David Moyes’ post-match comments were telling.
“I don’t know what we have to do to win,” he told reporters following Saturday’s 2-1 loss to Stoke at Britannia Stadium, as per BBC Sport. “I thought we were extremely unlucky.”
That the Manchester United manager was forced to withdraw his two centre-backs due to first-half injuries was hardly optimal, but when Phil Jones (concussion) followed Jonny Evans (calf) down the tunnel, he was unable to replace the 21-year-old with a recognised defender.
He didn’t have one on the bench, and that was his own fault. Luck had nothing to do with it.
But instead of introducing Danny Welbeck after Jones was carried off on a stretcher, Moyes might have inserted Darren Fletcher into the midfield while Michael Carrick dropped back alongside Chris Smalling.
He did neither, and the Welbeck substitution proved to be an absolute disaster as the England forward fumbled about the attacking third while struggling to control the ball and offering absolutely nothing on the defensive side of it.
He had just 13 touches in more than 50 minutes of football.
Of course, that such a decision was required in the first place had nothing to do with Welbeck and Januzaj and everything to do with Moyes’ own blunders in the transfer market.
Yes, the January signing of Mata for a club-record £37 million was a fancy piece of business, but in no way did it address the most pressing needs at a club too often overwhelmed in midfield and requiring a complete retooling of the defense.
That Moyes has yet to meaningfully bolster the centre of the park—and Marouane Fellaini’s three Premier League appearances since arriving from Everton have hardly been meaningful—led directly to his side’s dissection by Stoke's Charlie Adam, Marko Arnautovic, Jonathan Walters and Peter Odemwingie on Saturday.
That he has allowed Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic to grow old and un-replaced as their contracts run out has now created the selection nightmare that compelled Carrick to deputise in the centre of defense while Welbeck wasted away in anonymity.
Had he allocated the Mata funds for an Eliaquim Mangala or Ezequiel Garay, he would have at least had a reasonable alternative against Stoke. Had he pushed hard enough for Fabio Coentrao or Ricardo Rodriguez, he might not have watched Patrice Evra’s comprehensive dismantling on the left-hand side of the pitch.
Yohan Cabaye would have been a nice addition in midfield, and even if the former Newcastle man had his heart set on Paris Saint-Germain, Moyes could have at least made a serious pitch for Blaise Matuidi, who will now be fighting for his place at the Ligue 1 leaders.
And Saul Niguez, whom The Telegraph's Richard Martin spotted Phil Neville scouting in mid-January, apparently didn’t even merit a bid.
Instead, Chelsea took United to the cleaners for a player who was always going to leave Stamford Bridge.
That transaction, as well as the £27.5 million purchase of Fellaini during the summer, takes Moyes’ spending at Old Trafford to a not insignificant £64.5 million—a chunk of funds that would have been better spent on more players in a variety of positions.
Granted, the Mata transfer did wonders for morale at United—at least for five or six days.
But the reigning champions fell back down to earth on Saturday after their weaknesses were laid bare in front of a relegation-threatened opponent.
After which, Moyes, looking 10 years older than when he took the United job, threw his hands in the air and blamed luck for a hardship of his own making.