Oh, life is terrible over at Old Trafford.
How the tears must be streaming into the copious trophies they’ve won over the last two and a bit decades.
There’s no denying that the David Moyes era hasn’t got off to the ideal start. For United fans, it’s been less pleasant viewing than a preview screening of Adam Sandler’s latest movie. Yes, they aren’t going to win the league, FA Cup or a European trophy, but neither are Spurs and they’re practically wetting themselves with excitement at how the season is going.
Taking the reins from Fergie was never going to be easy, but we put it to you that David Moyes actually isn’t doing a bad job. Obviously he’s losing a lot of games and that’s generally not the sign of a managerial genius, but there are some positives behind what other people are gleefully and prematurely painting as a train-wreck of a season.
The Paddy Power Blog has looked back at Moyes’ first few months in charge and Fergie’s last few months in charge and uncovered some hopefully not too fanciful reasons as to why things aren’t as bad as they seem at Old Trafford.
The case for the defence
It may not seem it like it on account off all the defeats they’ve been suffering, but the United defence has tightened up. In fact, it’s tightened up substantially versus Fergie’s last season at the club. After 20 league games last season, they’d conceded 28 goals. Under Moyes, that’s down to 24 – just one more than:
- Manchester City
who are all having fantastic seasons, apparently.
Going beyond the confines of the Premier League, the news also looks better than the doom and gloom suggests. At this point last season, Fergie’s side were conceding 1.4 goals a game (42 goals in 30 games). This time around, it’s 0.97 goals a game (31 goals in 32 games in all competitions). They’ve had 13 clean sheets so far this term. Last year they’d managed four at the same point. The fact that they’re not scoring much and therefore the goals they are conceding are more fatal is something of a problem, but clearly Moyes is buidling a solid enough base to start from.
The only De Gea in the village
Last season, Fergie was swapping goalkeepers like Jordan swaps ill-fated marriages. He didn’t seem to know what to do with his options between the sticks. Admittedly the custodians didn’t help matters by being a bit crap a lot of the time, but there was an argument made that picking one and sticking with him would lead to more consistent performances. Fergie changed his goalkeeper ten times over the course of the first 30 games of the season and it didn’t seem to do much good. Thankfully, Robin van Persie was banging in the goals, so it didn’t really damage their ability to collect points.
In contrast, Moyes has swapped his goalkeepers just four times in 32 games and that’s down to Lindegaard coming in for a couple of cup games only to be replaced straight away by David De Gea when the next game rolled around.
The vote of confidence looks to have made a noticeable improvement in the young Spaniard’s confidence. Understandably, the headlines have all been about United losing, but De Gea has been in exceptional form – contributing saves that have stopped things going from bad to ‘hmmm … I wonder if they’ll have me at Aston Villa’.
De Gea already has 12 clean sheets to his name from 30 appearances in all competitions this season to date. In 2012/13, he managed 12 across the entire season from 46 appearances. Last season he caught just 37 per cent of the shots he faced in the Premier League, this season it’s up to 60 per cent. Obviously, opting to punch the ball away isn’t as catastrophically sinful as Mark Lawrenson’s gob-smacked nasal voice often suggests, but the increased confidence in his own handling is a sign he’s feeling more secure at Old Trafford. After years of struggling to replace Edwin van der Sar (pictured above), it looks like United may finally have found their long-term solution. It’s just a shame everything else has gone to crap in the meantime.
One for the ages
There’s a slightly cynical school of thought that part of the reason Fergie hung up the hairdryer when he did was because he knew he had gotten all he could out of an aging squad and couldn’t be arsed rebuilding it once again. ‘Here you go, Moyesy – here’s one big hiding to nothing. There’s a wine tasting tour around the Loire valley with my name on it.’
While Giggs (40), Ferdinand (35) and Vidic (32) have done enough this season to suggest they’re not fit for the knacker’s yard just yet, it’s obvious they won’t be operating at the top end of European football forever. Behind them, the performances of the more spritely Evra (33 in May) , Carrick (33 in July) and even van Persie (31 in August) will need to be monitored to ensure old father time doesn’t get his hands on them a little sooner than we might normally expect.
Part of Moyes’ job is to turn the squad into a younger bunch capable of challenging for silverware over the long-term and not just a Liverpool-esque once every decade or so. If that means a season of blooding younger players at the expense of a league title, it could be worth the sacrifice. Now obviously, missing out on the Champions League might be too big a sacrifice, but there’s still time for Tottenham, Everton and Liverpool to implode and United to achieve that particular goal.
Based on the average age of his Premier League starting XIs so far this season, it’s a job Moyes has set about addressing. Though injury and selection decisions, Ferdinand and Giggs have been called upon less and less. Over the course of his final season, the average age of a Fergie Premier League starting XI was 27.2. For Moyes, that’s down to 26.6.
The difference may sound trifling, but it’s worth noting because obviously everyone in his squad got one year older in the meantime, so reducing the average at all is a decent start. Chris Smalling, Phil Jones and Jonny Evans are becoming regulars in the defence (and as the numbers suggest, probably improving it). Tom Cleverley is seeing more game time in midfield; Danny Welbeck is scoring lots of goals which nobody expected and Adnan Januzaj has shown flashes of brilliance that suggest he could be a fan favourite for many years to come. Wilfried Zaha seems to have fallen off the face of the earth, but not every youngster is guaranteed to make it at United. The age profile of the United squad is nudging down and once Giggsy and Ferdinand hobble off the pitch one last time, it will actually seem like quite a youthful bunch.
Saying anything other than results have been disappointing under Moyes so far this season is as disingenuous as telling Sam Bailey she’ll have a long and successful career in the music industry. Things haven’t been going well, but there are plenty of cracks at Old Trafford that Fergie could paper over but Moyes has to resolve.
It may come at the cost of not needing to use the trophy cabinet for a year, but in the long term, it could leave the club in a stronger position that it was when Fergie claimed his last title. It also might not, but who is guaranteed to be a success filling the enormous shoes of Fergie? Moyes may be taking small steps, but he could well prove to be heading in the right direction.