5 Things We Learned: Olympiakos 2-0 Manchester United
1. A spineless performance
THIS season has been very up and down – mainly down. Actually, scratch that. It’s been all down.
I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve enjoyed watching United this season. On the opening day against Swansea. The 3-1 victory over Fulham at Craven Cottage, where we were excellent. 3-0 away at Villa, we were superb. 5-0 away at Bayer Leverkusen, where many of the maligned players (Nani, Smalling, Valencia and Evans) were on the scoresheet.
Despite a forgettable season, I’ve always stuck by Moyes and the players.
Last night was the first time I really got irate and fed up. Last night the players were simply awful. They looked anything but Manchester United players – that goes for all of them.
Roy Keane’s post match analysis was scathing. Nothing new there. But he even attacked Michael Carrick for what he perceived to be a ‘flat’ and spineless post match interview. At the time I thought it was harsh. He’d just come off the pitch after an abysmal performance and had a microphone thrust in his face. He’s gutted, how else was he going to react? But it got me thinking about leadership and how United have very few leaders, if any.
The one that immediately springs to mind – Wayne Rooney – was just as culpable for last night’s atrocious performance as any player. Let’s not forget that he’s also likely to be given the captain’s armband next season – despite twice trying to leave the club, openly criticising the club and dividing Reds’ fans. Of course, Rooney’s personality is ideally suited to be captain. He’s passionate, spiky and leads by example.
After Keane’s comments, I began to yearn for more Keane type characters in today’s United squad. It’s often been talked about that we haven’t replaced Keane. That’s true but, of course, players in the Keane and Patrick Vieira mould are dinosaurs in the modern game, in which tackling and physicality is slowly being outlawed.
But that doesn’t mean that players with passion, desire, hunger, who both instill fear and respect, need to be a dying breed too.
I just want to see one of the current crop taking responsibility on the pitch. Even if it’s rounding on one of their team-mates and going nuts. I ache for one of them to visibly show some passion, show that they’ve got the stomach to play for this club, through the bad times as well as the good.
Too many players last night simply looked content with their lot.
Too many players are coasting and that includes the likes of Robin van Persie and Rooney.
Someone needs to rock the boat.
2. Blame Moyes? Blame the players
UNITED fans, United critics and fans of other clubs can get on David Moyes’ back as much as they like, the simple truth is that the players that took to the field last night simply didn’t turn up.
Moyes’ tactics have come in for plenty of criticism this season.
He’s too negative, he’s not adhering to the traditional United philosophy of attacking flair and providing entertainment.
Of course he’s part of the problem. Last night, however, the loss was largely down to his team lacking bottle. They simply didn’t want it.
Whether this is a sign that they do not trust or like the new manager, or whether it is simply a side effect of losing the greatest manager in the club’s history. Either way, I care not.
These players are still wearing the red (navy blue last night) of Manchester United, and they are letting the club, not to mention themselves, down right now.
As Clive Tyldesley said during commentary, this was Olympiakos we were playing. It wasn’t Barcelona or Bayern Munich.
The Greeks might have lacked quality but they had desire and work ethic in abundance.
Rooney, for all his quality and talismanic aura, at one stage in the second half allowed a player to beat him, then he just started jogging in pursuit of him as his opponent accelerated away from him.
Rio Ferdinand returned to the United starting line-up against Crystal Palace at the weekend and was excellent. He’s lost a few yards of pace but his experience in games such as last night is said to be invaluable. For Joel Campbell’s goal, he simply turned his back in a feeble attempt to try and block the effort, instead of racing to him and getting in his face.
Ok, so perhaps the players are being worked too hard, a rumour I’ve heard many times this season.
I’ve also heard several whispers that players are disillusioned with the intensity of training, which has also been blamed for injuries that many players have sustained -particularly Robin van Persie spending near enough three months on the sidelines over Christmas.
If United fans are using this as a stick to beat Moyes with, put it down.
If professional footballers, paid vast sums to do what many of us would kill to do, are really moaning about a few hours of tough running per day, my heart bleeds.
