Olympiakos 2 Manchester United 0 - comment: Excuses running out for David Moyes after grim Champions League defeat

A painful performance for Moyes' charges in Athens

Paul Collingwood has joined the England cricket coaching staff for seven weeks before he begins his final season at the helm of the county champions Durham. He set off for the West Indies full of enthusiasm and inadvertently with a parting shot at David Moyes.

The greatest gift a coach can bestow upon his team is confidence and belief, he said. This allows a new man to come in and transform the fortunes of a bunch down at heel, a bunch like Manchester United, you might argue. He points to Darren Lehmann and how he changed the outlook of the Australian cricket team, drawing essentially on the same raw material.

This was another telling result in a season full of them. You wonder how long the patience of the Old Trafford hierarchy will last. The Moyes narrative has relied on the idea that things are not quite what they used to be, but he cannot be allowed to hide behind the idea of a fading squad.

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His team is spearheaded by the highest-paid player in English football. It is the job of the coach to set the tempo, to establish a method and the kind of atmosphere that allows players  such as Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie to flourish.

 

A new job in football is a little like rearing a child. You count the early days of a life in hours, then weeks, months before routines are established and you just get on with it, the landmark moments stretching further apart.

Moyes is eight months in. Each game edges Sir Alex Ferguson deeper into history. The time for looking over his shoulder is gone. This was a real opportunity to mark out “me” territory for Moyes, to show us what his United are all about in a match with a guillotine attached.

Joel Campbell, on loan from Arsenal, celebrates his goal (AP) Joel Campbell, on loan from Arsenal, celebrates his goal (AP) He did, but not in the way he would have wanted. Compact was the Moyes watchword beforehand. Caution would be another, the very theme that clings to him from his Everton days and from which he needs to escape if he is to endure beyond the goodwill of the American owners.

His preference in this sort of fixture for the harrying qualities of Tom Cleverley, Antonio Valencia and Ashley Young  contributes to his difficulties. All are selected first for their defensive attributes, a willingness to chase and scrap away from home. There is plenty of that but not enough of the positive stuff required of midfield players.

Cleverley is the anti-Xavi, in that he occupies the same space without any of the touches, at least in a forward direction. What point there might be to Cleverley is lost when the bounce of the ball goes against you, as it did last night with another outrageous deflection, undoing the defensive strategy employed.

In his unnecessary negativity, Moyes utterly overstated the threat of this opposition. Olympiakos might reign in Greece but they are modest at best in this company and the plum tie for any aspirant in the last 16.

Moyes has few excuses. He was helped in his preparation on Tuesday night by the empty weekend ahead, providence looking kindly on him with the postponement of the Manchester derby to accommodate City’s appearance in the Capital One Cup final against Sunderland. He was thus able to indulge football’s ultimate cliché and pick a team that reflected the focus of one game at a time.

Against Crystal Palace last Saturday, with his first choice strikers in tandem and his chosen creative hub in harness, there was a suggestion that a pattern might be developing, the old swagger returning. If so, it did not make the journey to Greece.

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