Moyes' Tactics to Blame for Manchester United Defeat to Stoke

Rob Blanchette@@_Rob_BFeatured ColumnistFebruary 1, 2014

STOKE ON TRENT, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 01:  David Moyes (L), manager of Manchester United walks off with Michael Carrick after the Barclays Premier League match between Stoke City and Manchester United at Britannia Stadium on February 1, 2014 in Stoke on Trent, England.  (Photo by Jamie McDonald/Getty Images)
Jamie McDonald/Getty Images

Over the weeks and months it has been easy to make excuses for David Moyes, and I for one have played this card on many occasions.

However, this is one time where no explanation that is born from sympathy is valid. 

There is no doubt that he "needs time" and "has to build his own squad." There is also no doubt that over the recent past certain players have not performed to their highest of standards.

Despite all of this, my biggest excuse has always been considering our injury list.

Jon Super/Associated Press

When any team loses a Robin van Persie, a Wayne Rooney, and a cast of many it will indeed suffer.

On Saturday afternoon, the injury jinx once again hit Manchester United, with the enforced substitutions in the first half of Jonny Evans and Phil Jones. 

However, the biggest single concern that reverberates after yet another defeat for Moyes is his tactics in the game.

Previously, his formations have been about preservation, and almost conservative, but during matches he has shown a bravery with his substitutions, often picking the attacking options to try and win games.

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However, against Stoke, Moyes got his tactics horribly wrong from start to finish, and when you consider that he finally had the use of Rooney and van Persie together, with his stellar new Spanish signing, it all adds up to one huge mess.

Jon Super/Associated Press

Your common football fan in the street can generally tell you how games at the Britannia Stadium go. Stoke will bully you and they will chase you, and they will try and physically hurt you if at all possible.

Moyes allowed Stoke to play their game and intimidate his side because his tactics lacked finesse.  

The past few days have been full of talk of how the manager would use his three world-class attackers. The injuries in the match did indeed force his hand, and clearly the substitution of van Persie was a pre-rehearsed event.

But the deploying of Mata in what his "heat map" shows was a wide-right midfield role, per Squawka, and wasting Rooney in central midfield when he had the very capable Darren Fletcher on the bench, was tactically naive.

Juan Mata heatmap Vs. Stoke City
Juan Mata heatmap Vs. Stoke CitySquawka

As I wrote in my "Film Focus" preview of the match, Stoke had previously targeted Tom Cleverley and United's central midfield at Old Trafford earlier in the season.

They did this once again, but this time with the wind literally in their sails. 

Moyes allowed the match to be played out in midfield, and this was his downfall.

His response to play Rooney in midfield was surely to keep some bite about United's play, but what a team needs against Stoke is control: Control of the ball. Control of the territory, and control of your own intestinal fortitude.

Wayne Rooney heatmap - wasted in midfield
Wayne Rooney heatmap - wasted in midfieldSquawka

Rooney's first touch is not good enough for a central midfielder, and a combination of him and Cleverley was always going to get hurt.

He will always want to play the "Hollywood pass" rather than the short ball, and this is exactly what Stoke would have wanted. 

The waste of Mata's talent is quizzical. Yes, this is only his introduction in a Manchester United shirt but as his second assist in as many games showed: If you play Mata in the middle, he will create goals.

His position of passing, per Squawka, was also damning, with his lack of involvement in the last third of the pitch clear to see, despite an excellent 94 percent success rate.

Moyes placed him in an area of the pitch where he was less dangerous to the opponent. 

Juan Mata's passing against Stoke City
Juan Mata's passing against Stoke CitySquawka

United appeared to be lost somewhere between 4-2-3-1 and a punishing 4-4-2, which did none of the team any favours.

Moyes looked tactically lost and did not respond well to the challenges of the day. 

If Mata is going to be used in a traditional United wide position then his purchase will become a waste of money. If Mata is allowed to do what we all know he can do, then the purchase will surely be justified. 

There is no rocket science involved finding a formation that will accommodate Mata and company together, but if Moyes persists with an outdated version of 4-4-2 he will eventually lose his job. 

Jon Super/Associated Press

Today was supposed to be a brand new start for Moyes.

It was his opportunity to get his team playing good football, and to show that his side can produce the flair that the supporters crave.

Instead, he failed the first exam, and a resit will need to be booked. 

With every defeat the top four seems like a distant memory, and the further that United finish away from it will make the task of success all the harder next season. 

However, if Moyes has a fully fit squad from now until May, and his teams are still making the errors that we saw against Stoke, there will be no excuses left to make, and only consequences to pay. 

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