Where do Manchester United and David Moyes go from here? Just a few months into the job and many are doubting the Scotsman’s credentials to be Sir Alex Ferguson’s successor. Certainly, it hasn’t been a smooth transition into the Old Trafford hot seat but it was never likely to be. Anyone following in the footsteps of Fergie will have found it tough not only due to the immense levels of expectation that United should be battling to win as much silverware as possible but also due to the pressure of continuing on from his legacy of unparalleled success. Because of this, much of United’s enormous fanbase have become so used to seeing their team win trophy after trophy and taking on (and defeating) the world’s other elite clubs. As a result, this season has been hard to stomach. Whilst it’s true that not many pundits were backing United to defend the Premier League title before a ball was kicked, none of them would have predicted that they’d be so far off the pace with the season over the half way point.
The position United find themselves in the league is indeed quite shocking, to even qualify for the Champions League and compete with the aforementioned elite clubs looks a shade optimistic at this stage. Whilst it may be a season of transition, this is still not acceptable for anyone associated with the club. This is virtually the same squad which won the title with ease last season with the one addition of Marouane Fellaini in the summer. Many pundits and fans will argue that Moyes didn’t strengthen as much as he should have done and it’s very true that in football, to not strengthen (and go forwards), is to go backwards. There’s no “side wards”. However, this United squad (even without significant reinforcements) is undoubtedly a good squad otherwise it wouldn’t have been able to win the title last season. It’s by no means the strongest squad they’ve ever had, in fact it’s average by their standards and when compared to the teams of the late nineties, but it still shouldn’t be stuck down in seventh place in the table in January (even with the injuries to Robin Van Persie and Wayne Rooney). To be six points off the Champions League spots and fourteen behind the leaders indicates towards a struggle far beyond a mere “transitional” season, it has been a bit of a nightmare.
No doubt about it, United and Moyes have to turn it around dramatically from now to the end of the season to restore some lost pride and to make the season not look like a total disaster. I’m sure many United fans would be patient enough to allow Moyes time to find his feet, after all this is a very big job and miles apart from almost any other in English football. However he needs to achieve something this season to give them hope and assurance that he is the right man and that he can bring success to Old Trafford. That means reversing the first leg deficit against Sunderland in the Capital One Cup and then beating Manchester City in the final (no disrespect to West Ham but it’s not going to happen). Winning a trophy by beating your major rivals will guarantee to bring a smile back to many faces. In every other season the Capital One Cup (League Cup) wouldn’t be at the top of United’s list of priorities, but as this season has unfolded it undoubtedly will be now.
Then there’s the league itself. United must be in the top four. They simply have to be. They don’t deserve to be on this season’s results and performances but many will see fourth place as a minimum requirement even so. Once United drop out of the elite competition, there will inevitably be greater problems attracting world class players. Whilst Moyes may argue that United are still United and a huge club even if they weren’t to qualify, you can’t deny that the best players crave Champions League football. There’s a chance Gareth Bale would have stayed at Tottenham if they’d have edged out Arsenal last season. Unfortunately they missed out by a fraction and Bale went to Real Madrid for a world record fee. If United aren’t a Champions League club next season and they are competing for the signing of a player with another club who can offer Champions League football, United’s chances of getting his signature are quite fanciful.
Then of course, there’s the Champions League. Surprisingly enough, this is the competition in which United have shown the most consistency having topped their group undefeated. They’ve been given a favourable last 16 tie against Greek side Olympiakos and therefore Moyes needs to avoid another upset. United, even with their problems, will be expected to cruise into the Quarter-Finals. If they were to reach that stage, in all likelihood Moyes will have a chance to take on one of the world’s best sides and it would be a remarkable effort if he were to topple a giant based given their poor run of form.
So to summarise, Moyes needs a strong second half of the season to win over his growing numbers of doubters. That much is obvious. If he were to guide the club through its most testing spell in two or three decades by finishing in the top four, winning the Capital One Cup and getting through to the latter stages of the Champions League, it would be almost as significant as any of Fergie’s great triumphs. Fergie never had to repair damage quite as badly as this. Even if he were to achieve all of the above, it would still be a poor season by United’s standards and there’s no escaping that. However, it would prove to be a corner turned and would definitely lay down the foundations for Moyes to put United back on the right track from next season onwards.