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After a woeful midweek for David Moyes, a rotten weekend follows. Two home defeats in four days and no goals scored in the process. If Manchester United's manager was under pressure before the match against Newcastle, the serious questions over Moyes' long-term future will now be asked louder and more vehemently. This now looks a truly mid-table side.
Given the club's current slump, it was clear before the game that even the smallest opportunity to gain a lift would be taken by the manager, and the returning fitness of Robin van Persie was seen as the chink of light at the end of a particularly dark tunnel.
Moyes had admitted on Thursday that he had no idea when the Dutchman would return from a niggling injury, but his words certainly didn't hint at a comeback two days later. "I don't know [when he will return]. We've been trying to get him back for a few weeks. But he is not ready yet. It's his groin."
Even before kick-off, Moyes seemed unsure. "I'm not sure whether he can give me 90 minutes," Moyes admitted. As it happened, the situation demanded that he did play the full match.
As Newcastle manager Alan Pardew remarked before kick-off, it was no real surprise to see Van Persie rushed back. The absence of Wayne Rooney (suspension), Shinji Kagawa (illness) and Marouane Fellaini (left out of the squad completely, quite the statement) left a hole that only RVP could fill. His name was widely cheered around Old Trafford when the PA announcer read it out.
It is easy to understand why Moyes took even the smallest opportunity to start his Dutch striker. Despite whisperings from some that Van Persie's absence actually helped Manchester United to perform (who am I kidding, it was me in 16 Conclusions a week ago), the statistics highlight just how crucial RVP is to United's success. Of the nine Premier League games he has started this season before Saturday, Moyes' side had won six and drawn two. A 66% win ratio is not as good as United managed last season, but it would have been enough to win the title.
Without Van Persie, United's record is abysmal in the league. They have started five games without their top scorer from last season, and taken just two points. Matches against Manchester City, West Brom and Everton have been lost (two at home), with points also dropped at Cardiff City and Spurs. It's clearly a small sample, but spread that record across a whole season and United end up on 15 points, the second lowest in PL history. Wayne Rooney's form, it seems, can only take you so far.
Unfortunately, it became almost instantly evident that Van Persie was far from fit, despite Moyes' assertions. During a uninspiring first half from the home side, Van Persie had just 18 touches, almost half of which were the taking of set-pieces. He was involved in nine duels (think knights, lances and armour) and won just two. More worrying still, he failed to have a single shot, and whilst Javier Hernandez and Adnan Januzaj buzzed around busily, their team-mate looked laboured in possession. I'm pretty sure he didn't sprint once before the break, a tell-tale sign of a player concerned about his groin.
Towards the start of the second half, we finally saw a glimpse from the Dutchman. Dropping into his own half to pick the ball, he sprayed a 60-yard pass to Hernandez, who forced Krul into a diving save. It was the exception that proved the rule - these are the passages of play that we have come to expect from a man with such talent. Even when the ball was provided on a platter and Van Persie nodded home, the offside flag denied him an equaliser. It was the striker's only effort on goal of the match, and that just about epitomised it completely.
In truth, the selection screamed of a manager starved of options and rather short on ideas. Left without the currently effervescent Rooney, Moyes chose the only option that gave him confidence.
That fact says very little about Moyes' confidence in Fellaini, too. Whilst the Belgian has struggled considerably in a withdrawn midfield role this season, it is easy to forget that Fellaini's preferred position is either in an advanced midfield role or just off a forward man. Moyes must know this, having selected him there on numerous occasions last season. With that in mind, it would have been preferable to start with Fellaini off Hernandez, with two of Nani, Antonio Valencia and Adnan Januzaj to provide crosses to both forwards. It may have been less pretty, but United could not have been less effective.
Robin van Persie is a fantastic forward, of that there is no doubt. But selecting a player clearly unfit (and at least lacking match fitness) from the start demonstrates perfectly the pressure Moyes is currently feeling at United.
This was the roll of the dice, the cross-fingers-and-hope-for-the-best approach. Old Trafford has not grown accustomed to such strategies, and six months before the end of the season is a worrying time to be resorting to such measures. Especially when they fail to work so evidently.
Daniel Storey - follow him on Twitter