Monday Moan: United awful, Cats in mess

Mark Holmes assesses Manchester United's atrocious derby-day performance and the mess created by Paolo Di Canio at Sunderland.

Last Updated: 23/09/13 at 12:13 Post Comment

David Moyes: Manchester United boss has much work to do

David Moyes: Manchester United boss has much work to do

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Moyes and Fellaini come up short

Anybody that did not watch Manchester City's demolition of Manchester United on Sunday will have assumed the Citizens' performance was one of the best in years.

After all, it is hard enough to beat United by any scoreline, never mind by four goals to one. Or, at least, it was.

Yet the performance that everyone was talking about afterwards was not that of City but of United, who produced one of their most embarrassing displays in living memory.

Perhaps it is unfair on City to focus so much on United - Vincent Kompany and Yaya Toure in particular were fantastic - but, as remarkable as it may sound, the hosts' performance was nothing special by their standards.

They had the defensively-suspect Aleksandar Kolarov at left-back, had one of their best players in David Silva ruled out by injury, and had only three players in their team that made more than 30 passes in the game. And this from the team with the highest average possession in the entire Premier League going into the weekend.

City were good, no doubt, but they will almost certainly play better than that this season yet win by a smaller scoreline. United were just that bad.

David Moyes was always going to come under intense scrutiny during this early part of the season, and the club's supporters have adopted something of a siege mentality against the extra questions suddenly being asked about their team.

However, even they are sure to be questioning some of Moyes' decisions today - and wondering why the same side that won the title a few months ago now look nowhere near good enough to retain it.

They say you don't know what you had until it's gone, and Sunday's performance was the clearest indication yet of the miracles Sir Alex Ferguson performed in getting a, in all honesty, not outstanding squad to dominate to the extent United did last season.

Everybody knew, of course, that Ferguson was getting great things out of a not-great squad, and most suspected that Moyes wouldn't be able to do the same, at least not initially. But few expected the difference to be so great that United could ever be humiliated to the extent they were at the Etihad.

Perhaps most worrying of all, though, is not that Antonio Valencia and Ashley Young were awful - the same could often be said of the pair last season - but that the man Moyes has bought to solve United's long-standing midfield issues is, on Sunday's evidence, not up to the job.

If ever there was any doubt that statistics do not tell the full story, the fact that Marouane Fellaini made the second highest amount of passes of any player, and completed 92% of them, should remove it. The Belgian was arguably the least effective player on the pitch.

Moyes said that he would create space for Michael Carrick, and there was certainly reason to believe his physical presence would prove useful against City's midfield of Toure and Fernandinho. The idea being, presumably, that Fellaini would be able to win the midfield power battle, allowing Carrick to dictate play as he so often does. That Carrick had so little impact on the game says it all about Fellaini's performance.

Nobody expected him to be a deep-lying playmaker - and despite his impressive passing statistics, he certainly was not that on Sunday - but many believed the amount of dirty work he would get through would make United better as a team.

It hasn't. He is a pedestrian passer, which means he is not really needed against lesser opponents against which United dominate possession, and Sunday's performance suggests he is not the player that can earn United control against top opposition, a problem they have had for a while.

To top off a disastrous day for Fellaini, he lost Toure in the box for City's crucial second goal and then left Aguero alone to score their killer third. One of Fellaini's biggest plus points is his defending in the box - and on Sunday he didn't even do that.

It's extremely early days for him and he may yet grow into the role, but, right now, it looks like Moyes has made a big error in judgement in believing Fellaini, a player whose best performances at Everton came behind the striker, was the man to solve United's midfield problems.

Moyes was let down by more than just Fellaini, and United's players certainly have to take a fair share of the responsibility for Sunday's shambles, but another big concern was the manager's failure to address the problems in front of him during the game.

United were already 4-0 down by the time he made his first substitution, one which admittedly helped stem the tide, but remarkably it was the only change he made during the game. Incredibly, Valencia lasted the full 90 minutes despite Shinji Kagawa and Nani sitting on the bench. If Moyes did not believe his performances - or many others - to be bad enough to warrant withdrawals, one has to question the standards he expects of his players.

Add to that the fact that United have now scored only one goal - and that a free-kick - against Liverpool, Chelsea and City, and the questions many were asking about Moyes when he was first appointed look unlikely to go away any time soon.

Sunderland shambles not easily solved

Moyes and United have some big problems to address in the coming weeks, but nothing can compare to the disastrous state Sunderland now find themselves in following the sacking of Paolo Di Canio.

The club's supporters have complained this season about what they perceived to be unfair criticism of the Italian, but the truth is that their loyalty to their club has prevented them from seeing what every neutral could see quite clearly - that Di Canio was making a pig's ear of the job and has very quickly undone the good work he did in keeping the Black Cats in the Premier League.

He does deserve credit for the lift he initially gave the team following his appointment, but neutrals spotted the warning signs even last season as he went about criticising as many players as possible.

However, after achieving his remit of survival, Ellis Short decided to give Di Canio his full backing. The former Swindon boss pointed to poor fitness levels and bad attitudes within in the squad, and Short bought into it and allowed Di Canio to completely overhaul the squad with players that would represent the club correctly.

I wrote three weeks ago, though, that the risk was not paying off, and a wholly unsurprising players revolt has now forced Short into an early sacking of the man he had perhaps naively placed his faith in.

In doing so, he has freed Sunderland of their biggest problem, but Di Canio was allowed to change so much in such a short space of time that there is no quick fix for whichever manager is brave enough to take on the job next.

The players that remain from the Martin O'Neill era obviously aren't good enough, otherwise Di Canio would never have been needed in the first place, and it remains to be seen how many of the fourteen players signed over the summer turn out to be improvements. Early evidence would suggest not many.

With that in mind, what sort of manager can the Wearsiders attract next? The mass recent influx of foreign imports might put off a good number of steady British hands, and will a young manager like Roberto Di Matteo be prepared to risk his reputation on a job which looks a lot like a poisoned chalice?

With the right manager, there should be just enough quality in the squad for Sunderland to keep their heads above water this season, but Short has an enormous task on his hands to convince anyone to take on one of the biggest clean-up operations a Premier League club has needed in some time.

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