Ryan Giggs puzzled by poor Manchester United but Nemanja Vidic points to the absence of Sir Alex Ferguson

Draw in Donetsk had flashes of steel, but player-coach warns against 'flabbiness'

There has been no escape from the realities of home for Manchester United. The days of flying straight back from European games have gone: Sir Alex Ferguson's little sports science obsessions persuaded him last season that players' recovery was more rapid if they slept on the Continent rather than touched down in Manchester in the middle of the night. But in Ukraine they have been operating to a UK clock, in a country two hours ahead of Britain, all week.

The home thoughts from abroad will be tinged with a little less anxiety now that the team, buttressed by a David Moyesian culture of midfield steel, have avoided defeat in the Champions League tie with Shakhtar Donetsk which they entered as second favourites. But in such a fragile period as this, another haemorrhaging of confidence remains a constant possibility. David Moyes, the manager, was not punching the air or marching away confidently through the foul eastern Ukrainian night, late on Wednesday. His side's ball retention dipped as they clung on for grim life and a 1-1 draw. Some sticky moments left Chris Smalling's perennially anxious look even more pronounced than usual as he left the Donbass Arena. "I could have played better tonight and I'm sure a few of the others felt [so] too," he admitted.

Ryan Giggs and Nemanja Vidic were justifiably satisfied but are searching for answers as to why United's intensity has dropped off by 10 to 20 per cent during their worst start to a campaign in 24 years. The unspeakable truth, of course, is that the departure of Ferguson has shorn United of someone who made them better than the sum of their parts. Though, since he is Moyes' player-coach now, Giggs naturally cannot say that. "Sir Alex was a great manager and a great influence on the team and the club," he replied to the suggestion. "You are going to miss someone like that. But I don't think that is an excuse when individuals aren't playing as well as they can. We are not playing well as a team. We haven't got injury problems as we have had in the past. There is no excuse."

Vidic went a little closer to public recognition that Ferguson's absence is the difference, with the interesting observation that United's players had started forgetting that they are not on the pitch to enjoy themselves. Against West Bromwich Albion last Saturday, they had looked solid enough for 45 minutes, he observed. "But then we tried to enjoy ourselves too much in the game and forgot we have to defend as well. Sometimes you shouldn't enjoy yourself too much in football. You want to be clinical. You want to be patient and keep balance in the team."

Ferguson's United were not always insulated against that kind of nonchalance. There is a fair bit of revisionism at the moment, as he goes Stateside to play the world statesman. But what was it he told interviewer Charlie Rose about his management style this week? "Fear… I think fear does come into it in some respects. I don't hide behind the bush or expect to in terms of losing my temper."

Though it could yet be a long road ahead, Giggs observed that expectations about this season being exponentially tougher than last against a strengthened Chelsea and Manchester City – United's owners, the Glazers, feel that way – might need to be revised down. "It is a weird season," he said. "City have been beaten twice. Nobody has hit the ground running who we'd have expected to. Obviously, Arsenal are playing well. Tottenham and Liverpool are at the top. But there is enough time for us to turn it around and get back to the top and stay there. You would rather be showing this form at the start of the season than at the end. There are other teams getting beaten around us."

The struggles of the others suggest already that it may be one of those seasons to target 80 points. "I hope so! The way we've started! I hope it is 70!" Giggs replied. The almighty challenge facing Moyes – who was memorably described by one writer this week as "the contestant in a new TV survival show, thrown a fresh challenge each week to see how he copes, and all for our entertainment" – is one that could have belonged to Giggs. Ferguson told a fellow manager two years ago that he saw his Welshman as the Chosen One.

In this, his first public discussion of his new role, Giggs said that the flabbiness which has let other sides cut through United's midfield must be eradicated. "You just cannot have that in the Premier League. If you expect to go on a run and put pressure on the top teams, we have to sort that out." Beyond that, the last few weeks are a mystery. "I can't put my finger on what has happened. We have just not played as well as we can both individually and as a team."

While Giggs continues to witness Continental crowds, like Donetsk's, applaud him from their field, it is left to Moyes to put his finger on things, with only a victory within the bounds of acceptability at bottom club Sunderland tomorrow. Giggs must surely look at the Scotsman, only 11 years his senior, and inwardly shudder at the scale and shape of an inheritance which only now is football really beginning to appreciate.

Life and Style
“What is it like being a girl?” was the question on the lips of one inquisitive Reddit user this week
News
peopleDave Legeno, the actor who played werewolf Fenrir Greyback in the Harry Potter films, has died
Arts and Entertainment
Armando Iannucci, the creator of 'The Thick of It' says he has
tvArmando Iannucci to concentrate on US show Veep
Life and Style
beauty
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Sport
Luis Suarez looks towards the crowd during the 2-1 victory over England
transfers
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur
fashion

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

Sport
German supporters (left) and Argentina fans
world cup 2014Final gives England fans a choice between to old enemies
Arts and Entertainment
A still from the worldwide Dawn of the Planet of the Apes trailer debut
film
News
peopleMario Balotelli poses with 'shotgun' in controversial Instagram pic
News
A mugshot of Ian Watkins released by South Wales Police following his guilty pleas
peopleBandmates open up about abuse
Sport
Basketball superstar LeBron James gets into his stride for the Cleveland Cavaliers
sportNBA superstar announces decision to return to Cleveland Cavaliers
Sport
Javier Mascherano of Argentina tackles Arjen Robben of the Netherlands as he attempts a shot
world cup 2014
Arts and Entertainment
The successful ITV drama Broadchurch starring David Tenant and Olivia Coleman came to an end tonight
tv
Sport
Four ski officials in Slovenia have been suspended following allegations of results rigging
sportFour Slovenian officials suspended after allegations they helped violinist get slalom place
News
14 March 2011: George Clooney testifies before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during a hearing titled 'Sudan and South Sudan: Independence and Insecurity.' Clooney is co-founder of the Satellite Sentinel Project which uses private satellites to collect evidence of crimes against civilian populations in Sudan
people
Arts and Entertainment
Balaban is indirectly responsible for the existence of Downton Abbey, having first discovered Julian Fellowes' talents as a screenwriter
tvCast members told to lose weight after snacking on set
Life and Style
More than half of young adults have engaged in 'unwanted but consensual sexting with a committed partner,' according to research
tech
Life and Style
A binge is classed as four or more alcoholic drinks for women and five or more for men, consumed over a roughly two-hour period
tech
Caption competition
Caption competition
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily World Cup Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

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

Day In a Page

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice