How David Moyes altered expectations at Manchester United

It says a lot that David Moyes’ greatest achievement was making his apologists think 7th was ok for title defending Manchester United

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When news broke yesterday afternoon that the sacking of Manchester United boss David Moyes was imminent, it was remarkable to see some people still jump to his defence on twitter that very day.  Not even the biggest sceptics could have predicted the season would turn out this badly for United.  Moyes’ almost unthinkable level of ineptitude has actually managed to shift perceptions of how hard the job was and has thus released the scrutiny on him which should have escalated to his sacking weeks if not months ago.

Lets first of all set the scene.  Moyes inherited a squad that had strolled the league by eleven points last season.  The previous year they’d only lost the league to City on goal difference and had comfortably won the league the year before that.  As a result the club should’ve been aiming to win the league again this season, as no one had accumulated more points than them in a season since Chelsea got one more in the 2009/10 season.  What more, he got loads of money to spend to boost a squad that had already proved to be the best and most robust in the country.  This was all topped off with backing from the fans and media, who were willing to give him a chance if things went sour and in some sections even sticking by him taking them to 7th into late April.

Yet, you actually get people making it out to be a tough job. The squad is ageing? Really? It aged so much in the three month off season that it went from best in the league to worse than Tottenham and Everton?  Moyes’ recent comments about how the squad is ‘rebuilding’ epitomises the tragedy of it all.  Why is a side having to rebuild and face the reality of years outside of Europe just months after their peak?  Attempting to imply Ferguson would’ve struggled with this same squad is pretty much like covering your ears, shutting your eyes and screaming, pretending last season never happened.  Another issue is how it’s hard to win when replacing a legend like Ferguson and that it’ll always be hard for Moyes as he’ll be compared to the greatest.  Yet everything bad he’s done has been defended from all corners.  How can you constantly say expectations are too great while defending him against those expectations? Surely that means expectations are lower?

Lets not forget, Moyes wasn’t the only high profile managerial shift last season.  City, Chelsea, Bayern Munich and PSG all changed managers, and despite a few teething issues, all have done brilliantly in comparison to United.  Pep Guardiola, like Moyes, inherited a title winning side last season.  Judgement on his first season is still to come despite wrapping up the league in record time last month. Similarly Laurent Blanc could be the victim of PSG’s Champions League quarter final exit, despite defending Paris’ Ligue 1 title in his first season in charge.

Imagine for a moment, if either of those two had taken their sides to 7th this season.  Seventh.  The likewise defences would probably look something like this.  It was always going to be difficult to replicate the success of Heynckes.  Guardiola is bringing a new style to Bayern and it will take time to be integrated.  The core of Ribery, Robben, Schweinstiger and Lahm is getting older and the Bundesliga is a growing competitive league.  It’s therefore, little surprise that Bayern have fallen behind the likes of Mainz in the race for the Europa League places and have done well to starve off competition from Ausburg. Similarly, Paris had become too complacent following their recent success.  The players are mostly to blame for their decline from nearly knocking Barcalona out of the Champions League to trailing Bordeaux.  Only a further €200 million in the summer will be enough to get them back competing for the Europa League places next season. 

You may argue that the Premier League is a more competitive league. But remember we’re not talking about simply Chelsea and Manchester City, two rich, high quality sides leapfrogging United. We’re also talking about Liverpool, Arsenal, Everton and Tottenham.  While finishing third would’ve been a disappointing first season for Moyes, it would’ve been understandable given it was his first season.  Finishing fourth would’ve been a really poor seaoson, but would probably not be too deteriorating in the long run.  Finishing outside the top four with the squad they had was never something which should’ve been acceptable and given it’s been obvious it won’t happen for some months, its remarkable he’s still their manager.

Andre Vilas-Boas had to cope with the loss of the leagues best player last season, limited funds in net value and was sacked for taking Tottenham to seventh in November after weeks of being destroyed by the tabloids.  Many Arsenal fans want Arsene Wenger to leave at the end of this year despite the possibility of winning the FA Cup and taking a Champions League place.  Niether of these sides realistically expected to do better than United this season yet their managers have received just as much, if not more criticism and scrutiny.  It highlights the ridiculousness off Moyes’ defenders.

If Moyes were a manager with lots of success at the highest level behind him sticking with him might just about be justifiable.  If he was bringing an exciting new attacking style to the club people may be inclined to think things will work out eventually.  Moyes has done neither of those things.  The style he’s brought is outdated, boring and negative, and not something which would be wanted in the long rung and has only got previous sides so far.  At the moment the damage of his rein is brief and reparable.  Giving him long term power and supplying him with millions in the summer just can’t be done.

A tough job is inheriting a thin squad, with limited talent and resources to go with it, while having to deal with inpatient fans and unrealistic expectations.  Getting the best squad in the league, immense financial backing and people defending you no matter what, isn’t one.  Don’t let how comically bad Moyes has been shift what you expect from a new manager.  Spending over £70 million and taking Manchester United, the season after they’d won the title, to seventh is disgraceful, whichever way you look at it.

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Arsenal, Man City and a word on squad depth

I guess it was predictable in the end. After dominating in the Autumn injuries, nerves and, ultimately, a lack of squad depth meant that in the late winter and early spring they crashed out of cup competitions and saw their title push breaking at the seams. This is a sentence one would usually associate with Arsenal, but has surprisingly become relevant to Manchester City after their draw at Sunderland left their league hopes in serious jepody. It followed what has been a disappointing two months for the club, where they’ve been knocked out of the Champions League, FA cup and gone from title favourites to outsiders.  A League Cup win featured in between, however, it’s fair to say at the start of February their ambitions were greater.
 
There’s been a lot of talk about squad depth this season.  With Arsenal’s season collapsing under the strain of injuries and fatigue and Liverpool arguably profiting from less games outside the league as the season has gone on, it’s become incredibly relevant towards who’s going to win the Premier League this season.  But the recent struggles of rich City, who’s depth has been praised all season, presents an interesting conclusion to the whole debate.  They’ve shown, that for all the theoretical depth in the world, competing on four fronts all year round is still incredibly tough and that injuries to star players will hinder everyone.  
 
Injuries to Sergio Aguero, Fernandinho and recently Yaya Toure have impacted heavily on City at different times this season and it may ultimately be the difference between success and failure.  Edin Dzeko and Javi Garcia are very good footballers, but Aguero and Toure are unique in their ability and style, and can’t be replaced.  Similarly, constant reshuffling, which City have had to do at the back this season, disrupts rhythm and stability.
 
Arsenal’s inability to keep up their form after the injuries to Aaron Ramsey, Theo Walcott and, to an extent, Mesut Özil, has been heavily criticised, but it shouldn’t be put down to a lack of squad depth.  Ramsey was the best midfielder in the league for the first half of the season, Walcott has been one of the most potent goal threats in the country in the last couple of seasons and Özil is one of the best number 10’s on the planet.  No team can account for that with the squad players at their disposal bar perhaps Bayern Munich.  Jack Wilshere, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Santi Cazorla are fine replacements for Arsenal’s injured trio, but they’re not as good and the team will inevitably not do as well without them.  It’s the same way Barcelona struggle without Messi, Liverpool would struggle without Gerrard, Sturridge and Sterling, Chelsea without Cahil, Oscar and Hazzard, etc.  
 
This isn’t to say certain sides should be exempt of criticism.  There’s a reason some sides are more injury prone than others and many such injuries are preventable.  But it’s far too simplistic to say an injury ravaged sides struggles are down to a lack of squad depth.  When any teams best players are out, they won’t do as well.  It’s simple and rarely to do with whether their bench was assembled with superstars or not.

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