. No urgency is shown and due to the lack of ideas, United find it tremendously difficult to get back into games.
The third issue is movement. Due to the rigid set-up, the lack of movement and runs made means the tempo often becomes sluggish – something completely alien to United fans. Players ask for the ball to feet rather than making a run. The lack of interchanges between positions are non-existent and the transitions in play are uneven.
All these factors have contributed to how the team are faltering under Moyes. Tactically, it is very difficult to envisage what he sees as a future blueprint to success. The best teams are often those who mix it up, whereas United seem bereft of a plan B.
It is fair to say Moyes himself needs to quickly go back to basics. Training sessions and team selections should be positive and Moyes should be setting up with a much more fluid system. Some of our best performances have been when Shinji Kagawa has played as the creative link between midfield and attack – a change to 4-2-3-1 would at least help us keep possession and control of a game better.
Now though, it is a massive month for Moyes as with the top four all playing each other, there is a chance to close the gap and ease the pressure around the situation. If he can get the team functioning and are 5-7 points off the top come January, with new additions you can never rule out United.