United enter uncharted territory

moyes_2624444b“The big challenges are the biggest stage and it is a true test of all footballers in Europe,” said former United manager Sir Alex Ferguson who, like Sir Matt Busby had done before him, immediately grasped the notion that, for all their desire to succeed domestically, Manchester United live and die by the European Cup.

Having lifted European club football’s most coveted prize twice under Fergie’s tutelage, United enter uncharted territory tonight, when they welcome Bayer Leverkusen at Old Trafford in David Moyes’ first Champions League match in charge of the club.

Moyes has made a steady start to his United career, despite the farcical end to the transfer window seven points from the first four games are a respectable return, particularly considering that United have negotiated a tricky trip to Swansea, draw against Chelsea and only lost against Liverpool.

The European Cup, however, is going to represent a complete different challenge for Moyes, whose limited experience in Europe casted more than a doubt over his appointment, as the Scot’s only previous experience in the Champions League lasted the two legs of the third qualifying round in the 2005-06 season, when Everton were knocked out by Villareal.

Moyes did guide the Toffees to the last 16 of what was then known as UEFA Cup in the 2007-08 season, but guiding United in Europe’s elite competition is likely to be an even bigger challenge for Moyes than defending the Premier League title.

There’s no quick-fix solution for the Scot’s inexperience in the Champions League – which he would have had to deal with even had he taken charge of a smaller club – but United must not allow it to become a problem for, as we know all too well, even the group stages can be unforgiving in the Champions League.

Furthermore, Everton took their European campaigns under Moyes as nothing more than a bonus, a pleasant – and at times, unexpected – opportunity to push for silverware, though the domestic side of the equation always remained the priority for the Merseysiders, while United expect and demand success in Europe.

Having appeared in three finals over four years between 2008 and 2011, United endured a dismal campaign in 2012 when an excessive squad rotation and a series of poor performances saw them knocked out in the group stages, while last season’s exit against Real Madrid in the round of 16 was marred by Nani’s sending off.

This season, United might have avoided the group of death, but their opponents in group A are hardly what Moyes would consider a walkover and should be treated with great respect. Bayer Leverkusen have come a long way under former Liverpool defender Sami Hyypia, Shakthar Donetsk might have lost two of their star men this summer but have been Champions League regulars for some time, while Real Sociedad boast the usual mixture of technique and unpredictability typical of Spanish clubs.

Undoubtedly David Moyes would have preferred an easier ride, but he can find comfort in the notion that it took Sir Alex Ferguson a couple of years to produce a side that was highly competitive in Europe, as Fergie gradually relinquished his gung-ho approach for a more continental, controlled, strategy which saw United prioritise end product over style.

During the final years of his career, the former United manager became increasingly reliant on rotating his squad in Europe, thus paving the way for puzzling team selections in more than one occasion and it will be interesting to see whether Moyes will follow the same path or whether he’d stick to field his best XI.

Failure to significantly strengthen the squad this summer means that United are still a couple of steps behind the likes of Bayern Munich and Barcelona and Marouane Fellaini remains unproven at European level, even though his physical presence is likely to prove a valuable asset in Europe.

Furthermore, many of the favourites for this season’s Champions League have looked somewhat fragile at the back and David Moyes’ ability to make his sides hard to beat could spark a few surprises in his inaugural European campaign at Old Trafford.

The romantics amongst us would love to see United putting team to the sword in Europe but, realistically, a series of diligent and compact performances is what most Reds would be happy to see, as long as the approach bears its fruits. Moyes’ first European campaign could be a bumpy ride but as Jurgen Klopp – a manager who shares Moyes’ almost maniacal attention to detail in terms of analysing opponents – showed last season, young managers can have a very bright future in the European Cup.




  1. David Moyes may be similar to Jurgen Klopp in his ability to pay close attention to detail but so far in what I have seen thats just about the only thing they have in common. Klopp is far superior.

    I’m not entirely convinced Sir Alex saw the European Cup as the most important pursuit.

    Ferguson was always winning the domestic league and never making every effort to win the champion’s league.

    Playing Ryan Giggs at age 37 in a chamions league final is hardly the move of a man dead set on winning the competition.

    For me Ferguson always saw it as a bonus. It was never his all consuming mission and objective.

    I don’t know why but I expect us to well in the champion’s league this season.

    I expect to at least make it out of the group phase.

    • @The_Philosopher: Never making any effort to win the Champions League? Fergie was obsessed with the European Cup and while I agree with you that his rotation policy might have costed us a couple of unexpected defeats in the group stages, he also took the club to four finals, winning two of them. Furthermore, and that’s something very few Reds credit him for, he completely revolutionalised the way United play in Europe, making them harder to beat. This year’s group is a lot trickier than many think, in my opinion.

      • @Dan: I said “every effort” not “any effort”.

        Ferguson didn’t throw everything and the kitchen sink at it.

        All I’m saying.

  2. Fellaini unproven at European level? Tell that to the Belgian national team ( ranked about 12 places higher than England I believe).
    Klopp appears to be good manager, but its far from clear he is ‘better’ than many others. Time will tell, there have been quite a few managers who look good for a while then disappear from the scene. And last year Malaga were most unfortunate to lose to Dortmund which would have tarnished his halo a little.
    Glad to see that Fergie’s request to get behind our new manager is being followed by our geographically challenged poster from the West Coast.

    • @JW: Oh yes. Beat Bayern Munich to the German title two years running and getting the champion’s league final is something anybody can do.

      You total right he is just another manager. Nothing special here folks.

      Lets move on.

      Moyes on the other hand has won nothing but lets not rush into comparisons about who’s better or worse.

    • Fellaini’s unproven at European level as far as club football is concerned mate, that’s the point I was trying to get across. I’m not saying Klopp would be a saviour, rather it was intended as a comment in favour of Moyes. Too many fans are already on his back for no apparent reason if you ask me. I actually believe that his maniacal preparation and eye for detail could surprise a few people in Europe (even among Reds) but the squad remains what it is, unfortunately.

      Do I trust Moyes to do a job in Europe? Absolutely. Do I think we have a chance if we play the likes of Anderson and Young? Absolutely not.

      Also, not quite sure who you’re referring to when you mention a “geographically challenged poster from the West Coast”? 😉

  3. This is the best attacking set up we have right now.

    Moyes probably won’t go for this, though, against City.

    ——————-De Gea





    I also believe this kind of formation would make RVP the happiest. The amount of service and assists he would get from this line up is second to none.

    Also this bunch of lads play the kind of football RVP was used to at Arsenal.

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