Manchester United have lost that fear of failure that Stoke City manager Mark Hughes knew as a player

United lost 2-1 to Stoke City just when they hoped their fortunes were changing

It was something Mark Hughes said in one of the back corridors of the Britannia Stadium late on Saturday which drove home the enormous emptiness at the heart of Manchester United. He was talking about the intense scrutiny which comes with playing for that club and how, as he put it, he used to draw motivation from it because “from my point of view it was fear of failure. I didn’t want to let anyone have the opportunity to criticise. It used to drive me on and I would suggest it was what used to drive a lot of United players on.”

The logistical nightmare David Moyes had been confronted with an hour or so earlier revealed how far from that old United philosophy his players are. After Phil Jones had been knocked unconscious by a fall and Jonny Evans strained a calf, Tom Cleverley wandered over to the dugout a little after 4pm to complain of double vision, at which time the manager was also juggling his promise to Robin van Persie that he would not see out the full 90 minutes.

Somewhere in that myriad of considerations, there was supposed to be an explanation for Moyes’s curious decision to send on Danny Welbeck, rather than Darren Fletcher, when Jones’s injury had left a hole in midfield which Wayne Rooney ultimately had to fill. But the overall impression was of a manager desperately trying to fix lost shape and lost courage at a club which aches for what Hughes knew as the spirit of Manchester United.

There were extenuating circumstances, like the injuries and the opposition and what felt like a force six gale – is the open corner at Stoke a deliberate attempt to create a wind tunnel? – which led Moyes to say late on Saturday that he had not known fortune like this in all his 16 years managing.

“[It has] never [been] as bad as this [run of luck]. I’m a football guy and I know how it works and you take it as it comes and goes but I think this has been quite a long sustained period,” he said.

Seven things we learnt from the Premier League this weekend: Manchester United pained to see another record go, Fulham are sinking, Gus Poyet may be Sunderland’s most popular boss since Bob Stokoe, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer makes his changes early, Lacina Traore must step into Everton limelight, Hull’s money needed to be spent, Englishmen leading the way for Southampton  

But you make your own luck in this game. United would help change theirs if they at least stopped conceding the first goal in games, which as Hughes said in relation to his own team is “really crucial” because you are left chasing games. “As a consequence you can’t build performance because it is always about having to try to get back into the game and at times you over-commit.”

The long and short of it is that United lack a shape, a pattern and a purpose. They cannot look forward with any confidence to playing in the 2014 International Champions Cup, the tournament to be played in July across 12 United States cities, whose participating teams will be revealed tomorrow as Real Madrid, Manchester United, Manchester City, Milan, Roma, Liverpool, Internazionale and Olympiacos. Come July, United will probably be up to their eyes in Europa League qualifiers.

Their defender Chris Smalling agreed with the notion that United would need to win every game if Liverpool were to open up the gap from last night’s seven points to a full nine. “Yes, I think that is the case. We’ve got to go into it as if we need to win every game. We’re the ones who have to catch [Liverpool] so we’ve got to win the points and put the pressure on them.”

United possess four consistently game-changing players – Rooney, Van Persie, Juan Mata and Adnan Januzaj – to Liverpool’s two – Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge. But Liverpool, who may very well be in the shoot-out with United for fourth, possess a huge  psychological edge. Brendan Rodgers has his players believing in a way that Moyes does not.

The mood of defensiveness and air of retreat was never clearer than when Moyes was asked if he too thought every game needed to be a victory now. Instead of the statement of intent that was needed in reply, he replied that he would just “have to win the next one, so you’re not going to get me to say any more than that…”

Stranger things have happened. If the marshalling of football resources really is so ludicrous that Charlie Adam’s fitness levels could be allowed to drift so low that he could not sustain 90 minutes of football when Hughes arrived at Stoke, then there is no accounting for what the game might throw up. Hughes’s fitness coach Damien Roden helped Saturday’s stand-out player shed two stones. “He is reaping the benefits. He is looking stronger and fitter,” Hughes said.

Words cannot describe the look of disdain on the Stoke manager’s face as he discussed Moyes’s outlandish claim that United had been Saturday’s better side. He was diplomatic. “There will be pressure brought to bear [on United],” Hughes said. “That goes with the territory. David has been in the game a long time now and he knows how it works. He will come through it. He is not someone who is green behind the gills. He is an experienced manager who will get it right I am sure.” But he spoke with the air of someone who knows how far his old club have fallen.


Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

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

Day In a Page

Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss
Tony Blair joins a strange and exclusive club of political leaders whose careers have been blighted by the Middle East

Blair has joined a strange and exclusive club

A new tomb has just gone up in the Middle East's graveyard of US and British political reputations, says Patrick Cockburn
Election 2015: Meet the top 12 wacky candidates seeking your vote in May

Election 2015

Meet the top 12 wacky candidates seeking your vote in May
Countdown to the election: Operation Save Danny Alexander shifts into high gear as the SNP target his Commons seat

Operation Save Danny Alexander shifts into high gear

The Chief Secretary to the Treasury didn’t forget his Highland roots in the Budget. But the SNP is after his Commons seat
The US economy is under threat because of its neglected infrastructure

The US is getting frayed at the edges

Public spending on infrastructure is only half of Europe’s, and some say the nation’s very prosperity is threatened, says Rupert Cornwell
Mad Men final episodes: Museum exhibition just part of the hoopla greeting end of 1960s-set TV hit

New Yorkers raise a glass to Mad Men

A museum exhibition is just part of the hoopla greeting the final run of the 1960s-set TV hit
Land speed record: British-built hybrid rocket car aims to be the fastest on Earth

British-built hybrid rocket car aims to be the fastest on Earth

Bloodhound SSC will attempt to set a new standard in South Africa's Kalahari desert
Housebuilders go back to basics by using traditional methods and materials

Housebuilders go back to basics - throwing mud at the wall until it sticks

Traditional materials are ticking all the construction boxes: they are cheap, green – and anyone can use them
Daniel Brühl: 'When you have success abroad, you become a traitor. Envy is very German'

Daniel Brühl: 'Envy is very German'

He's got stick for his golden acting career and for his beloved restaurant - but Daniel Brühl is staying put in Berlin (where at least the grannies love him)
How Leica transformed photography for ever: Celebrating 100 years of the famous camera

Celebrating 100 years of Leica

A new book reveals how this elegant, lightweight box of tricks would transform the way we saw life on the street and in fashion, on the battlefield and across the world