David Moyes’ To-Do List: Revisited

Read the original Moyes’ To-Do List article here

In the summer, before a Premier League ball had been kicked, I set David Moyes a task list which highlighted the biggest issues the Scot faced in the Old Trafford hotseat.

Five months on, how has he fared tackling each issue? Granted he hasn’t read that article (I checked) but let’s assess how he has addressed key challenges at Man Utd so far.

Wayne Rooney:
At the time of penning the original article, Rooney’s future was one of many cliched transfer ‘sagas’ buzzing around the back pages for months on end, and was the highest priority task for the new manager. It was clear the England international was looking for a way out, and despite Moyes being the man to give a teenage Rooney his Premier League debut, the two had not exactly seen eye to eye after his transfer away from Goodison Park.

Since then, the Number 10 has obviously hung around but there was a suspicion he reluctantly agreed to stay given a lack of serious transfer interest in him. Yet despite this, Moyes has also achieved the second of his Rooney tasks – playing him in his best position and getting him back in form.

So far this season, Rooney has had a hand in 13 of the 20 league goals Man Utd have scored and has had a blistering start to the campaign. Regardless of Rooney’s dubious commitment in the summer, all credit is due to Moyes for getting his forward linking up well with van Persie and making himself once again indispensable to the first team.

Verdict: Job done.

Under-performing midfielders:
A key issue that even Sir Alex Ferguson encountered was, despite the financial outlay, a mediocre and under-performing midfield at Old Trafford. As I alluded to back in June, Marouane Fellaini was brought in for big money this summer, however he has yet to have the impact expected of him.

One major reason for this is that in Moyes’ preferred 4-2-3-1 formation, Fellaini’s best role is playing centrally in the three behind van Persie, which also happens to be Wayne Rooney’s best position (and Shinji Kagawa’s best position too, just for good measure).

Fellaini, at his most effective, wasn’t worth the £28.5m Man Utd paid for him, and he has so far been consigned to a more withdrawn holding midfield role on the rare occasions he actually starts. This certainly hasn’t helped his integration, and angry fans took to Twitter to express their annoyance after his sub-par performance against Cardiff.

On the plus side, Moyes has successfully blooded in Adnan Januzaj, who has made more of an impact than Nani, Young, Cleverley and Valencia put together (but that is another unresolved issue). Again, the creative Kagawa has been used sparingly, and has only been utilised in a less favourable left sided role when he does play while England U21 star Wilfried Zaha rarely even makes the bench under Moyes.

Anderson is surely close to an Old Trafford exit and the average Darren Fletcher hasn’t played for a year due to a long term bowel condition. Fergie ‘staple’ Ryan Giggs celebrates his 40th birthday this week and has one foot in a coaching role at the club during his twilight years.

If Moyes is to overhaul one area of his squad over the next two transfer windows, it must surely be the middle of the park.

Verdict: Must try harder.

Defence in transition:
After unsuccessfully attempting to prize Leighton Baines from his former club’s grasp, Moyes’ only defence addition was understudy right back Guillermo Varela. I cited that the United backline required a refurb and that adding an energetic or classy centre back would help, given the stunted development of Jones, Smalling and Evans.

A few months on, and although Nemanja Vidic and Patrice Evra have put in some fairly solid performances, it hasn’t been enough to stop Man Utd conceding the highest number of goals in the top seven. After some shaky displays by an ageing Ferdinand, Phil Jones has been employed much more as a centre back, which in my opinion is his best position, and Smalling has shown progression when he has played. Evans hasn’t been setting the world alight with his performances, but has found more game time so far this season due to injuries and a lack of form from his fellow team-mates.

Although United have found momentum in recent games, it was early home performances and criminal mistakes that cost them that invaluable ‘home fortress’ reputation and left David De Gea woefully exposed.

For me, I think Moyes has a tricky decision to make. Does he persevere with Jones at centre-back for the long term good, or should a club with a reputation as high as Man Utd’s buy in a world class defender in January to plug obvious those deficiencies?

