David Moyes must be wondering what he has to do to catch a break. After a convincing 2-0 win over Crystal Palace at the weekend, Moyes took his United team to Greece to face Olympiakos in the last 16 of the Champions League in a buoyant mood. But within five minutes of the kick off, Moyes sat slumped in his chair as he watched wave after wave of Greek attacks rein down on his withering United defence. The English champions looked stunned by the audacity of their opponents who really shouldn’t have been a challenge for a strong Manchester side. But the onslaught continued until eventually they wore down the United defence and smashed the ball into the net for a one goal lead.
Like a house of cards, United crumbled and with Moyes unable to rebuild it at half time, it wasn’t long before Olympiakos added a second. Punishment dealt out by the hands of an Arsenal loanee made things harder to bear for die hard Reds fans who watch Joel Campbell nutmeg Michael Carrick before unleashing a powerful curling 25 yard shot past the diving De Gea. The nutmeg on Carrick summed up everything that was wrong with the united Engine room – outplayed, outclassed and outshone. Carrick tried desperately to control the play but alongside him Cleverly looked more and more like a player who doesn’t belong in a United shirt. The England midfielder was caught wandering too many times and when he was involved was drastically out of position as can be seen in his heat map.
Cleverly wasn’t the only one in the midfield lacking direction. Wingers Valencia and Young looked as though they were still on mid season break caught once too often in possession and adding nothing to United’s attacking play. Upfront Robin Van Persie’s frustration grew as the game went on, with few passes falling to his feet. For United’s principle goal threat to only touch the ball a total of 24 times during 90 minutes (half of which were within 15 yards of the half way line) showcases how badly United midfield played. Strike partner Rooney was forced to drop so far that on occasions he looked like a defensive midfielder rather than a forward. Not idea when already trailing in a game. United failed to adjust their tactics with Moyes preferring personal changes in an effort to rescue the game. But 2-0 down the game was lost and all efforts in the last 30 minutes were on damage limitations knowing that United could rescue a 2 goal deficit, but perhaps not a three or four goal gap. Credit where credit is due, Olympiakos were impressive, and technically superior than their English opponents with Campbell, Hernan Perez and Olaitan in particular shining brightest. The Athens based club currently sit top of the Greek Super League and have been in blistering form coming into the fixture but few will have expected the ease on which the win was obtained.
What now for United and for David Moyes? Starved of ideas, the right players and fan support Moyes must be wondering why he took on such a challenge in the first place. He would love to write off the season and start planning for next year much like he did on a few occasions at Everton but unfortunately few at Old Trafford are used to that mentality. Success has been drilled into them for the past 20 years so failure has become an evil word that is rarely spoken. Moyes must remain focused, like a golfer after a bad shot, shrug it off and get back to practice. He has a squad capable of playing but they need confidence – both in him and his tactics. Unfortunately the only way to do so is to win using tactics that the team feels comfortable with. Since taking charge in the summer, Moyes has not fielded the same team twice, unlike Ferguson who hardly tinkered if his team was winning. Injuries and lack of form have hindered Moyes in his attempts towards consistency but making several changes to a team week in week out can have a significant impact. To rescue his Champions League dream Moyes must return to the same team that thrashed Bayer Leverkausen in the group stages and hold faith in them. United will have another 90 minutes back at The Theatre of Dreams to rescue their season but without changes, Moyes can expect another nightmare.