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Not once in Sir Alex Ferguson's 27 years at Old Trafford did United endure as poor a run of home results as David Moyes has overseen in the last few weeks. Four losses in their last six at the Theatre of Dreams makes it crisis time in the red half of Manchester, and the fans that were told by Moyes' predecessor to give him time are fast running out of patience.
It is generally thought that much of the problem for United this season has been a lack of creativity from midfield. Shinji Kagawa, either this season or last, has failed to prove adequate as the number 10 they apparently so crave; Ferguson and Moyes seem to agree on this. But Wayne Rooney, as United's highest-rated player on WhoScored.com (7.74) this season, is quite clearly, after threatening to leave in the summer, now back to his best and a worthy bearer of that jersey.
The problem has in fact been around Rooney. Out wide, United either have wingers that are no longer as effective as they used to be, out of position forwards (step forward Danny Welbeck) or 18-year-old and far-from-the-finished-product Adnan Januzaj. Meanwhile in defensive midfield, alongside the ever-reliable and increasingly accomplished Michael Carrick (when fit), United have installed this season any one of failing star signing Marouane Fellaini, primarily centre-back Phil Jones, oversized Anderson, ageing and increasingly inadequate Ryan Giggs, unfit and returning Darren Fletcher or, most often, the most average footballer in the league, Tom Cleverley.
Herein lies the greatest problem. Whilst Giggs has extended his fantastic career, arguably, for one season too many, United are suffering from the combination of Paul Scholes' retirement last season and their failings in replacing him. Scholes had long since peaked as a player when at the beginning of last season he completed more passes in a Premier League game (135 vs Tottenham) than any other player managed in the whole of that season or the current one. Someone who moves the ball about with his range of passing, in the process controlling games, has been lacking from this United team, and while Ferguson could maintain the ship's sail sufficiently well, Moyes isn't experienced enough to keep it from going under.
Cleverley has been the most regular partner for Carrick this season, but quite what he adds to the team is beyond the best of us. Amongst a list of 46 occurrences of a player making over 100 passes in a Premier League game in the past five seasons, Scholes features four times. Meanwhile, the most passes Cleverley has ever completed in a top-flight game is 78. He's not even ambitious with his few passes; this season, of players with 15 or more appearances, only Ki Sung-Yueng and centre-back Laurent Koscielny have played a higher proportion of their passes sideways than Cleverley (61.4%). Intelligent passing clearly isn't what he adds to the team; and nor are goals (one in his last 27 league appearances), assists (none in his last 21 games) or particularly impressive defensive contribution (80th in the Premier League for tackles + interceptions per game this season, with 3.8). Carrick breaks up play and distributes, so it needs to be an inventive, incisive and risk-taking partner alongside him to help with chance creation.
Forging openings has been the biggest problem for United. Only five teams have created fewer clear-cut goalscoring opportunities this season than Moyes' men, who have managed only 19 in 20 matches so far. To put that into perspective, rivals City lead the way with 48, while the teams that fare worse are Cardiff (18), Sunderland (16), Crystal Palace (14), Norwich and Hull (both 13).
It speaks volumes that United's most creative players this season have been Rooney (1.5 key passes from open play per game) followed by Patrice Evra (1.2) and Carrick (1.1). While in previous seasons their wingers have contributed in this sense (two of Antonio Valencia, Ashley Young and Nani have been in the top three in each of the last four seasons), they have been severely below par this term. All three have been largely ineffective and it is little surprise that Januzaj has played so much. He has as many assists (2) in Premier League games this season as the former trio combined.
While most big clubs take note of and address the declining performances of their top players by signing replacements, first Ferguson and now Moyes have certainly missed a trick on the wings. Young showed signs of life with goals in successive games just before Christmas, but has looked back to the level of player he is widely considered: not sufficient quality for Manchester United.
Moyes' United have looked far from the well-oiled winning machines of Ferguson's heyday, and though that was expected to some extent, results of late have been catastrophic. The team's misgivings on the pitch can be rectified in the second half of the season but only if the management's failures off the pitch last summer are addressed in this January transfer window. They would do well to cash in on the likes of Young and Cleverley and move for the kind of quality players that had previously become a hallmark of Sir Alex Ferguson's time at the club. Maybe then, Moyes can get the club back on track.
Alistair Tweedale - follow him on Twitter here
All statistics courtesy of WhoScored.com, where you can find yet more stats, including live in-game data and unique player and team ratings.
The "Utd in crisis" stuff is overplayed. Ok, there are those that are overrated and over-the-hill but so has every team; I agree with other comments that good players don't become awful overnight as there is too much of a rush for knee-jerk decisions at every level. If you however not only change Manager after such a long time but dismantle the whole backroom staff and make board changes with owners with non-footballing agendas then its too obvious a reason to ignore- redped