Man United crisis: struggling Moyes gets excuses in early
New boss issues warning over Champions League chances as Old Trafford loses the fear factor
SEVEN points from six games and Manchester United languish in 12th spot in the Premier League, not just behind old rivals such as Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool but also trailing new boys like Cardiff and Hull.
Alex Ferguson was probably sat at home on Saturday night in front of Match of the Day giving the television some hairdryer treatment.
His successor at Old Trafford, David Moyes, lacks Ferguson's fury, and for the moment his team lacks any cohesion. Beaten 2-1 at home by West Bromwich Albion on Saturday – the first time the Baggies have won at United since 1978 – the Red Devils have endured a hellish start to the season, their worst in the 21-year history of the Premier League.
Now Moyes must rally his men ahead of Wednesday's trip to Ukraine to face Shakhtar Donetsk for a crucial Champions League fixture but already he is sounding a note of caution, as if bracing the fans for the worst. "Going to Ukraine is tough because Donetsk have had a good record," said Moyes, who never managed to steer Everton to the Champions League group stage in his 11 years in charge at Goodison Park. "I know they've sold one or two players but they have five or six Brazilians – they are not all Ukraine-based players but from all over the place."
Moyes said that the "spending power of some of the big teams in other countries" had made the Champions League harder to win than ever, adding: "Progress is not something that is guaranteed. There were no guarantees for Manchester City [who failed to reach the last 16] last year. You have to play well enough and grow into it and, hopefully, keep moving along."
It's not exactly the chest-thumping stuff that the United faithful would like to hear as they contemplate an eight point gap between themselves and Premier League leaders Arsenal. The Gunners notched their ninth consecutive victory in all competition on Saturday against Swansea – their best start to a season for ten years – but Moyes is confident his boys can claw back the deficit in the coming months.
"I think we said at the start it could be a topsy-turvy Premier League season and it may well prove to be that," said the Scot. "We'll get it right in the end. I think the Manchester United players set really high standards. They are all top lads. But you're the manager, you take it, that's what happens and you know what the consequences are because if the team loses it's always the manager."
But writing in Monday's Daily Mail, former Arsenal and England defender Martin Keown does his best to deflate Moyes' confidence with some cold hard stats. Not since 1950 has a team gone on to win the title after losing three of their first six matches, he points out, adding that West Brom "played at Old Trafford with no fear and the message is to attack when in possession and isolate their defenders".
And there in a sentence is Moyes' great problem. Teams no longer step off the bus at Old Trafford fearful of what the afternoon will bring. Ferguson created a cult of personality during his 26 years at Old Trafford similar to that Bob Paisley and the young Kenny Dalglish created at Anfield in the 1970s and 1980s.
"United will look across to Merseyside and realise the dominance Liverpool had in the Eighties disappeared when Kenny Dalglish left," writes Keown. "Confidence can be brittle and can melt away." And with it two decades of dominance. ·