OLD TRAFFORD, MANCHESTER—David Moyes will live and die by his results in the big games.
Not the ones against Olympiacos or West Ham. The really big games. The ones that matter most.
It was the same for Sir Alex Ferguson. He survived so long because he developed a habit of winning them.
It was a standard set by Ferguson and one Moyes will now be held to. The problem is, he's made an awful start.
In 13 games against the Premier League's top nine teams, he's won just one—against Arsenal at Old Trafford in November.
It only adds to the feeling that Moyes is not cut out for the high-pressure games.
In 11 years at Everton, he never won at Liverpool, United, Chelsea or Arsenal.
He lost an FA Cup final. He lost both legs of the 2005 Champions League qualifier against Villarreal. Manuel Pellegrini's Villarreal.
Pellegrini stuck the boot in again on Tuesday. It was an opportunity for Moyes to show that talk of a revival was a little more credible, but it ended the same way as the visit of Liverpool less than a fortnight ago: a 3-0 defeat and an awkward press conference for the United manager to deal with.
But just like after the defeat to Liverpool, he couldn't offer an explanation.
He talked about the disappointment of starting both the first and second halves slowly but couldn't—or wouldn’t—say why.
He admitted City were by far the better team. But he was unable—or unwilling—to explain why they were so dominant.
We never started well. We never gave ourselves a great opportunity to get into the game.
Manchester City started really fast and conceding a goal after 30 or 40 seconds made it difficult. We had to try and make sure we got through that 10-15 minute period when they were out of the blocks.
After that, we weathered it and got ourselves back into the game and finished the half quite strong. The key to it was not to concede a second goal so we could always give ourselves a chance back in there.
And I didn’t think we started the second half well. We brought pressure on us by our play, and in the end, we conceded a corner just before that and there was another one and then that let to goal. It was obviously poor marking and we should have done much better.
I just think we never came out of the blocks. You prepare the players, you warm them up, you do all the things to have them ready, but we just never started.
It does not bode well.
In the situation Moyes and United find themselves in, their next five games will be nightmarish.
Aston Villa visit Old Trafford on Saturday before Bayern Munich arrive on Tuesday.
Then come three away games against Newcastle and Everton in the league and Bayern in the Champions League.
If Moyes thought Tuesday night was uncomfortable, it could be even worse in a month. There was little from the performance against City to suggest it won't be.
Moyes talks of the ideas he has to rebuild United, starting with an overhaul of the squad in the summer, but he will not get the chance to see it through if he can't show he has what it takes to win games against City and Liverpool.
Moyes will sink or swim at United based on his results in the big games. At the moment, he's floundering.
*All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.