David Moyes' cowardice at Manchester United is excusable for now

Alex Livesey

David Moyes was disappointingly negative against Chelsea yesterday, but in the context of his position, it's excusable for now.

Some people seemed to come away from last night's game feeling somewhat short-changed, but it was mostly the fabled Neutrals after a game of much huffing and puffing but little action. "Sky have hyped this up!", they cried, angered at the fact that a broadcaster may wish to draw attention to a game between two title contenders.

This is ludicrous, of course. It's a football match, and you're not guaranteed entertainment. Sky don't decide what happens in the game, yet (although I never understand why things like Sergio Aguero's title-winner are described as "you couldn't make it up." Isn't that basically the plot of all football comic books? You never hear anybody saying that about Stoke-Sunderland, and any intern who had been drafted in to write that would've been sacked the next day.)

Others levelled the blame at David Moyes and José Mourinho, who presided over a game that went from tense, to tense, to slightly more tense, to the slow realisation that it was just plain boring. The Old Trafford home crowd picked itself up from its seats to give a roar anticipating one final charge on the Chelsea goal which never materialised, leading to an oddly confused atmosphere.

It should be noted that both teams were let down by some abysmal performances from their forward players. José Mourinho's decision to start André Schurrle as a striker, whatever motivated it, was an appalling one as the German put in a performance of such singular ineffectiveness as is rarely seen at the highest level. Eden Hazard did little, Oscar wasted the half-chances he had, and Kevin de Bruyne offered little.

For United, Rooney got away with an awful lot of flicks to nobody and hoofs out of play, while Welbeck was lacking his usual invention and possessing his usual finishing. Antonio Valencia was excellent at fouling people but provided little else. That even Robin van Persie was largely anonymous, however, points to a deeper root of the problem, rather than the massive coincidence of everybody having a stinker at the same time.

Both teams were negative. Of that there can be no doubt. Manchester United were set up to not lose, whereas Chelsea outright played for a draw - the approach taken by both sides appeared to confound their opponents, who seemed surprise to see their counterparts were as cowardly as they were (I like to believe that there is a Fast Show clip to summarise every game of football ever played, and this was today's.)

There have been some worrying signs in the early Moyes era. Phil Jones, not Fabio, is the chosen replacement for the injured Rafael at right-back, despite his brother's fine displays in pre-season. Shinji Kagawa did not feature - perhaps he was carrying a knock, but if that were true, Wilfried Zaha and Adnan Januzaj were left out of today's squad entirely. The early signs don't point to free-flowing football or a willingness to trust in youth.

However, put into context, this is a side who are two games into the season, who have just lost their manager of twenty-six years and been taken over by a man who does not have the pedigree to inspire confidence. Maybe, just maybe, David Moyes made the team selection because he feared for his job, knowing that a loss would've been a disaster and sown some very early seeds of doubt in the mind of the public.

In that context, it's excusable. If he's still doing the same things in January, then it may be time to be concerned. As for Mourinho, well, we did warn you.

* * *

Manchester United have now been linked to making a move for Gareth Bale that appears to be legitimate and well-sourced. They are also, apparently, mulling moves for Cesc Fabregas, Mesut Ozil, Juan Mata and Luka Modric. Gareth Bale is a superior player to all four if we make the same assumptions everybody else has made for the entire window (that he will continue to improve, that the second half of last season is the level that he's at now rather than a purple patch, and he'll play at that level or above it for the rest of his career), but whether it would be sensible to spend that amount of money is questionable.

It's not just questionable because of the aforementioned assumptions, but had United lined up with Bale in the team yesterday, they probably would have won 1-0 with a Bale effort from 30 yards. Had they lined up with one of the other foursome, they could have been a lot more dangerous and integrated as a team. Bale is potentially an exceptional player, a once-or-twice-in-a-generation talent, but United already have their main matchwinner in Robin van Persie. If they added Bale now, in isolation, they'd simply become the Tottenham Hotspur of last season, labouring to wins rather than playing great football and blowing teams apart. With a potential Bale fee likely to cover two of those four as well as the difference in wages, it looks like madness to pursue it.

* * *

Similarly, it might begin to look like lunacy if Chelsea continue to search for a striker without addressing their own midfield problems. They are, at this point, beginning to look worse than Manchester United. It's rare for their counterparts yesterday to run the show against a mid-table side, and yet other than for a 20-minute spell in the second half they did so against Chelsea, with Tom Cleverley made to look like Bastian Schweinsteiger.

It's possible that was what threw United off, so used to defending deep against top teams that they looked lost as to how to pick the defence apart, but it should be hugely worrying for Chelsea. Their attacking midfielders force them to persist with a deep midfield two, despite the fact that John Obi Mikel is the only player they have capable of playing such a role. Ramires in particular is utterly useless in such a position.

Chelsea do need a striker. Fernando Torres continues to be a hindrance to his team, Schurrle was the worst player on the pitch yesterday when playing up front, and Romelu Lukaku... well, he is undoubtedly excellent but he does also appear slightly clumsy. How he does with the attentions of top-class centre-backs remains to truly be seen. But he's surely a more than sufficient option right now. It's hard to see Chelsea winning any of their key games with such an ineffective midfield, and there are other players apart from Daniele de Rossi out there.

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