Probably the most depressing thing for Manchester United fans on Tuesday night was that the 2-0 defeat to Olympiakos was not an especially big shock. After all, how could it be? This season, the Red Devils have been knocked out of the FA Cup by Swansea, knocked out of the Capital One Cup by Sunderland and have lost to West Brom, Stoke and Newcastle, among others.
One man it did seem to surprise is David Moyes, who said after the game, as per Sporting Life:
That's the worst we have played in Europe. It was a really poor performance. We never really got going from the start and we didn't deserve anything because of the way we played
We came into the game in good form and a good mindset but it just didn't show. I am just surprised. I didn't see that level of performance coming. I just didn't see it.
This has been a campaign that United fans must want to end as soon as possible, but one of the few positives they could have taken from it was the relative ease with which Man United qualified for the Champions League knockout stage. Some of that positive thinking was washed away by the insipid nature of their performance in Greece, which leaves them with a tough task in the return leg at Old Trafford.
In previous years, one might have thought that a 3-0 home victory over a side such as Olympiakos might not be too much of a problem, but this term, Old Trafford seems to have cowed United rather than emboldened them, as it did in previous years.
The obvious finger to point is at Moyes. After all, the former Everton manager has transformed basically the same group of players who won the league under Sir Alex Ferguson into the barely coherent shambles we see before us.
It's pretty easy to feel sorry for Moyes. It's obvious that he wasn't qualified for such an enormous job, but it was one that he couldn't possibly turn down.
However, Moyes can only work with what he has been left, and it's becoming increasingly clear that Ferguson bequeathed his successor not just a side incapable of retaining the league, but a set of players who were largely either declining or simply not good enough in the first place and were merely being held together by the former manager's genius and force of will.
The encapsulation of this papered-over mediocrity started in the heart of the United midfield in Greece. It feels almost churlish to single out one player in such a bloodless performance, but Tom Cleverley seems to be a symbol of what United have become this season and an equivalent of Moyes on the pitch.
Like his manager, Cleverley is not bad at his job per se; he just patently isn't good enough for a club like United. Paired with Michael Carrick in the middle, Cleverley represents one-half of a fairly nothing partnership, two players who aren't especially good at one thing, just reasonably competent at a few things. Great teams, or even really good ones, are not build on players like that.
What seems even more inexplicable was the selection of Cleverley over Adnan Januzaj. Of course, Moyes wants to protect a youngster as hugely talented as Januzaj, but with Juan Mata cup-tied, it seemed ludicrous to omit the club's other main creative outlet in favour of Cleverley. However, Moyes admitted he did just that, as per Jamie Jackson of The Guardian:
Moyes:"I decided last week I would play Cleverley and it was a time to bring [Adnan] in and out at right moments so I chose not to use him"— jamie jackson (@JamieJackson___) February 25, 2014
"The one good thing is that there is still a second game to come," said Moyes after the game, as reported by David McDonnell in the Daily Mirror.
It's that sort of attitude, reflected by the players whom he has at his disposal, that explains nights like Tuesday and United's regression under Moyes.