Then came another pair of losses at Old Trafford, to Newcastle and—perhaps most painfully for Moyes—Everton. January brought elimination from the two domestic cup competitions at the hands of Sunderland and Swansea. The only thing that looked bright for Moyes was the Champions League, but then Olympiakos beat them convincingly.
Still, surely nothing was as painful as Sunday's defeat to Liverpool. United have lost to their fiercest rivals before, and at home too, but they have rarely been so convincingly outclassed to the extent that 3-0 arguably flattered United.
Perhaps the most troubling thing for United fans is that the team that capitulated to Liverpool was basically their strongest 11. On paper, a midfield pairing of Michael Carrick and Marouane Fellaini behind the front four of Adnan Januzaj, Juan Mata, Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie should be formidable. As it was, they were toothless, which obviously says nothing good about their manager.
However, the form and attitude of the final name on that list of players has been causing some consternation, with rumours persisting that van Persie is unhappy at Old Trafford, in particular with Moyes and his methods.
Reports as far back as October, such as this one from Wayne Veysey at Goal.com, have hinted at van Persie's discontent, while Rob Shepherd in The Mail on Sunday even suggested that he could go back to Arsenal.
Moyes brushed off these rumours, as quoted by ESPN, and van Persie himself was moved to deny such talk before the Liverpool game.
He was quoted by Sky Sports as saying:
The truth is I'm very happy here at this club. I signed for four years and I'd be delighted to stay even longer, beyond the next two years I have left on my contract. This is how I feel, although it's not what has been suggested in the media...
I'm very happy with my team-mates and I'm very happy with my manager and his staff. The sessions we have on the training ground are fantastic and I'm learning a lot from them every day.
I've been a professional footballer for 12 years now and there's no doubt I'm learning new things and progressing with David Moyes.
Whether van Persie is genuinely content at United is only known to him, but his current form doesn't reflect that. He has one goal in his last five, was lucky not to be sent off for a pointless and petulant foul against West Brom and was listless against Liverpool.
However, calls for him to be sold, such as from Martin Allen writing in The Daily Mail, are premature.
While van Persie has suffered from niggling injury concerns this year, which inevitably begged the question of whether his former fitness issues that so plagued his early years at Arsenal had returned, his record this season has been strong. He has 11 goals in 17 league starts this term (0.65 goals a game), which is not that much worse than his record last season, when he scored 25 in 35 starts (0.75 goals a game) and was basically the driving force for their title win. And this in an inferior side with an inferior manager.
While rifts in the camp are never ideal, and choices between a player and a manager should never really have to be made, if United fans were told they could keep only one of David Moyes or Robin van Persie, the choice would be simple.
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