Manchester United manager David Moyes has his back against the wall if some media reports are to be believed. Despite signs that the manager was beginning to get the Red Devils turned in the right direction, time and again when the big tests have come his side has failed. The latest defeat was a shocking capitulation at Old Trafford against Liverpool, the club’s biggest rival. The scoreline in Sunday’s 3-0 loss flattered Moyes and United, for it was based on perhaps the worst derby performance for either side in the last three decades of the rivalry.
Moyes is having a problem tactically with the integration of Juan Mata. At Everton, Moyes preferred a tactic where he plays with two out-and-out wingers who can pinch inside when needed. But with Mata in the side and the continued desire to play youngster Adnan Januzaj, neither player starting in a wide position is particularly pacey or a good defender.
When Mata was acquired from Chelsea, I thought Moyes could adapt a 4-2-2-2 formation similar to Manuel Pellegrini’s system at Manchester City that has allowed both David Silva and Samir Nasri to share the pitch together, but that system requires the dropping of wide midfield players, and depending instead on fullbacks to provide width. What has happened instead is that the Red Devils wide players have not provided the necessary width and the fullbacks have been poor.
Coming into last Sunday’s match, Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers realized United’s limitations and chose to play a bank of three central midfielders who were able to snuff out any United opportunities before too much danger arrived. Liverpool midfielders sat inside where Manchester United’s buildup play would inevitably arrive.
Rodgers got his tactics spot on, and strangely Moyes never responded with a tactical shift. Mata’s lack of pace was evident time and again especially when Liverpool quickly turned into a lethal counter attacking side. As a result, the £37m rated attacking midfielder became invisible.
Mata has hardly looked comfortable in a United shirt. Perhaps Mata still craves the freedom and space to consistently impact the Manchester United attack, and with similarly styled players in the side he cannot thrive. Or perhaps it is just a further sign of the malaise of the side under Moyes.
Moyes has long been considered a smart man manager whose track record in English football speaks for itself. But in this case he should have been able to figure it out more quickly. Given his historical preference for out-and-out wingers who have an ability to pinch inside at times, he needed to change tactics and formation to accommodate Mata. But he has yet to do so. The results in the most important matches since Mata joined the club speak for themselves. For those results, Moyes must bear some of the blame.