Manchester United’s season has reached a critical point with the team drastically underperforming and the new manager visibly running out of ideas.
So, where do they go from here?
Well, Dubai apparently, perhaps hoping that a few days in the sun away from the Premier League rat race will cure all ills, that the nadir in their season has been reached and that somehow David Moyes will experience some sort of epiphany to guide United back on course to the promised land.
Somehow, however, I feel that things could get worse before they get better.
In the past, a point away against Arsenal would probably have been deemed acceptable.
In the past, however, United would not have trailed the Gunners by 14 points at the beginning of February and languished in seventh place—a position possibly coveted by the likes of Southampton or Newcastle but totally unacceptable to a team with such a dominant Premier League pedigree.
The draw in itself at the Emirates was not the main disappointment on this occasion.
It was the manner of the draw just as it had been against Fulham last weekend.
United’s approaches to the two games were different but patently flawed in both cases.
In the Fulham match, the Reds went gung-ho for the win and, in doing so, left themselves wide open at the back to counter-attacks which Fulham exploited on several occasions.
Their attacking tactics were naive in the extreme and incredibly one-dimensional.
It has been chronicled ever since the match that over 80 crosses were slung into the Fulham box with only 18 reaching a teammate.
Plan B was nonexistent, and Fulham’s two giant centre-halves, ponderous on the deck but dominant in the air, must have thought that all of their Christmases had come at once.
Potential savior Juan Mata was nowhere to be seen; unable to influence events, unable to conjure a way through such an obdurate defence.
Against Arsenal, David Moyes employed tactics aimed at not losing rather than going full out for the three points United needed to cling on to their fading chance of finishing in a Champions League qualifying position.
Credit where it’s due, they defended well but created little at the other end apart from two golden opportunities, uncharacteristically spurned by the usually prolific Robin Van Persie.
Once again Mata was virtually invisible, was substituted after 75 minutes and must be wondering, along with the rest of us, what all the fuss was about when United signed him.
Perhaps Jose was not so stupid to let him go.
To be fair to Mata, he is probably not yet match fit, and with United laying so deep against Arsenal, his attacking options were limited.
However, he is not blessed with burning pace and relies more on his close skills which wasn’t suited to the defence-oriented, counter-attacking tactics employed on Tuesday.
Apart from a few sound defensive displays, it was difficult to pick out a United player who impressed against Arsenal, and when you analyse the team individually, it becomes surprising that they even managed a point.
Let us just focus on two of the fallen heroes in particular.
Tom Cleverley recently closed his Twitter account, likely due to the abuse he has been receiving from United fans according to the Daily Mirror's Liam Prenderville, but did nothing in this game to dispel such criticism.
He looked hurried, devoid of ideas and profligate in possession. He has sadly failed to live up to the optimistic expectations he elicited when he first burst onto the Premier League and International scenes.
Antonio Valencia also continues to disappoint from his outstanding first few seasons at Old Trafford. He now appears to have lost his way completely from the player who used to terrorise full-backs with his deceptive feints and electric pace.
He has the look of someone who doesn’t know what to do when he gets the ball, and instead of his first instinct being to take on the opposition full-back, his default action is laying the ball backward or square, thus slowing down the attacking impetus.
It’s maybe harsh to single out two of the season’s disappointments as the cancer seems to have spread through the whole team with confidence ebbing away as the poor results keep coming.
As for Moyes, he is increasingly looking beleaguered, devoid of ideas and out of his depth.
I have to admit that he was my choice to replace Sir Alex, but I am now having my doubts.
Possibly, the job required a higher-profile appointment: a leader who has had experience at the very top level and would be familiar with the demands and expectations of such a stellar club.
One such man was desperate for the position but spurned.
The “Special One” has returned to more familiar territory, and United may well have lost that opportunity for good.
Moyes’ recent irritability at press conferences and his tortured demeanour during matches convey a sense that he is suffering under the weight of such huge expectations imposed by United’s history.
His six-year contract suggests he will be given time, but in a world where failure is only tolerated for a limited period, he is already sailing close to the edge.
United’s demise from their canter to the title last season has been cataclysmic and cannot be merely put down to a few aging players and some wise purchases by their main rivals over the summer.
The new manager’s forays in the transfer market so far have hardly been a raging success.
He has spent over 65 million pounds on two players: Marouane Fellaini, who did little to impress before picking up an injury that has kept him on the sidelines since the beginning of December, and Mata, whose three games since he signed last month have hardly set the world alight.
It is unthinkable in this money-oriented day and age that Moyes will be given the amount of time Sir Alex Ferguson was given to achieve the goals expected at such a great club.
It will probably need a summer clear out and big spending to kickstart another era of success at Old Trafford.
It may or may not be David Moyes who will mastermind this transformation.
The trip to Dubai will give the Scot some respite, but the sands of time will run quickly on his return.
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