When David Moyes was first hired as the manager as Manchester United, many people were concerned about the Scot's tactical abilities.
Known as a fairly conservative and defensive-minded manager, many questioned whether his style of play would translate to Old Trafford, and whether he could maintain their potent attack.
Twenty-six games through the EPL season, and 11 points off a Champions League spot, those initial concerns of United fans are beginning to hold some serious weight.
Misuse of Mata
A lack of squad depth and overall quality have been a serious issue for United all season, even after the purchase of playmaker Juan Mata.
However, Mata alone, if used correctly by Moyes, could immensely help United surge up the table.
But Moyes has failed to do that, exiling Mata out to the wing and greatly reducing the impact he can have on play.
Here's an odd contradiction: Moyes has the ambition to secure players such as Mata, and then fits them into the most rigid and uninspiring of tactical systems.
Moyes needs to find a way to play Mata in his central attacking midfield role, even if it requires playing Phil Jones or Antonio Valencia as a midfield destroyer.
Phil Jones has thrived in this role before, and Valencia, a great athlete and adept defender, has found playing time a little hard to come by with Ashley Young and Adnan Januzaj used in the same role.
While Mata is a far less skilled defender than Valencia, he is far more creative, and needs to be used in a talisman role where he can dictate United's attack.
Turn on your TV and watch the likes of Barcelona and Bayern Munich.
What separates them from Manchester United?
They actually attempt to attack from the middle.
This season, United have crossed often, and ineffectively, averaging 29 per game, via WhoScored. En route to a disappointing 2-2 tie vs. Fulham, United held 75 percent of possession and attempted a whopping 81 crosses, and still could not garner three points.
Following the match, Fulham defender Dan Burn compared United's style of play to that of England's fifth-tier division (The Guardian):
I was just saying to the lads that I've never headed that many balls since the Conference. At the end of the day I'm happy for them to play like that.
While Burn's comments may have been a bit harsh, they highlight the lack of ingenuity with which United have played with under Moyes this year. Rather than whipping in crosses at any chance they have to, United need to try to develop play and break down their opponent's defense.
Sometimes crossing is necessary, but keeping the ball on the floor a little bit could do the Reds wonders.
Absence of Attack
If practice makes perfect, than United need to practice attacking football more in EPL play. Though they sometimes suffer from a lack of creativity, they have also at times lacked an overall desire to attack.
And by they, I mean David Moyes.
Moyes has proved in the games against Bayer Leverkusen that he is capable of playing expansive, attacking football, but this is not second nature to him. His watchword is caution, whilst across the city Manuel Pellegrini has shown the benefits of an enterprising approach.
Certainly, United have had their problems attacking, but are expected to fix these problems at some point with the likes of Wayne Rooney, Juan Mata and Robin van Persie up front.
Conversely, the defense inspires much less confidence, as Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic have been shadows of themselves, and Michael Carrick and Tom Cleverley haven't provided much help from the midfield.
By fielding a 4-4-2, or even 4-2-3-1, which has six defensive-minded players in the lineup, Moyes is relying on his weak defense instead of entrusting a star-studded attack.
United's defense this season will improve very little, if at all, and Moyes would be smarter just adding attacking firepower to his XI rather than pressuring his back line to perform.
The Bottom Line
Ultimately, David Moyes had no control over the fact that he inherited a worn-down United squad.
He did, however, have control of the tactical changes he brought to the club, which have proved to be unsuccessful thus far.
For the rest of the season, he will have to be creative, original and fearless to fix United's offensive woes using his internal resources.
All stats and info via ESPNFC unless otherwise indicated.
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