Moments of truth: Matches against Liverpool, Olympiakos and Manchester City will go a long way to defining David Moyes' long-term future at Manchester United

Direction of club and manager hinges on three crucial tests in the next 10 days

The fixtures stand before him like the peaks of a mountain range; Liverpool, Olympiakos, Manchester City. Unless at least one is conquered, then David Moyes's first season at Old Trafford will slither away into nothing.

And it will not be met with a shrug of the shoulders. Ed Woodward, the club's chief executive, may be briefing that Manchester United will take the £42 million hit that comes with non-qualification for the Champions League (they budget to reach the quarter-final); Sir Alex Ferguson may have taken time out from the Oscars ceremony in Los Angeles to argue that the man he invited to succeed him requires more time and more money to add to the £150m he has spent on signing Marouane Fellaini and Juan Mata and tying Wayne Rooney to the club for the next five years.

But where it counts, in Old Trafford's giddying stands and the club's vast constituency beyond Manchester, the mood is starting to shift. Nobody wants to be the one who in 1989 unveiled the banner fashioned from a bed sheet that proclaimed "Three Years of Excuses and It's Still Crap – Ta-ra Fergie", although the man who did, Pete Molyneux, went on to became a minor local celebrity.

However, the sight of Roy Keane lacerating United for their limp surrender in Athens and then mocking Michael Carrick as he tried to excuse the performance against Olympiakos signalled a shift in mood that will worsen dramatically should Liverpool win at Old Trafford today – for only the second time in a decade.

Not since the Spice Boys years of Steve McManaman and Robbie Fowler have they travelled to United ahead of them in the Premier League. Only once has Moyes beaten a team of any consequence at Old Trafford – Arsenal in November. The Scot concedes he needs a win and he needs it now.

"I agree with you totally," said Moyes. "I can only tell you how I feel. I feel we have played a bit better recently but we have to show it against the other sides. This will be an opportunity to do that. I am sure Liverpool are confident. The roles have been reversed this year but we go into the game knowing the importance of it."

Victory this afternoon and the not inconceivable scenario that the biggest football brand in the world could score three times against the champions of an almost bankrupt Greek league would change the crabbed, defensive atmosphere at the club's training complex that lies at the far end of the Mersey from Liverpool. "It would give me time for my plans for what I want to do going into next season," said Moyes. "There are a lot of things that I want to do going into next season. It would give me a chance to look at that. It would help me."

Brendan Rodgers once offered advice to Moyes on succeeding a man who dominated his club. He had, after all, taken over from Kenny Dalglish. However, he accepts there was a difference. "I don't think it's good to compare," said the Liverpool manager. "David took over the champions, a club that was used to winning titles. I took over a team in eighth."

The difference between Moyes and Rodgers is that the latter knows what he wants and is implementing it. The former, who one day may admit the truth of Keane's observation that he would be "shocked by the quality of some of the players he has inherited", seems to have only one engine of survival; to reach the end of the season and regroup in the summer.

He has done it before. A decade ago, in only his second full season at Everton, they were nearly relegated and his relationship with Rooney collapsed. There was a mooted takeover at Goodison Park and Moyes' job was considerably less secure than it is at United this morning. He found himself on a pre-season tour that took him to Houston. It was there, in the summer heat of Texas that he plotted the transformation of Everton from a club whose only ambition was to keep their precious top-flight status to one that tilted at the Champions League.

"Houston gave David the chance to pull us together as a squad, take us out, work with us and get things sorted," said Kevin Kilbane, who played with him at Preston and worked under him at Goodison. "He is capable of that. It was a brilliant piece of management in adversity. One of his great strengths is his ability to weigh up players in good times and bad. He probably recognised weaknesses in United's squad but he felt he had to give the title-winners a chance and he would be open to accusations of tampering with a successful squad if he didn't do that."

United's short-term situation is a mess, but a club that makes more money in six months than Liverpool do in a year will never be short of cash to throw at a solution.

Rodgers' problems are the reverse. The short term is secure, Liverpool will qualify for the Champions League but they will still be competing against sides who, to quote the Everton manager Roberto Martinez, "are prepared to spend £300 million to win a trophy".

"It will be very difficult to compete against Manchester City and Chelsea long term," said Rodgers. "We are trying to prove you can do it in a different way. We have had to move a lot of players out to generate the funds to bring people in."

Those who travel from Merseyside to Old Trafford will not linger too long over the long term. Jamie Carragher always disagreed with Ferguson's claim that his greatest achievement was "knocking Liverpool off their perch". Liverpool, said Carragher, were not pushed, they fell. If anyone knocked them off it was really George Graham's Arsenal. "Since 1991 Ferguson did no more than walk past us once a season and kick us when we were down," Carragher said.

Now it is Manchester United who lie bleeding and Liverpool who are coming to Old Trafford wearing their hobnail boots.

Manchester United v Liverpool is on Sky Sports 1 today, kick-off 1.30pm

What United are doing wrong

1. Not making use of their attacking potential. The complaint of Robin van Persie that "people keep taking my space" sums up the concern.

 

2. Poor midfield tempo. The defeat at Olympiakos was an example of the lack of pace, urgency and direction in United's midfield.

3. Lack of a consistent central defensive partnership. With Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic fading forces, only at the tail end of the season has David Moyes settled on Chris Smalling and Phil Jones.

4. Not addressing public concerns. Van Persie's interview with the club programme was a rare example of a United player publicly backing their manager.

5. Not winning the big games. This season, aside from a 1-0 win over Arsenal, United have not beaten a single team in the Premier League's top nine.

What Liverpool are doing right

1. Making Anfield a fortress. In 14 home League games Liverpool have dropped just five points compared to United's 18.

2. Targeting defensive weaknesses. Twice this season Liverpool have delivered early knockout blows, targeting Arsenal's Laurent Koscielny on his weaker side and, against Everton, the gap between Leighton Baines and rookie John Stones.

3. Finding a new role for Steven Gerrard. The captain has adapted better than most would have imagined.

4. Keeping the team together. Luis Suarez, Martin Skrtel and Daniel Agger all flirted with leaving but were won over by Rodgers' powers of persuasion.

5. Making people like them. The club are relaxed, confident and carrying a lot of neutral support.

Tim Rich

News
people
Sport
FootballGerman sparks three goals in four minutes at favourite No 10 role
News
Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
Sport
A long jumper competes in the 80-to-84-year-old age division at the 2007 World Masters Championships
athletics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Sport
Radamel Falcao was forced to withdraw from the World Cup after undergoing surgery
premier leagueExclusive: Reds have agreement with Monaco
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvHe is only remaining member of original cast
Sport
Lewis Hamilton will start the Singapore Grand Prix from pole, with Nico Rosberg second and Daniel Ricciardo third
F1... for floodlit Singapore Grand Prix
Life and Style
Walking tall: unlike some, Donatella Versace showed a strong and vibrant collection
fashionAlexander Fury on the staid Italian clothing industry
Arts and Entertainment
Gregory Porter learnt about his father’s voice at his funeral
music
Arts and Entertainment
tvHighs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
Life and Style
Children at the Leytonstone branch of the Homeless Children's Aid and Adoption Society tuck into their harvest festival gifts, in October 1936
food + drinkThe harvest festival is back, but forget cans of tuna and packets of instant mash
New Articles
i100... she's just started school
News
news
New Articles
i100
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
life
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
New Articles
i100... despite rising prices
Voices
Holly's review of Peterborough's Pizza Express quickly went viral on social media
voices
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

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

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam