Manchester United 3 Olympiakos 0 - comment: Champions League progress fails to hide lack of quality for David Moyes' side

RVP hat-trick has saved Moyes for another day, but much change is needed, writes Kevin Garside

Old Trafford

Luck has been one of the many variables that has not gone the way of David Moyes. On the night when he finally gets a break and at the point it was needed most, it would be ungenerous to rain on his parade. So here goes.

Manchester United beat a team that would struggle to put Wigan away, that have never won in 12 attempts in England, and that might have delivered the vital away goal twice in the opening half, on one occasion requiring an improbable double save from David de Gea. A win is a win, except when it is against opposition as poor as Olympiakos.

There are a string of more representative results behind United, Sunday’s home defeat against Liverpool being just one. You shudder at the prospect of Bayern Munich, Real Madrid or Barcelona pitching up here in the next round. Careful what you wish for, David.

On Tuesday, Manchester City are the visitors chasing a trophy beyond the reach of Moyes, the Premier League title. City will not be as porous as last night’s visitors nor will they be as profligate in front of goal.

 

This was a victory of graft over craft. Yes, Robin van Persie nailed a headline-grabbing hat-trick but two of his goals were set-pieces. On the whole United just did the dull stuff quicker. There was an obvious commitment hike but hardly a commensurate upswing in quality.

What was required was speed of thought as much as limb. United didn’t fail against Liverpool for lack of effort but for an absence of wit and imagination. Running harder does not solve that problem. Moyes has not grasped that.

Read more: Moyes buoyed by RVP hat-trick
Who might sign for United this summer?
Moyes praises 'freak' Giggs
Moyes hopes RVP is 'not too bad'

There was a discomfiting sense of desperation. This was not a team that believed in itself. Precisely the opposite. It was a side that has lost its way and has no idea which way is up on the compass. Even if we accept that a team that won the championship by 11 points was in decline, the frantic  to-ing and fro-ing was proof that Moyes has accelerated not slowed that process.

For a spell in the second half after Van Persie’s third goal, United struggled to gain meaningful possession of the ball. Insecurities that have developed under Moyes would not go away despite the scoreline.

Among the many contradictions swirling around Old Trafford these days is the idea of United as underdog. The announcer welcomed the visitors from Greece to the world’s greatest football club yet the ground staked by Moyes was full of red-blooded rhetoric about recovering lost causes and delivering a result against the odds.

His predecessor would regularly invoke the fighting spirit that lay at the heart of his teams but this was from a position of strength in the service of a club that won things. Moyes has confused the position of the club with his own. The fundamentals at Old Trafford, economic and cultural, almost certainly guarantee a return to happier days.

What is not so clear is the ability of Moyes to restore the team to the heights reached by Sir Alex Ferguson. The cheers that echoed around the stadium as the teams lined up were for United not Moyes. His brisk walk to the dugout was of the graveyard variety. He raised his hand to acknowledge the crowd and to project an air of insouciance but without convincing many.

Robin Van Persie Van Persie converts a penalty to give United the lead on the night Wednesday night’s solution to the midfield conundrum that has beset Manchester United in recent years was a 40-year-old member of United’s coaching staff. Yes, he put the ball on Wayne Rooney’s sixpence for the second goal. Ryan Giggs with the ball at his feet is still some sight. But he was also instrumental in the defensive lapse that created the overlap which led to David de Gea’s vital double save.

The selection of Giggs propped up the argument peddled by Moyes from the start: “What choice do I have?” You wonder what Fergie makes of the claims that he left Moyes a basket case of a squad with which to work.

Ferguson’s arrival at Old Trafford with former chief executive David Gill eight hours before the kick-off had the rumour cycle churning all manner of reasons for their early attendance. Crisis meeting was a popular suggestion pointing to the trouble Moyes is in, as if they needed to meet here to decide anything.

Read more: Unconvincing victory fails to hide lack of quality
Five things we learnt at Old Trafford
Manchester United player ratings

Each fixture brings a fresh judgement on Moyes’ prospects. In the main he has borne the speculation well. There is an undeniable dignity about Moyes as an individual but being a nice bloke does not get this job done, as Ferguson’s many abuses of civility demonstrate.

Moyes’ promptings from the dugout are those of a conductor without a baton. He waves his hands, gesticulates but to no obvious effect. You might argue that once the whistle blows it is the job of the players to solves problems on the pitch. To a degree, but their ability to do so is conditional on the requisite preparation.

This is a group that has had the belief beaten out of them. The extra dimension that confidence brings is no longer on tap. That is entirely in the gift of the manager. You only have to look at the way Jose Mourinho has moulded Chelsea into a sum greater than its parts.

Under Moyes, United don’t add up to the force of old, and he must bear responsibility for that. Edging past Olympiakos is a reprieve, nothing more.

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Environment
The plant ‘Nepenthes zygon’ was donated to Kew in 2004
environment
News
This artist impression shows a modern-day Atlantis
news
Arts and Entertainment
booksPhotographer snapped celebrities for 40 years - but it wasn’t all fun and games
News
i100
Sport
Aguero - who single-handedly has kept City's Champions League dreams alive - celebrates his dramatic late winner
footballManchester City 3 Bayern Munich 2: Argentine's late hat-rick sees home side snatch vital victory
News
peopleSinger tells The Independent what life is like in rehab in an exclusive video interview
News
Muhammad Ali pictured in better health in 2006
peopleBut he has enjoyed publicity from his alleged near-death experience
Arts and Entertainment
Tony breaks into Ian Garrett's yacht and makes a shocking discovery
TVReview: Revelations continue to make this drama a tough watch
News
news
News
The assumption that women are not as competent in leadership positions as men are leads to increased stress in the workplace
science... and it's down to gender stereotypes
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
Putin’s far-right ambition: Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU

Putin’s far-right ambition

Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU
Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

Escape to Moominland

What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?
Nightclubbing with Richard Young: The story behind his latest book of celebrity photographs

24-Hour party person

Photographer Richard Young has been snapping celebrities at play for 40 years. As his latest book is released, he reveals that it wasn’t all fun and games
Michelle Obama's school dinners: America’s children have a message for the First Lady

A taste for rebellion

US children have started an online protest against Michelle Obama’s drive for healthy school meals by posting photos of their lunches
Colouring books for adults: How the French are going crazy for Crayolas

Colouring books for adults

How the French are going crazy for Crayolas
Jack Thorne's play 'Hope': What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

Playwright Jack Thorne's latest work 'Hope' poses the question to audiences
Ed Harcourt on Romeo Beckham and life as a court composer at Burberry

Call me Ed Mozart

Paloma Faith, Lana del Ray... Romeo Beckham. Ed Harcourt has proved that he can write for them all. But it took a personal crisis to turn him from indie star to writer-for-hire
10 best stocking fillers for foodies

Festive treats: 10 best stocking fillers for foodies

From boozy milk to wasabi, give the food-lover in your life some extra-special, unusual treats to wake up to on Christmas morning
Phil Hughes head injury: He had one weakness – it has come back to haunt him

Phil Hughes had one weakness – it has come back to haunt him

Prolific opener had world at his feet until Harmison and Flintoff bounced him
'I have an age of attraction that starts as low as four': How do you deal with a paedophile who has never committed a crime?

'I am a paedophile'

Is our approach to sex offenders helping to create more victims?
How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

Serco given Yarl’s Wood immigration contract despite ‘vast failings’
Green Party on the march in Bristol: From a lost deposit to victory

From a lost deposit to victory

Green Party on the march in Bristol
Putting the grot right into Santa's grotto

Winter blunderlands

Putting the grot into grotto
'It just came to us, why not do it naked?' London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital

'It just came to us, why not do it naked?'

London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital