Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Moyes & United desperate for creativity

Ali Tweedale of questions why Manchester United persist
with Tom Cleverley and illustrates why David Moyes must add

Not once in Sir Alex Ferguson's 27 years at Old Trafford did United
endure as poor a run of home results as David Moyes has overseen in
the last few weeks. Four losses in their last six at the Theatre of
Dreams makes it crisis time in the red half of Manchester, and the
fans that were told by Moyes' predecessor to give him time are fast
running out of patience.

It is generally thought that much of the problem for United this
season has been a lack of creativity from midfield. Shinji Kagawa,
either this season or last, has failed to prove adequate as the number
10 they apparently so crave; Ferguson and Moyes seem to agree on this.
But Wayne Rooney, as United's highest-rated player on
(7.74) this season, is quite clearly, after threatening to leave in
the summer, now back to his best and a worthy bearer of that jersey.

The problem has in fact been around Rooney. Out wide, United either
have wingers that are no longer as effective as they used to be, out
of position forwards (step forward Danny Welbeck) or 18-year-old and
far-from-the-finished-product Adnan Januzaj. Meanwhile in defensive
midfield, alongside the ever-reliable and increasingly accomplished
Michael Carrick (when fit), United have installed this season any one
of failing star signing Marouane Fellaini, primarily centre-back Phil
Jones, oversized Anderson, ageing and increasingly inadequate Ryan
Giggs, unfit and returning Darren Fletcher or, most often, the most
average footballer in the league, Tom Cleverley.

Herein lies the greatest problem. Whilst Giggs has extended his
fantastic career, arguably, for one season too many, United are
suffering from the combination of Paul Scholes' retirement last season
and their failings in replacing him. Scholes had long since peaked as
a player when at the beginning of last season he completed more passes
in a Premier League game (135 vs Tottenham) than any other player
managed in the whole of that season or the current one. Someone who
moves the ball about with his range of passing, in the process
controlling games, has been lacking from this United team, and while
Ferguson could maintain the ship's sail sufficiently well, Moyes isn't
experienced enough to keep it from going under.

Cleverley has been the most regular partner for Carrick this season,
but quite what he adds to the team is beyond the best of us. Amongst a
list of 46 occurrences of a player making over 100 passes in a Premier
League game in the past five seasons, Scholes features four times.
Meanwhile, the most passes Cleverley has ever completed in a
top-flight game is 78. He's not even ambitious with his few passes;
this season, of players with 15 or more appearances, only Ki
Sung-Yueng and centre-back Laurent Koscielny have played a higher
proportion of their passes sideways than Cleverley (61.4%).
Intelligent passing clearly isn't what he adds to the team; and nor
are goals (one in his last 27 league appearances), assists (none in
his last 21 games) or particularly impressive defensive contribution
(80th in the Premier League for tackles + interceptions per game this
season, with 3.8). Carrick breaks up play and distributes, so it needs
to be an inventive, incisive and risk-taking partner alongside him to
help with chance creation.

Forging openings has been the biggest problem for United. Only five
teams have created fewer clear-cut goalscoring opportunities this
season than Moyes' men, who have managed only 19 in 20 matches so far.
To put that into perspective, rivals City lead the way with 48, while
the teams that fare worse are Cardiff (18), Sunderland (16), Crystal
Palace (14), Norwich and Hull (both 13).

It speaks volumes that United's most creative players this season have
been Rooney (1.5 key passes from open play per game) followed by
Patrice Evra (1.2) and Carrick (1.1). While in previous seasons their
wingers have contributed in this sense (two of Antonio Valencia,
Ashley Young and Nani have been in the top three in each of the last
four seasons), they have been severely below par this term. All three
have been largely ineffective and it is little surprise that Januzaj
has played so much. He has as many assists (2) in Premier League games
this season as the former trio combined.

While most big clubs take note of and address the declining
performances of their top players by signing replacements, first
Ferguson and now Moyes have certainly missed a trick on the wings.
Young showed signs of life with goals in successive games just before
Christmas, but has looked back to the level of player he is widely
considered: not sufficient quality for Manchester United.

Moyes' United have looked far from the well-oiled winning machines of
Ferguson's heyday, and though that was expected to some extent,
results of late have been catastrophic. The team's misgivings on the
pitch can be rectified in the second half of the season but only if
the management's failures off the pitch last summer are addressed in
this January transfer window. They would do well to cash in on the
likes of Young and Cleverley and move for the kind of quality players
that had previously become a hallmark of Sir Alex Ferguson's time at
the club. Maybe then, Moyes can get the club back on track.

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