You’re not getting sympathy from me. You’re getting apoplectic rage.
You need a reality check.
3. Blame the players? Blame Moyes
OF course it isn’t all down to the players, Moyes must be saddled with an equal share of the criticism.
The Scot came to United with the reputation as a grafter and it was abundantly clear he instilled that in his Everton teams. Everton were hard working under Moyes, which made up the gap in their quality. Don’t for one second think I’m belittling Everton, they had some great players under Moyes, but they were eternally on the periphery of the elite clubs in the Premier League. First and foremost they possessed a great work ethic.
Last summer there were stories in the media of gruelling pre-season workouts ahead and I read an interview with Phil Neville, who of course played under Moyes, who pre-warned the United players that Moyes had the demeanour of an Army colonel. He would deliver painstaking training sessions designed to get the optimum performance out of his team.
Well, where’s that work ethic and superior fitness gone? Because it certainly wasn’t evident last night.
4. No pace. No energy
WHERE is our beloved United of old?
The teams, who under Fergie, would throw caution to the wind and attack with careless abandon. If teams scored two against us, we’d score three. If they scored three, we’d score four. We’ve had great defenders at our club throughout our history and we’ve had great defences. But, first and foremost, we’ve been an exciting side to watch, full of pace, power and flair.
But this season, that’s been replaced by paralysing fear, caution and self doubt. Instead of getting the ball forward quickly when we receive it in defence or midfield, there’s too often a foot put on it and a slowing down of the play.
In my opinion, Shinji Kagawa was the one player to come out of the game last night with any credit whatsoever. When he came on, you could see that he wanted the ball early but it too often came to him slowly, giving defenders time to close him down.
The tempo generally in games this season is a joke.
We excel in receiving the ball then slowing down the play.
We can condemn last summer’s disastrous transfer window and speculate that with a few new signings this summer, things will be peachy again.
The fact is, however, that while we may have not won the league this season and still have endured a transitional period anyway, we’d be doing a lot better than we are now if we played with pace and stopped slowing down the flipping play every time we get the ball.
Teams like Olympiakos, teams that are traditionally inferior to us, now know they just have to get men behind the ball and work hard, because we’ll put our foot on the ball and slow the tempo down, and struggle and toil to break defences down.
5. Confidence at an all time low
IT’S hard to put your finger on what exactly is wrong at United.
We’ve lost the most successful manager in the club’s history and one of the greatest the game has ever seen.
We’ve got a new man in who’s trying to take on the biggest job in football and trying to mould the team into his own ideal.
The new guy is also not accustomed to spending large amounts of cash or sitting at the top table of European competition.
Moyes’ toughest job, to me though, has been getting a championship winning side from last season, to believe in him and believe that he is the right man to replace Sir Alex Ferguson.
All of a sudden, critics are saying the squad is ageing and poor. They weren’t saying that last season when we won the league by 11 points.
The squad’s not good enough apparently.
Obviously there are players that don’t belong and are not good enough, but we didn’t sell any players last summer and Moyes has brought in Marouane Fellaini and Juan Mata – for a combined fee of around £60million.
This squad should still be performing much better than it has been.
The team is used to winning trophies and almost every player in the squad has won a piece of silverware with United.
Despite this, confidence is at ground zero.
It was a mountainous task facing Moyes last summer, but it must seem now like he’s slipped to below sea level.
Woefully lacking in confidence, to me, appears to be the major issue.
Critics can point to the number of players not good enough and how the squad wasn’t added to in the summer, but it’s clear the players are not thinking or acting positively. Their body language and attitude points to unrest or at least to struggling to come to terms with the new regime and the tactics and training that Moyes is deploying.
They look as if they don’t believe in Moyes’ plan for United. They look as if they don’t trust Moyes, because as Michael Carrick’s interview showed after last night’s game, you can see that the players are hurting.
In one of my other points, I suggest the players don’t care.
But maybe it’s just that they feel they’ve given Moyes a chance, and don’t believe he’s the right man to lead the club forward.
And, as we know all too well, once a manger loses the dressing room, there’s really no hope of recovering their trust.
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