Manchester United will be walking into a cauldron of noise when they enter Donbass Arena for their UEFA Champions League match against Shakhtar Donetsk today. Donetsk has never lost at home to an English team in the Champions League and their manager, Mircea Lucescu, has already started the mind games with Manchester United.
The veteran of 109 Champions League matches used his pre-match press conference to say this about Moyes and his current team selection:
“There will always be a change of philosophy under a new coach and every coach needs time to work in a proper way. This is why David Moyes is facing difficulties at this stage. But we have analyzed the United games and we noticed there are always changes in the squad, maybe four or five players [in each game].
“This rotation means the links between the players can be affected and I think turnover can cause a lot of problems sometimes. We have also discovered that here. The other big teams in the English championship, such as Chelsea, Liverpool and Arsenal, are not rotating the team as much as United and maybe that is a factor. We know the work of Mr Moyes from Everton and he is one of the strongest coaches in the Premier League. He needs some time to work with his players and let’s hope the team finds a good pattern after [tonight].”
Lucescu is playing mind games with Manchester United. In the past, it was United who took advantage of these situations, to play mind games with opposing managers. But now it seems the tables have turned.
For the first time in recent memory, Manchester United’s fear factor over their opponents has taken a hit. West Bromwich Albion dealt the Red Devils’ aura of invulnerability a huge blow when they walked into Old Trafford and beat Manchester United, 2-1.
For United to lose at home may not seem like a big deal. But take the manner in which they lost.
United had gone behind 1-0 in the second half, but had scored one of their trademark home goals just three minutes later to level the match. In the past, as Manchester United supporters know, this is the point where their club usually kicks off. As described by former Red Devil Gary Neville on Sky Sports Monday Night Football, “What you’ve always seen Manchester United teams do from that point on is: get after teams, chase the ball down, create loads of chances. Honestly that was the most disappointing thing. The period between United scoring and, if you like, West Brom scoring the second [goal]. It’s an incredible passage of play.” He went on to describe United’s effort and execution as “surprising” and “disappointing”. The Red Devils did not look like themselves and they definitely didn’t look like the Champions of England.
That passage of time was the defining moment in the match. What United need to do in the Ukraine is make sure they don’t let that be the defining moment of their season.