Manchester United: Early season report card

Blog by: Azhiii

Ever since Fergie’s retirement, there has been a sense of gloom and despair amongst the United faithful. David Moyes, despite building a reasonably strong reputation at Everton, has not been unanimously seen as a worthy successor – though to his credit, it was always difficult to fill Fergie’s huge boots. Amidst the crests and troughs of League and Cup results, football fans throughout the globe have remained split on United’s prospects this season, domestically and in Europe. Eight competitive matches under Moyes’ reign and this appears to be a reasonable point to analyse the progress that has been made under him and what bodes for United going forward. And from the diagnosis, there appears to be reason for optimism.

The first of many trophies

United’s Community Shield triumph was a stroll. The scoreline may have read 2-0 but it doesn’t reflect how dominant United were throughout the tie. United weren’t dazzling; they were just disciplined. They looked comfortable in possession and were impressive going forward and defensively solid. Van Persie kicked off the Moyes era with two well-taken goals and the general feeling is he could end up with the Golden Boot yet again.

But as much as it was about watching how United would shape up and how they’d go about their duties, David Moyes would very much have wanted to get his hands on the first trophy being offered. United had had a mixed pre-season and for all Moyes’ domestic exploits at Everton, Manchester United was always a step up. There were several question marks on him being able to handle the big stage. A loss against Wigan would have been catastrophic; Moyes would have been under immense criticism early on. Fortunately for him, United delivered. The Shield wasn’t about playing flowing football; it was about removing doubt and reassuring the supporters. Mission accomplished. Well done, Manchester United and David Moyes.

The Wayne Rooney factor

United sent out an official message a fortnight ago, justifying Vice Chairman Ed Woodward’s transfer dealings and explaining in some detail, the club’s priorities during the window. Woodward had been much maligned during the window for his inability to bring in marquee players and United deemed it necessary to assure the fans that all was well at the club.

The first item on the club’s agenda, apparently, was not about buying the elusive central midfielder or putting together a package for Cristiano Ronaldo. Instead, it was about retaining a player, a player who United felt was extremely crucial to their plans. Yes, the first item on the agenda read, “Keep Wayne Rooney at the club”.

Over the last few months, Rooney has attracted varied opinions from critics and fans alike. There has been tremendous speculation on whether or not Rooney requested for a transfer last season – the details of which are still unclear – and whether or not he sees his future at Old Trafford. The debate among the supporters, meanwhile, focused on how indispensable he was and whether offloading a disinterested Wayne Rooney was better than keeping him. Chelsea had been knocking on the door harder and harder, and Moyes did well to remain firm on his stance of Rooney not being for sale. At the end of the day, the club have persuaded him to stay and the speculations and rumours have been quelled. For now.

More importantly though, whatever his personal interests, Rooney has carried on his on-field duties in the manner of a thorough professional. 4 goals and 4 assists in 6 matches do not reflect the personality of someone who is frustrated at being here. What’s more, he seems to be enjoying every moment of it. Against Leverkusen, he seemed to be involved in every United attack and there appeared to be a spring in his steps – something that had been missing for a major slice of last season.

He was the only one who could, perhaps, hold his head up high after the derby drubbing. He was captain in the League Cup win over Liverpool and justified his manager’s faith, while putting in a mature display with a smile on his face must have been so reassuring to the United faithful. A rejuvenated Wayne Rooney is the biggest positive of the embryonic David Moyes era and could well be key to firing United to Premier League glory come May. Plus, he needs just 49 more to surpass Sir Bobby Charlton.

The acquisition of Marouane Fellaini

There’s been all the negativity surrounding Manchester United’s transfer dealings this summer and while most of it has been justified, the fact remains that the void in the starting lineup has been addressed. Fellaini might not have been United’s first choice target, but his presence alongside the excellent Carrick gives United the balance that was missing previously. Both of them are impressive at retaining the ball and making key passes and together, they seem to form the pivot from which United can launch their attacking play.