Verdict: Work in progress.

Develop and nurture youth:
I’ve already talked about the game time Moyes has been giving Phil Jones and Adnan Januzaj, but how much faith does he have in his other emerging stars?

I’ve also touched on Chris Smalling getting some exposure to the team, but this may have more to do with Rafael’s injury rather than healthy competition for places. Evra has been keeping the likes of Büttner and Fabio out the team entirely, limiting each of them to only one game in the league. Danny Welbeck has played less than an hour’s Premier League football since September, Varela has yet to kick a ball for the first team, and more surprisingly, neither has Zaha.

The young and tricky winger is perhaps a player who is used to being told to express himself, certainly during his time at Crystal Palace, however it has been a steep learning curve joining a big club at which the manager demands tactical discipline. Even so, I can’t help but feel he must surely deserve a chance given the almost absent performances of the other experienced wingers at the club who have offered little to contribute to an attacking system dominated by ‘RRVP’.

Although a slight gulf in ability, I do remember another young Man Utd winger who showed lots of promise, despite often flattering to deceive with too many tricks and little end product. That’s right, Cristiano Ronaldo. I don’t expect Zaha to reach the Real Madrid man’s worldly heights, however there are comparisons to be drawn and without exposure in a first team so clearly craving some creative spark, he will definitely never reach his potential.

Verdict: Must try harder.

Finish in the top three:
After a shaky start to life in Manchester and being involved in the most open title race in years, most Man Utd fans, Moyes included, would bite your hand off for a third placed finish come May. Looking at the situation more optimistically, United did subject runaway leaders Arsenal to only their second defeat of the season and after a recent good run, find themselves in sixth position and only three points behind Liverpool in second place. The fact that this season has been extremely open means ‘top six’ teams have been taking points off each other, with big spending Tottenham and Man City’s respective forms coming under scrutiny.

Man Utd are currently unbeaten in their last six, however will have to maintain this solid form to make up ground lost at the start of the season. A top three finish is certainly in reach, and looking ahead will need to perform well in such forthcoming fixtures against Tottenham, Everton and Newcastle who are all snapping at the heels of United in the league table.

Verdict: Work in progress.

As far as the title race goes, Moyes is going to need this good run to continue well into the Christmas period, but there are plenty of winnable games to apply pressure to the other title challengers. With European commitments adding to a congested fixture list, Moyes will really have to put faith in the younger stars of his team, who may add some youthful vigour and fearfulness to a team often lacking ideas beyond Rooney and van Persie. The Scot also needs to find permanent positions for recent signings Fellaini and Kagawa, whose obvious talents are being compromised in the current system.

Given the magnitude of his new role, David Moyes has had a steady start in context and fans should certainly continue to give him the benefit of the doubt in what will be a long and patient process of rebuilding. It’s fair to say the Scot has played it cautiously so far, but top managers shouldn’t be afraid to take risks and should worry about the politics later.

Lots of work required in nurturing young blood and sorting out the midfield, but I have seen good progress where the defence and challenging for the title are concerned in recent games and Moyes addressing the Rooney situation has been integral to that.

What other challenges does David Moyes face in his first season at Old Trafford? As usual, we welcome your comments below – come and join in the conversation.

Read the original Moyes’ To-Do List article here

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  1. I think David Moyes has got many things wrong:

    1. Why pay £28.5 million for Fellaini if he is to be used (occasionally) as a DM?

    2. Why waste a player as skilled and creative as Shinji Kagawa? He should have been loaned out or sold to clubs where he could actually play. Just what Mourinho did with Mata. He was their Player of the Year for the past two seasons, but did not fit into his ‘work-horse’
    mentality of orchestrating the attack as well as actively tracking back.

    3. Using players who are well past their prime or are not good enough. Such players who wouldn’t make the bench at Chelsea.

