A Match Made For Moyes...

A home game against superior opposition is exactly what David Moyes needed to showcase his strengths. Whether United should need those strengths is another question...

Last Updated: 02/04/14 at 08:07 Post Comment

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Much has been made - particularly on these pages - about David Moyes' failure to win once in 44 attempts against the traditional Big Four whilst Everton manager. We may have also mentioned his extraordinarily terrible record as Manchester United manager against the better sides in the Premier League; it's difficult not to mention such a phenomenal statistic as just 11 goals scored in 15 games against top-half sides.

But when it comes to taking on the European champions at Old Trafford, the more pertinent record is Moyes' form at home against a better class of opposition. Everton famously made a habit of humbling Manchester City but they also only lost once to both Manchester United and Chelsea in the Scot's final five years in charge. Throw in a couple of 1-1 draws against Arsenal and it's clear to see where Moyes earned his reputation for making his teams 'hard to beat' and Goodison Park 'a difficult place to come'.

United have traditionally had loftier ambitions than being 'hard to beat' and making Old Trafford 'a difficult place to come', but those are exactly the qualities needed when the opposition is quite clearly in a different class. You need to go into the match with an inferiority complex which means you concentrate on nullifying the opposition rather than imposing your own game. It means ceding possession, it means winning headers, it means working hard, it means getting eight or nine men behind the ball, it means not allowing your full-backs to cross the half-way line and it means getting the ball forward as quickly as possible on the rare occasions when you find it at your feet.

If those sound like tactics pioneered by Jose Mourinho then you may begin to understand that by saying that Moyes prepared United to play like underdogs, we are paying him a compliment. Ryan Giggs might have said otherwise - "As players we don't see ourselves as underdogs, we see ourselves as Man Utd playing at home in the Champions League and we can't wait" - but it was clear that United were under instructions to retreat, play percentages and to use Danny Welbeck as a pacey out-ball. As United prepare to go to Germany with one foot still in the tie, you have to say it worked.

As much as United fans could ever be happy with 26% possession and 66% pass completion at home, they should be happy after Tuesday night. There was no shortage of effort, there was no shortage of intent and there was no shortage of desire. Their tactics may have been a tacit admission that they could not take on Bayern in an open game of football but they were not an admission that they were beaten.

"Please God they turn up tonight," was the pre-match prayer from Roy Keane and his pleas were answered with the kind of performance that was rarely needed in his day. But these are not the days of Keane but the days of Marouane Fellaini, who absolutely bought into the concept that possession was not key. It's just a shame that he did not also buy into the concept of tracking runners - perhaps United would have been celebrating victory rather than defeat if he had been paying as much attention to that section of the team talk.

Yes, it's a little sad to see expectations lowered so far that having 26% possession at home is applauded if it brings a draw, that the performance of a full-back with a 33% pass completion rate is heralded as his finest in a United shirt, and particularly that this lowering of expectations comes less than a year after they won the Premier League. But in a season when Moyes has so often looked out of his depth, this was a task that played exactly to his strengths.

Sarah Winterburn

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