Was it only eight days ago that we thought David Moyes had finally laid down a marker at Manchester United, established some ground to call his own with that emphatic victory in the Bay Arena, Leverkuesen? Apparently not. The big problem with Moyes is one of identity. What does he stand for? What kind of football does he want his team to play? What type of player does he value?
The defeat to Everton following disappointing draws at Cardiff and Spurs has brought the snipers back to the turrets. There were many United supporters who did not share Sir Alex Ferguson’s enthusiasm for Moyes. There was an uncritical sense of his having done a ‘good job’ at Everton without really understanding how or why.
He kept Everton on the fringes of the top-six, made some decent moves in the transfer market but without ever quickening the pulse. Where was the big idea? Where was the Pep Guardiola philosophy, the Arsene Wenger aesthetic, the Jose Mourinho attention to detail? Moyes was seen more as the fire fighter than the barnburner. The requirement at United is to set Old Trafford ablaze.
We have spent the first 14 games of the Premier League season searching for answers to the question raised above. He appears unconvinced by Shinji Kagawa, hooked again on Wednesday night when he was looking for a change of gear. Kagawa gave his best performance in a red shirt last week in a part of the pitch that is widely understood to be the biggest problem. Kagawa offered two-footed invention in the middle of the park and was frankly the revelation Moyes failed to spot in the first few weeks of his reign.
Wilfried Zaha, promising enough to persuade the old regime to part with £12 million to bring him in from Crystal Palace, was given a run out for United’s under-21s last week, not the future he or the club envisaged. The one introduction made by Moyes, Marouane Fellaini, has so far failed to convince. So that’s 40 million quid burning a big, unproductive hole in the books.
There have been some successes, the rehabilitation of Wayne Rooney and the projection of Adnan Januzai being two. Episodically United have looked cohesive and purposeful; home and away against Bayer Leverkuesen, the first half against Arsenal, the first 20 minutes at home against Real Sociedad, but then the return of a kind of bland nothingness.
Moyes does not appear to know what his best team is. Nani played his finest match for as long as any can remember in last week’s 5-0 mauling but was benched at Spurs and against Everton. Ashley Young dives in and out. Injuries to Robin Van Persie and Danny Welbeck haven’t helped but that is not the area of greatest concern.
Moyes paired Fellaini with Ryan Giggs against Everton in his latest attempt to fill the midfield black hole. A 40-yearold man and a player still to settle are not the answer and were all the incentive Everton needed. Phil Jones and Tom Cleverley come and go, the former more effectively than the latter, but without erasing the idea that there is a centre-half on the loose in the middle of the park. Cleverley is demonstrably a weapon beyond use.
After 11 years at Goodison Park Moyes arrived as the finished article, the man to take United forward. But who is that man? We await a definitive move, a sense that he is controlling events and not the reverse. The defeat to Everton compels him to take matters by the neck, to demonstrate leadership, to show he can operate on the greatest stage, to tell us what he is about, to carve out an identity commensurate with the club he manages.