In these troubling times a weekend without United in action is actually a relief. For instance, Match of The Day can be watched painlessly even if you do have to suffer through the dulcet tones of Messrs Shearer and Hansen. On Monday morning you can stride past those ‘football fans’ in the office who have failed to betray any knowledge of the Premier League until this season. It’s all a bit.. peaceful.
We are a spoilt bunch yet there are subtle differences between previously ‘difficult’ seasons. The game against Olympiakos proved a new nadir for David Moyes. You could not claim that this defeat was unlucky yet it was symptomatic of United’s struggling season so far. Since Sir Alex Ferguson left in May the fear factor has gone with him to be replaced by an inferiority complex and you wonder how damaging this season will be.
There was always the fear that by employing David Moyes there would be a change of mentality and playing style. The game in Athens proved how far the emphasis has shifted from attack to safety first and how difficult the players are finding it. With an away goal crucial in the first leg it was inexcusable to not record a single shot on target. Only in the last ten minutes did United actually threaten which was far too little, far too late.
The tie against the Greek league leaders was seen as one of the easy picks yet United made them look far more threatening than they actually were. Passes went astray, there was a limited discernible threat and no ‘zip’. When Andy Townsend seems to realise what is going wrong on the pitch then you know you’re in trouble. Above all, the Greek side simply looked like they wanted it more.
Right now David Moyes looks alarmingly weak and Robin van Persie’s post-match criticism will have gone down like a wet fart in church. In such situations it is difficult not to compare the two tenures and realise that such an outburst would not have been tolerated. Whether Moyes can adopt the same hard line as his predecessor is yet to be seen, certainly after Rooney’s bumper deal.
The muchly-anticipated summer overhaul already looks essential. Not simply for bringing new players in but for putting a fire under so many under-performing squad members. The club have been here before yet the main difference is that so many first-teamers have seem to have regressed. Tom Cleverley still manages to retain his England place as if his mediocre performances have simply gone unnoticed. Antonio Valencia cannot even get into the position to deliver another poor cross and the least said about Ashley Young the better. Though vastly experienced, the partnership of Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic looks increasingly outdated and slow with each passing week.
Whether the change in playing style is far too radical for them to comprehend the team’s psychological well-being seems to have suffered dramatically. The vicious circle of defeats followed by hard questioning has taken it’s toll to the extent where players simply do not seem to be expressing themselves. There is a tangible anxiety to play as if each of them are expecting the worst already. In turn players become cautionary and vulnerable, gifting hope to the opposition. Against apparently inferior sides there is a tendency to contain instead of charge. Ask yourself, when was the last time United went for the throat from kick-off?
Should United triumph against Olympiakos then all may still be forgiven from the pathetic midweek display. Hindsight is a bitch and perhaps the worries will be allayed between now and May. Maybe another great European night could be in store yet right now just some fight would be nice, a few chances would be lovely. In the next few weeks it would be nice to be able to watch a football highlights show without avoiding the shirts. That’s not too much to ask is it?