The Premier League title race is shaping up to climax in quite remarkable style. That is, unless Chelsea and Manchester City stuff things up this weekend. Please don't...
Liverpool's most important league match in 25 years and a season-defining game for Arsenal. Chuck in a relegation battle and it's a bloody Big Weekend...
- Worst start to a new year in 82 years.
- Four defeats in six home games for the first time in 27 years.
- Four home league defeats in three months.
United had suffered five in the previous three-and-a-half years.
- First Everton win at Old Trafford for 21 years.
- First Newcastle win at Old Trafford for 41 years.
- First West Brom win at Old Trafford for 35 years.
- Worst Start to a season since 1989/1990.
After four months of first and worsts, Davie could sure do with a win against Swansea on Saturday to try and get things (slightly) back on track.
United's Resilience And The Need For A Quick Start
Interestingly, one of United's biggest failings this season has been their lack of resilience when falling behind. This was an issue that Alex Ferguson managed to neatly sidestep last season, with United conceded the first goal of the game on a rather worrying 22 occasions in all competitions. However, more often than not, United responded, going on to take 38 points from those 22 games. In the Premier League last season they took 29 points from the 16 games they went 1-0 down in (1.81 points per game), by far the best in the division.
Under Moyes, this has changed dramatically. United have conceded first 12 times, but have gone on to win only three of those games (drawing one), gaining just 0.83 points per game. The shift from 1.81 to 0.83 is significant enough that if United had matched their resilience from last season, they'd be sitting second in the Premier League, one point behind Arsenal.
Whether or not the pro-Moyes chants on Tuesday were genuine or a thin façade by fans desperate to convince themselves that this is not a crisis, it is evident that belief is low at Old Trafford - it has been more funfair than fortress for opposing sides this season. A fast start, an early goal and a confident performance will be tiny steps on the road to recovery, but anything else takes Moyes and United even closer to the mire. Concede first, and United look beaten.
One answer to this particular problem is obviously to score first, and Moyes' side have taken 22 points from a possible 27 when they have taken the lead. That's easier said than done, but underlines emphatically the need for a positive start against Swansea on Saturday.
"We are not the first team to get beaten here by many, many goals and we won't be the last having seen Manchester City through this season."
Whilst Allardyce is indeed correct with his quotes following Wednesday's first-leg pumping, the fact that that particular shambles came after the manager effectively sacrificed West Ham's participation in the other cup competition will have only further served to alienate him to the club's support.
There is a distinct difference between opposition supporters chanting "You're getting sacked in the morning" and your own fans asking you to "f*ck off". The former indicates the delight taken in your misery, whereas the latter epitomises the sheer misery surrounding the dejected supporters that have just about come to the end of their tether.
Ignoring the Capital One Cup - and after the 6-0 shellacking at the Etihad Hammers fans will probably allow me the omission - Allardyce's side have now won one of their last 14 games, losing nine. No Premier League team has taken fewer points over this time period and they sit one point from the bottom of the table.
Allardyce's only saving grace may be the reported £4million it will cost to sack him, and a market that isn't exactly flooded with ideal replacements. The current top six in the betting are Harry Redknapp (already distanced himself), Malky Mackay, Glenn Hoddle, Paolo Di Canio, Neil Lennon and Alex McLeish. It doesn't exactly scream upsurge in form.
When you join on loan from League One and instantly form part of a defence that have conceded 16 goals in five games, the last opponent Roger Johnson wanted to face was Manchester City.
Having the son of the club's owner tell the world that you "might surprise a few people" won't have helped.
Having your side shipping six goals in 90 minutes will have helped less.
Being exposed as woefully out of your depth on debut will have helped less still.
Having your shirt thrown back at you when offering it to the fans will have rounded the nightmare off perfectly.
All in all, the only thing you can say to Johnson before his Premier League debut for West Ham at former club Cardiff is 'good luck'.
As an aside, should West Ham and Sheffield Wednesday go down this season, Johnson could gain the impressive record of being relegated five times in four seasons.
Despite being 11th in the table, Paul Lambert is a man whose employment seems to be under sustained pressure. Last weekend's FA Cup defeat to Sheffield United (after Lambert himself demeaned the importance of the competition) ended with a quarter-full Villa Park voicing its evident displeasure at the fare served up.
It's a sound that Lambert is getting rather used to. Villa may sit in mid-table, but that place is anything but comfortable. They are just six points above the bottom three and have won three of their last 15 Premier League matches, taking two points from five matches against Stoke, Fulham, Crystal Palace, Sunderland and West Ham.
Villa are dreadful to watch (30 goals in 29 home games under Lambert), and the manager's bleating about his squad lacking experience falls on deaf ears when 12 of the 14 players bought by Lambert since his arrival have been aged 24 or under. And that's £38million worth of inexperience.
Talk from the club is that both owner Randy Lerner and chief executive Paul Faulkner will continue to have patience with Lambert, but their tolerance will be tested should results not begin to turn. Two home wins since April.
Mauricio Pochettino's Defensive Selections
The pressure piled on Lambert clashes slightly when it is considered that Pochettino's Southampton are actually just four points ahead of Villa in the table, and after receiving deserved eulogies for their wonderful start to the season it is now one win in nine league games for the Saints. Whilst defeats to Arsenal and Chelsea (twice) are nothing to be ashamed about, home performance has certainly regressed worryingly since the 4-1 win over Hull in early November - one point in four games and ten goals conceded.
The message to Pochettino is pretty simple - stop messing around with your centre-back pairing, because your back-up options are nowhere near good enough:
With Fonte and Lovren this season: Played 15, Conceded 14, Clean Sheets 6.
Without Fonte and Lovren this season: Played 9, Conceded 15, Clean Sheets 2.
A game at home to West Brom should provide an opportunity to get things back on track at St Mary's, but after conceding three goals to Championship Burnley without their defensive pair last weekend, surely the time has come for Pochettino to stop tinkering?
It says something about the current levels of a) managerial underperformance and b) dross in the Premier League that Chris Hughton is only the fifth favourite to be the next boss to leave their position.
Three wins since September and no wins in six matches that included fixtures against Swansea, Sunderland, Fulham (twice) and Crystal Palace, with four goals in those games. That's utterly dreadful, and when you consider that Norwich spent more this summer than 11 other clubs.
Norwich's five games away from home against sides currently in the top seven have seen them ship 22 goals and score twice. It promises to get worse before it gets better for supporters that are rightly concerned their team's stay in the Premier League may be drawing to a close.
Roberto Martinez hasn't been forced to deal with too many headaches since taking over at Goodison, but injury concerns will have caused him some concern this week.
The first possible casualty is Leighton Baines, who missed the FA Cup cruise over QPR with a back spasm. "Leighton is recovering as we expected so I don't think he's going to be too far from being able to train," were the Spaniard's words over his left back. "Any player needs to be 100 per cent to be able to play and to be considered to play, so we'll assess him on Thursday."
In addition to Baines, both of Everton's first choice central defenders (Phil Jagielka and Sylvain Distin) have already been ruled out with hamstring injuries, meaning that Martinez will be forced to again name a pairing of Antonin Alcaraz and John Stones. It worked against QPR, but Norwich (and a relatively in-form Gary Hooper) will provide a sterner test. After the draw against Stoke and defeat at home to Sunderland, Martinez will hope that his new look defence can hold firm.
Daniel Storey - follow him on Twitter