David Moyes had just secured his fifth Premier League win in six games late on Saturday night when he was asked had he slept the night before – "Last night? I sleep great every night," said the Manchester United manager – and whether he had been more nervous before this game than any other. "(Pause) No. No. Not at all." Perspective is hard to come by on this rollercoaster ride.
The fanzines are showing most of that quality. This was from Red Issue: “Moyes asked to be judged after two years and whatever your opinion, and whatever the results (within reason!), fairness dictates that’s a sensible time frame given the scale of the job he’s taken on."
The 2-0 win over Swansea City (first half not so good; second half good) told us what we more or less suspected: that the team are not in free-fall. The result was significant only by keeping United in touch with the teams who will be fighting for fourth spot, with Liverpool’s presence on the margins of that territory still pointing to the possibility that those two most inveterate old foes will be fighting for that position. The symmetries mean it will be do-or-die, because United need fourth to help them keep Wayne Rooney. Liverpool need it to retain Luis Suarez.
The two meet at Old Trafford on March 15, at the end of a 29-day period in which United also travel to the Emirates and host Manchester City. That’s when the pips will really squeak. They have taken five points from a possible 18 this season against the current top six teams and beaten only one of them. The Red News fanzine was rightly delving into the statistics of the top four at the weekend – observing that the teams who finished fourth in the last ten seasons had totalled 73, 69, 68, 70, 72, 68, 67, 61 and 60 points. If we take the median 68 points as a target, United need 31 from 17 games. Eight wins, six draws and three defeats would be enough. Essentially, the top four still looks on. Touch-and-go, but on.
So much is contingent on Adnan Januzaj continuing to be the jewel in the crown, week after week. Moyes, talking up the future in a way he should do far more, late on Saturday, revealed that whilst seeing this prodigy in the teenage “Wayne category” – possessing all the ability and fearlessness he saw in Rooney at Everton – he is “slightly different” to the Liverpudlian. “He is a real calm boy. He looks after himself in a great way. His father has really helped him a lot,” Moyes said. “Because of that he is steeped in football. He works and he lives for it.”
Januzaj is, in other words, offers predictably: a quality in lamentably short supply for Moyes. He doesn’t expect Robin van Persie to be missing for six weeks though can’t guarantee he’ll be back before. (The striker’s presence in the stands at Old Trafford, every now and then, would at least give the sense that Moyes’ battle is his own battle.) Neither can he be sure that Rooney will be back from his warm weather training in Egypt to face Chelsea on Sunday. But Januzaj – certainly good enough to trouble Cesar Azpilicueta at Stamford Bridge – does offer assurances.
He was a mere rumour to the United manager, when he took over United in June. “Somebody had said to me ‘have you seen the young boy in the reserves?’ and I knew a little bit about him because his name had been mentioned to me,” Moyes said. “But I didn’t know enough about him.”
The Swansea City manager Michael Laudrup has seen enough about life at the very pinnacle of football to know a lot about the fragility of such a prodigy. “I don’t know him personally so I can’t say what he’s like as a person,” Laudrup said. “I’m only looking from the outside but I hope he’s the kind of player who knows he will have to develop and move on and on and on - not think that just because you’ve played ten games in the Premier League then you’re already there at the top. They come and watch you in the stadium and see you with the shirt on but at 18, 19, 20 years old you’re still a boy. It’s very important you’re at the right club with the right people around you - family, friends, who advise you. Otherwise, sometimes unfortunately, you can see players who play ten or 15 games at the top level and everyone tells them they’re so great and they believe it and think they’re already in the top three in the world and…”
He didn’t need to finish the sentence, which Moyes - passing by in the corridor as the Dane reached this conclusion - didn’t hear. The United manager knows all about the attendant risks, though, and given the state of his Old Trafford inheritance, they really are something to lose sleep about.