    Roberto Martinez is doing a better job at Everton compared to what Moyes did. David moyes, in my opinion, is not “The Chosen One”. He is “The Wrong One”. Sir Alex is a legendary manager but made a mistake not selecting “The Special One”.

    Maybe the Man United officials thought about Mourinho’s mind-games, worried about his short-term approach too much, without realising that Moyes is simply not good enough. There were many alternatives- Conte, Guardiola, Klopp, etc.

    • Hi,

      I think you make some very reasonable points here. Certainly I think Fellaini was bought without too much foresight about how he could work in the Man Utd system. His biggest impact at Everton was made while playing directly behind the lone striker, acting as the target man, holding up play and managing to score a fair amount of goals. Very different from Tim Cahill in that respect but not far off in terms of contributing to wins. It was perhaps a ‘comfort buy’ for Moyes in that he knew the player and also knew he had to replace a lack of quality in the middle of the park.

      I think it’s obvious Moyes doesn’t see a long term future for Kagawa, but maybe unlike Mata he has fewer potential suitors, so this may be an issue of ‘demand’, although I believe he may well return to Dortmund next summer. Also, Mata is by far a better player than Kagawa and thus was able to attract a solid bid by another top team, although again, the Spaniard is another player that I don’t feel is being utilised to his full potential.

      With all these players, you have to question those in charge of recruitment at Old Trafford. They’ve spent over £80m on three players whose ideal position is exactly the same as Wayne Rooney’s – centrally, directly behind RVP. Kagawa has been utilised on the wing, as has Mata who is far less effective there. Fellaini was perhaps brought in intentionally to play deeper so that might be a case of managing expectations in that his role will be a lot more understated than if he were playing higher up the pitch and being involved in goals more.

      I think on paper there were a lot of justifiable reasons to hire Moyes but also a few to not hire him, but all much easier with hindsight. I disagree with the notion that they could have realistically attracted Guardiola, especially given he had an agreement in place with Bayern months before SAF announced his retirement and even if he had a choice between Manchester and Munich, I think he still would’ve chosen Germany every time. But I see your point. I also agree about Mourinho, I think they wanted a ‘safe appointment’ and a move for Jose was possibly deemed too risky.

      Thanks for your feedback, though.

      So which players should Man Utd be targeting this summer to bring in and who should be culled from the current squad? Is a major overhaul the best strategy? Tottenham recently learned that bringing in lots of top European talent all at once doesn’t necessarily equal success. Interesting summer ahead for us all, I think!

  2. I used Guardiola just as an example. He was going to Munich anyway. Although hindsight has helped us understand why and how the negatives of the appointment of David Moyes have outweighed the positives, I personally had the same opinion from the day the rumours began to surface-Moyes is not the right man at the helm.

    But that doesn’t mean I regard him as a bad manager. He actually turned a relegation-threatened team to a top-6/7 team over a period of 10 years, with just a fraction of resources compared to United.

    On the other hand, teams like Middlesbrough, Portsmouth, Birmingham, Swansea and even lowly Wigan Athletic (who beat his Everton at Goodison in the quarter-finals, and are en route to another FA Cup) won trophies during David Moyes’ time at Everton, and all of the above with less money than he had to spend.
    What does that tell about his ambition, his ability? Doesn’t that sound warning bells? I’m not implying Mourinho should have been given the choice, but there were other managers that had actually won something substantial.

    If Jose stays at Chelsea long-term,then Chelsea fans as well as United haters are in for a treat!
    This summer’s transfer window is crucial for him and United. Whether or not he is able to sign the players he wants would decide his fate. I wonder how many top players would want to join a team that, at the moment, are looking like strong European contenders. But not in Europe’s top competition, but in the Europa League.

    I hope they succeed. I want them to fight for a top-4 finish, gradually becoming stronger and stronger- and finally challenging Chelsea & City for the crown of England’s best team.


  1. […] run in the league recently, but a win against a revitalised Man Utd may just buy him some time. Moyes on the other hand will want to get back to winning ways immediately after conceding a last minute equaliser in the […]

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