Cleverley has failed to impress recently and Anderson has never had even the most optimistic United fan purring. The Belgian might just be the real deal though. The physical presence in the middle of the park apart, there is now an additional threat from corners and set-pieces, not to mention his eye for goal as United can certainly testify to. His performances keep getting better for United and maybe, soon enough, he’ll justify his statement, “I’ll be the next Roy Keane”.             

The points tally

Much has been made about United’s difficult start in 10 years and United have found themselves wanting on a couple of occasions. Yet, the league is still in its early stages and with the initial set of difficult fixtures out of the way, and a series of winnable games on the trot, United are in a position to put forward a lengthy winning streak, much like they did last year. Seven points from a possible fifteen is a poor start even for a mid-table side, but considering that there have been four tricky matches during this period, the end-result is not that poor. Trips to Anfield, the Liberty and the Etihad have been negotiated – rather poorly on two occasions – and the United goal is yet to be breached at Old Trafford.

Besides, United haven’t merely scraped results; they have dominated their opponents, except for the League Cup win and yes, the Manchester derby. They mesmerised against an impressive Swansea side in the opening game in Wales, bossed the game against Chelsea in a stalemate, produced the goods against a defensive-minded Crystal Palace and swept past a Bayer Leverkusen side that has been putting in brilliant performances in the Bundesliga week in week out. Even in the 1-0 League defeat at Anfield, the second-half showing was the kind of performance that deserved an equaliser and maybe even a winner. The points may have been squandered but a strong showing of that kind against fierce rivals was heartening, though ultimately nothing but a consolation.

And yes, I am at no point ignoring the derby debacle – the depressing, disappointing, heartbreaking derby debacle. Yes, it was a double blow. The loss not just gave City the headstart in the title race, but also dented a major blow to the morale in the United camp. It was a depressing sight to watch City dominate the game from start to finish. There were brief periods when United threatened, hitting the woodwork on more than one occasion, but it never seemed like we were up for a fight.

There was hardly any sense of urgency within the United personnel and Moyes seemed content to invite the pressure rather than take the game to City. It cost United, but yes, the lessons have been learnt. Fans and critics would do well to remember that Fergie had a tough time too, starting out at United. Moyes can only improve from here. And his squad can only get better.

What was most reassuring though was the manner in which United responded in two days’ time in the League Cup tie at Old Trafford. It wasn’t dazzling or stylish by any stretch of imagination, but United were impressive against a first-choice Liverpool side, despite not fielding RVP, Fellaini, Vidic, Ferdinand or Evra. It must have been a massive morale booster, which bodes well for the upcoming fixtures.

Moyes and United can only go up from here. The Moyes era is well and truly kicking and there is reason for optimism.

The Off-field developments

While all the talk has been about the new manager and the on-field developments, there have been reasons for the shareholders and management to cheer about. Record revenues indicate a sign of progress and reassures the sceptical United fans that the post-Fergie era is not one of downfall and depression. Commercial income grew by 30% over the last year and 20 sponsorship deals were announced. The stock price has risen, the leverage levels are coming down, there are deals being signed every now and then globally and overall, the business side of the club is looking pretty good. The average United fan can only be pleased with these off-field developments. At the very least, all the focus can be directed towards the football side. After all, its one less thing to worry about.           

The verdict 

In my view, United’s early season report card would carry a rating of 7 on 10. It isn’t eye-catching and certainly to the uncompromising United fans, it isn’t a number they’ll be happy with. But considering our tricky start and the fact that we haven’t had a new gaffer since quite a long time, the initial season form is impressive. United can only get better from here. It’d still take a miracle for United to get better of the likes of Real Madrid, Bayern Munich or Barcelona, but this squad is good enough to put up a fight against any opposition. And in football, you just never know. Its too early to tell, yet there’s every sign that United are headed in the right direction. And they can only get better from here.

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