Are teams no longer afraid of playing Manchester United?
Right until the end of Sir Alex Ferguson’s reign as Manchester United manager, the Reds were seen by many of the game’s lesser lights, not to mention some of their main rivals, as a team to be feared. Resolute in defence, organised yet creative in midfield and potent up front, United shared a similar quality with Barcelona, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich, proving almost unbeatable in most games.
Following his retirement, much was expected of replacement David Moyes. His Everton team was one of the most difficult to beat, particularly at home. Given the opportunity of a lifetime to manage a club with such a rich history, a lot of people within the game felt that Moyes was the man to help maintain Fergie’s legacy, but all hasn’t gone according to plan so far.
At the time of writing, Moyes’ men find themselves languishing in eighth place in the Premier League, already eight points behind league leaders Arsenal. Also ahead of them in the table are other rivals including Liverpool, Chelsea, Tottenham, former club Everton and Manchester City, not to mention surprise package Southampton, who came away from Old Trafford with a positive result.
The Saints are one of just a few teams who have claimed at least a point after playing at Old Trafford, which was previously a fortress for the reigning Champions. On September 28, West Bromwich Albion managed to beat the Reds 2-1, a result which questioned whether or not Moyes was right for the job, as well as whether more clubs were no longer afraid when playing United. Ladbrokes have Manchester United priced at 8/1 to win the league which puts this into perspective after they were comfortable winners of the title only last year.
Just a few days ago, United managed to get just their second win of the season at home in the league, a fortuitous 3-2 result against Stoke City, who by all accounts were very unlucky. For a while, Stoke were ahead in the match and, but for the clinical Robin van Persie, United would have dropped yet more points at home.
The defeat against West Brom, not to mention away defeats by Liverpool and City, who gave them an absolute pasting in the Manchester derby, suggest that the fear factor is no longer there when opposing teams face United. If teams as limited as West Brom and Stoke can cause them problems, then there is much work to be done in order to get the Reds up to scratch.
One thing which United always had in their favour under Sir Alex was the presence which he had on the touchline. Any team that had him in charge would always stand a chance of grinding out a result, even if they weren’t at the peak of their powers. Although Moyes often matches Fergie in the feistiness stakes, he doesn’t have the same sort of aura as his predecessor.
In Moyes’ defence, Sir Alex didn’t get his United career off to the best of starts. Having made a poor start since his move from Aberdeen, there were a few rumours that he was due to be sacked in the early 1990’s. After being spared from the dreaded sack, he went on to build one of football’s great dynasties, aided by an impressive youth setup.
For Moyes to succeed, he might need to be given time, even if United end up without a trophy or even fail to qualify for the Champions League. For now, it seems that the likes of Southampton and West Brom may see his United side as a source of a few easy points, but time will tell whether or not Moyes can re-establish United as a team to be wary of.