David Moyes has made some puzzling comments during his brief time in charge of Manchester United.
Earlier this month he had fans of the club scratching their heads—the same fans who had celebrated a title only 10 months before—when he remarked that United, the reigning champions, would "rise again," as per ESPN FC.
Then, in his programme notes ahead of Tuesday’s Manchester derby, the 50-year-old seemed to chalk his side’s abysmal form up to temporal patterns when he wrote that football was "cyclical."
"At this present time we sit behind City in the Premier League table," he added, according to the Daily Mail, "but that is something we will be looking to rectify in the future."
For Moyes and his players, the immediate future was Tuesday evening, and there was nothing "cyclical" about the 3-0 trouncing suffered at the hands of their local rivals.
From the get-go, it was clear United were in for a long night.
Cut to ribbons during the game’s first passage of play, they allowed their guests an early march downfield that resulted in Edin Dzeko’s opener just 44 seconds after kick-off.
And while a lack of concentration from the likes of Michael Carrick, Marouane Fellaini and Rio Ferdinand was at least partially to blame for the setback, it was impossible to ignore the fact that the Red Devils had been set up to fail.
Even Paul Scholes—the United icon and a television analyst for the derby—admitted to being "amazed" at the omission of Antonio Valencia from Moyes’ starting XI, as per the Telegraph, and his criticism was vindicated inside 10 minutes against City as the Ecuador international began warming up.
Astonishingly, Moyes had started Tom Cleverley alongside Carrick and Fellaini in the centre of the park before moving the midfielder to the right when it became apparent Juan Mata wouldn’t track back—which he might have anticipated.
This, despite the fact that Cleverley hadn’t started a Premier League match since the second week of February.
That he took more than his share of the blame for United’s poor start upon his half-time substitution was rather unfair, as the 24-year-old had hardly been put in a position to succeed.
In that he was merely a microcosm of the entire United squad—selected without purpose and deployed with the incorrect instructions, if any at all.
It shouldn’t have been difficult for Moyes to realise that, man for man, he would always be outgunned by City supremo Manuel Pellegrini, and his strategy might have at least been designed to neutralise the opponents he deemed the biggest threats or even soak up pressure en masse before moving effectively downfield.
His tactics were naive, and naivety, it seems, has already become a hallmark of his United tenure.
Still, the result notwithstanding, what will have really rankled the club’s fans was Moyes' post-match interview with Sky Sports in which he held up City as a model.
"I think we’ve played a very good side," he said, "and it’s the sort of standard and level we need to try and aspire to get ourselves to at this moment in time."
Given that Moyes’ appointment on a six-year contract spoke to United’s desire to groom and grow another long-term manager, however naive the notion was at the time, he might have at least played into the club’s sense of exceptionalism; he might have offered statements to comfort and soothe an increasingly bewildered support.
But he couldn’t even do that, and all anyone was left to think was that Manchester United were being shuffled into mediocrity by a manager in over his head from the very beginning.