Film Focus: David Moyes' Selection Policy Under Scrutiny After Defeat

Christopher Atkins@@chris_elasticoContributor IFebruary 26, 2014

PIRAEUS, GREECE - FEBRUARY 25:  Manchester United manager David Moyes looks on before the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 first leg match between Olympiacos FC and Manchester United at Karaiskakis Stadium on February 25, 2014 in Piraeus, Greece.  (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
Michael Regan/Getty Images

David Moyes' era as manager of Manchester United hit its lowest point yet on Tuesday night as the Red Devils fell to an unexpectedly poor 2-0 defeat away to Greek Super League side Olympiakos.

The Scot has endured a far-from-ideal first season as manager at Old Trafford, but has received tremendous backing from the Old Trafford faithful.

On Tuesday, though, there can be little defending a United performance that ranks among their poorest of the campaign, despite the importance of the game.

While, for much of the campaign, Moyes has been able to point to deficiencies within his squad as reasoning for the poor performances, on this occasion the selection policy and tactics have to be questioned.

In several key areas, United were well below expected levels and, while the players are not immune from criticism, it is also time to evaluate the advice coming from above.

Let's, then, look at some of the areas in which the Red Devils fell short of expected standards.

Failure to Control Space

A major focus of football analysis over the past couple of years has been the importance of controlling space, as opposed to possession.

Whether it be through high pressure, controlling zones around the penalty area or through efficient marking, it can be key to achieving a result at the top level.

It is, though, an area in which United fell short on Tuesday night and many of the issues stemmed from the defensive partnership of Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic.

While it must be said that injuries to Rafael, Jonny Evans and Phil Jones greatly inhibited Moyes' ability to attempt any other defensive combination, the ageing combination at the heart of the defence meant United sat very deep.

ITV pictures, B/R annotations

Tom Cleverley was unable to get out of his half for long periods
Tom Cleverley was unable to get out of his half for long periodsSquawka

Midfielders Tom Cleverley and Michael Carrick were, in turn, well inside their own half for much of the game, while wingers Antonio Valencia and Ashley Young were primarily chosen for their defensive strengths.

The setup allowed Olympiakos onto the front foot and while it is to be expected that hosts will shoot out of the blocks in the opening minutes, United were unable to take the heat out of the game.

Olympiakos, by contrast, were quick in their pressing and played a much higher defensive line. As a consequence, United were rushed on the ball and were forced into longer balls.

Olympiakos high-line
Olympiakos high-lineITV pictures, B/R annotations

Olympiakos pressure high up pitch
Olympiakos pressure high up pitchITV pictures, B/R annotations

Much of the focus will be on the centre-backs, who have been undeniably poor when together this season. Carrick, though, is having a far-from-golden campaign after impressive showings over the past two years.

It has long been a criticism of his that he is unable to seize control of games when under pressure and Tuesday's fixture will be further ammunition for those detractors.

With himself, Ferdinand and Vidic, there is a worrying lack of pace at the heart of the United defence and, in turn, a tendency to drop deep.

Olympiakos, therefore, were given space in which their skilled forwards could get on the ball in attacking areas and worry United, just as Alejandro Dominguez did from early in the clash.

Van Persie Comments Ring Alarm Bells

Post-match comments from star striker Robin van Persie will also have done little to help Moyes' standing at the club.

Per the Daily Mail's Graeme Yorke, Van Persie told Dutch TV following the game:

Our fellow players are sometimes occupying the spaces I want to play in. 

And when I see that, it makes it difficult for me to come to those spaces as well. So that forces me to adjust my runs, based on the position of my fellow players.

And, unfortunately, they are often playing in my zones. I think that's a shame.

While Van Persie is not specific in his complaints, his comments will only add to growing concerns that he and Wayne Rooney are struggling to play together as an attacking duo.

Considering the latter recently signed a £300,000-a-week mega-deal with the Old Trafford side, it is difficult to see anyone other than Van Persie losing out should Moyes come to the same conclusion.

The Scottish manager, though, has only recently expressed confidence in the duo as a pairing. Per Sky Sports, he lavished praise on the pair in the build-up to the clash in Greece.

On Tuesday, though, the pair managed no shots on target and, as the following statistic shows, were far from cohesive as a duo.

Rooney and Van Persie exchanged just five passes against Olympiacos. Three were from kick-off #mufc

— MailOnline Sport (@MailSport) February 26, 2014

With Juan Mata cup-tied, Moyes is admittedly without one of his alternative options in the Champions League. However, the decision to leave Adnan Januzaj out of the match squad will have rung alarm bells.

Januzaj has been consistently United's most threatening and creative midfielder this season, but was dropped in favour of the natural width provided by Valencia and Young. The lack of supply to United's forwards, though, makes such decisions hard to justify.

Van Persie, per Whoscored, touched the ball just 24 times over the course of the tie.

There is little the Dutchman can do, though, as United persist in playing a game based around crossing and long-ball under Moyes.

Just three crosses were completed on the night and, as the following diagrams show, nearly every forward-looking long-ball failed to reach its target.

United's long-ball failures
United's long-ball failuresSquawka

Very few of the "complete" long balls were vertical
Very few of the "complete" long balls were verticalSquawka

Given the resources available at Old Trafford, it would seem an astonishingly basic strategy.

United's problems would appear to run throughout the side. The midfield were unable to retain possession, the defence was deep and ponderous, while the much-lauded Van Persie was negligible for much of the game.

Moyes has much to ponder, but it is becoming ever more evident that he has no solution to the issues at present.

For United's incredibly patient support, that must be the most worrying factor in the recent decline.


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