Manchester United fans have been on something of an emotional roller coaster since the announcement by their legendary former manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, that he would be retiring come the end of their title-winning 2012-13 season.
This year new boss David Moyes has had to struggle with gargantuan expectations and weekly doses of pressure as the eyes of the world scrutinise his every move.
After a below-par start from the champions, some Red Devils supporters were already beginning to harbour doubts over whether or not the team’s new Scottish leader was really able to cut the mustard at such an elite club.
Those fears were gradually starting to subside before Sunday’s disappointing draw away at Cardiff.
The result, which left United once again seven points adrift of the top spot and still behind Southampton in the EPL table, continues United’s impressive unbeaten streak—but it will ultimately go down as a big two points lost over the course of the campaign as a whole.
So, the real question is: Does this result imply a return to the dire form which saw United drop points at home to Saints and West Bromwich Albion?
In this reporter’s opinion, the answer is no.
Those games came at a tenuous time in the club’s history and—while there is no doubt that the ship has still not quite steadied itself in the red half of Manchester yet—during a period where Moyes had not yet settled fully into his new role.
While you can debate until the cows come home about whether or not that still is the case, the Cardiff game and its eventual 2-2 scoreline smacked of arrogant complacency and not (as had been the case in those earlier matches) a general inability to get a grip on the match.
Manchester United certainly didn’t dominate Cardiff this weekend. In truth, a draw was probably the fairest result.
However, while in those earlier matches the side looked devoid of any real confidence, against the Bluebirds, a United side lacking top goalscorer Robin van Persie did look fairly assured of their leading position for the most part.
Now, I’m not suggesting that losing focus and gifting the opposition a couple of goals is fine—clearly it’s an issue. However, while it demonstrates naivety, it is at least a far cry from the likes of the West Brom and Manchester City games, where the Red Devils seemingly lost the ability to play the beautiful game.
As Man City themselves will tell you, a game away at Cardiff is by no means an easy three points. In fact, going into the game I would even have gone as far as to say that a draw was probably the most likely outcome (owing to the lack of RVP in the side).
This doesn’t excuse the sloppy defending at the end of the match, but it does at least cushion the nature of the “defeat” (it was a moral defeat to throw away a lead like that at the end of a game) that the champions experienced.
Against Arsenal, United showed that they are capable of taking some top scalps and easily securing themselves a top-four finish.
That confidence garnered from the Arsenal game manifested into arrogance over the international break, and a huge part of that led to this disappointing conclusion.
Next week United face another tough trip away to a struggling Spurs side. This game is the perfect opportunity for the Red Devils to get their streak back on track and mount a surge for the top of the EPL summit once again.
This Cardiff result, unlike the games against Southampton and West Brom, is a silly blip in the season. Against Tottenham, the champions have a chance to remind the league that they are still serious contenders.