Never have the words “must win games” and “need to bounce back” been used so often when talking about Manchester United. Not in the last two decades anyway, for during the Sir Alex Ferguson era, setbacks were nothing if not a platform to propel United towards more success and trophies.
This season, unfortunately, lows have been more common than highs and, after a positive run which saw the Reds going 12 games unbeaten, United were outplayed and beaten at home by Everton on Wednesday night, the Toffees’ first win at Old Trafford in 20 years.
After a lifetime in football, Mike Phelan may well have spent more time in the spotlight in the last few weeks than at any other stage of his career.
Phelan has been without work since David Moyes decided not to retain his services after taking over at Old Trafford this summer, yet the name of the former United Assistant Manager has been at the forefront of fan discussion after Phelan claimed he had controlled the United team in all but name during Sir Alex Ferguson’s last five years in charge. To all but the most blinkered observer, it was a thinly-veiled plea for new employment. If reports that he is about to be offered the vacant manager’s position at Wigan Athletic are to be believed, it may well have worked.
With less than four weeks to go before the January transfer window opens and with United’s midfield seemingly on its deathbed after the injury that has sidelined Michael Carrick – even though, it has to be said, it did not enjoy particularly good health before that – it seems only sensible for David Moyes to look at strengthening his squad next month.
While the rumour mill is yet to fully kick on – and, hopefully, it won’t reach the ridiculous levels it did last summer – United have already been linked with a host of names, some of which seem strangely realistic, considering the reputation Ed Woodward developed last summer.
If last night’s shambolic defeat against Everton taught us anything is that the current squad, quite plainly, isn’t good enough to compete at Premier League level, now that Sir Alex Ferguson’s aura can no longer be expected to paper over the cracks.
David Moyes needs to strengthen his squad, he needed to do so in the summer and failed miserably, and will need to address his team’s deficiencies when the transfer window open next month if he’s to ensure that United can clinch a spot in a European competition ahead of next season which, at present, looks far from being a formality.
Drawing conclusions and delivering verdicts with December only four days old can be an extremely short-sighted, impulsive and irrational exercise but bar a minor miracle United surrendered their chances to retain their Premier League title tonight.
Even more worryingly, considering the way things have disconsolately panned out so far this season, it could be a long, long time, before we get the chance to challenge for the title again, for, quite plainly, United are simply not good enough. Not this season, not, perhaps, anymore, unless some drastic measures are taken to improve a squad that needs reinforcements with desperate urgency.
Never has a Manchester United vs Everton match carried the significance it will have on Wednesday night – the 1985 and 1995 FA Cup finals being notable exceptions – as David Moyes goes into his first meeting against his former club with United unbeaten in 12 games in all competitions, but nine points adrift of league leaders Arsenal.
It’s only just over six months ago that Moyes left Everton after a decade at Goodison Park to replace Sir Alex Ferguson at Old Trafford, with Roberto Martinez picking up Moyes’ baton on Merseyside, as both clubs began a new chapter in their history.
David Moyes has admitted he’s preparing himself to receive a far from cordial reception from the Everton fans travelling to Old Trafford tonight, as the Scotsman faces his former club for the first time since leaving for Old Trafford in the summer.
Having spent 11 years at Goodison Park, Moyes developed Everton into a top-eight side but never managed to win a trophy and knows he could be targeted by the Everton supporters tonight.
Paul Scholes has claimed that it’s time Tom Cleverley “kicked on” his Manchester United career, given the 24-year-old has so far “done okay” since returning to Old Trafford after loan spells at Wigan and Watford.
Scholesy’s statement echoes the thought of the large majority of Reds, who have grown frustrated at Cleverley’s inability to control game and failure to build on the promising signs he had shown when first arriving on the scene a couple of years ago, after graduating from the youth ranks.