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Premier League

How Manchester United manager David Moyes must wish for some of Manuel Pellegrini’s problems

United manager dodges questions about Everton defeat while City counterpart looks for second successive away league win

David Moyes’ press conference for the TV stations yesterday was so austere it made your eyes water. He never did care much for the weekly parade before the cameras but a few fragments from it reveal a new scale of aversion:

TV reporter: How did you feel about Everton fans [booing] you on Wednesday?

Moyes: I said on your cameras that Everton supporters gave their club a great backing.

TV: But you would have liked to get three points.

Moyes: Correct, yes. That’s right.

TV: Can I ask how confident you are Robin van Persie will play this weekend.

Moyes: You can ask but I might not answer it.

TV: So will he play?

Moyes: I said you can ask but I might not answer it.

These were the most extreme forms of brevity but it was a hard lunchtime’s work for Sky’s Manchester journalist. Moyes’ predecessor as United manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, always marched up to the press room with bravado after a bad defeat. However, Moyes’ taciturnity was that of a manager besieged by headline writers and fans – like the one who persuaded him to pose for a picture late on Wednesday after the 1-0 defeat to Everton, before publishing details of their alleged inflammatory conversation on Twitter in which Moyes was supposed to have criticised Everton fans.

He denied this, but even so some may say Moyes was naive to walk into that encounter, though you wonder how far we have fallen when a football manager must avoid the public at all costs.

Moyes, whose side are 12 points adrift of leaders Arsenal, is between a rock and a hard place: seeking to explain that he is managing a club in transition which will mean taking blows across the season, yet not pushing the honesty so far as to demotivate his players.

It didn’t seem to help hugely yesterday that Rio Ferdinand decided to offer a detailed example of the difference between Moyes and “the old manager” which flattered the latter more than the former.

“This manager’s a bit different in that he doesn’t name the team beforehand,” Ferdinand said. “The old manager used to give you a kind of a little bit of an idea if you’d be playing and stuff. When you know you’re playing the intensity goes up a little bit more on match day and that’s what you need. It’s hard to do that mentally [if you have no idea] because you spend a lot of nervous energy thinking “Am I playing?” or “Am I not playing?” and you’re just going round in circles in your head and turning into a madman.”

Moyes brushed this off. “I think sometimes a lot of managers leave it, so the press don’t get the teams too early…”

In response to internet rumours, Wilfried Zaha also decided to tweet about his own puzzling absence from the team. “I’ve never dated or even met David moye’s [sic] Daughter so that isn’t the reason for my absence.”

But as Moyes discussed the injury problems which assail him in the places where he least needs them – Michael Carrick another three weeks away from recovery, no apparent sign that Van Persie’s groin will stand up to the power of a resurgent Newcastle United at Old Trafford today – he seemed in a different universe to the other new Manchester manager.

Manuel Pellegrini’s third-placed City side learned how to win away, at West Bromwich on Wednesday, and though today’s visit is to a Southampton side whose players press and work for each other like no other in the Premier League, the Chilean’s only quibble was over whether he had, or had not, declared Sergio Aguero to be the best striker in the Premier League earlier this season. “I’ve never said he’s the best striker in the Premier League. I said he’s the best player in the league. There may be better strikers, but not better players.”

It is becoming clear that the spectacular lack of information emanating from Pellegrini press conferences is a product of his disinclination to say much, rather than suspicion of those who ask the questions. As he finds himself contemplating top place in the table, Pellegrini privately feels his players have adhered to his way of playing. He wants to risk ambitious and attacking football rather than let the opposition dictate his team’s play.   

His only dilemmas are when to bring back Joe Hart, City’s best goalkeeper, from the break which he considers critical to his rehabilitation. And whether to re-introduce David Silva, the most transformative player in City’s side, in the manger’s opinion, at Bayern Munich in midweek or against Arsenal next weekend. Nice work if you can get it, Pellegrini must surely conclude.

A tale of two managers: Manchester divided

Manchester City have won five of their last six matches in all competitions, while United have picked up only two wins in the same period:

City’s last six games:  Won 5 Drawn 0 Lost 1 F21 A6

United’s last six games:  Won 2 Drawn 3 Lost 1 F10 A5