A loss to Liverpool, a drab draw against Chelsea and a loss to Manchester City. David Moyes' life at Old Trafford as manager of Manchester United wasn't supposed to start like this.
With Robin van Persie ruled out of the Manchester derby on Sunday, it was always going to be an uphill task for Manchester United to beat City — but no one expected it to be a demolition.
When the scoreboard read 4-1 at the end of the final whistle, memories of the 6-1 loss at home will have come rushing back to a lifeless, toothless Man United at the Etihad. It was probably the worst performance in a long time, and while they've usually win a lot of fixtures with a single moment of brilliance, there was none to be found when it mattered most.
In a nutshell, United were beaten in every department. Their defence was in shambles, their midfield lacked any sort of creativity and their attacking play lacked the decisive start.
City, on the other hand, were impeccable. They had everything in their armoury and the depth on their bench was astonishing. Now we know that they're a buying team and have all that cash, but credit to Manuel Pellegrini for experimenting throughout pre-season and the early games to find the perfect balance in his biggest match so far as City manager.
The choice of Alvaro Negredo and Sergio Aguero up top was too hot to handle Nemanja Vidic and an ageing Rio Ferdinand. Samir Nasri owned Chris Smalling and even the so-far-disappointing Jesus Navas contributed to the goals. An attack like this has to be marshalled by strong midfielders and there isn't a finer pair of driving middlemen like that of Yaya Toure and Fernandinho. Most important though was the defensive pairing of Vincent Kompany and Matija Nastasic — the former of whom didn't put a foot wrong in 90 minutes.
United's positioning was woeful, and to a certain degree, Moyes even got his first XI wrong.
In a fixture like this, he must have known City were going to come at the champions hammer and tongs. Their starting XI was pacey, strong, tricky and more aggressive. United simply wilted under the relentless onslaught which showcased the gulf in class between the bitter rivals.
If you quickly analyse the United side, then Ashley Young should never have been in it. In 52 minutes of football, he made 15 passes — out of which only nine reached their intended target. If Danny Welbeck was really supposed to be in the team, then he should have started on the left as he did so many times last season, with Javier Hernandez up front. The Mexican is good in the air, an utter annoyance to defenders and makes runs that fox everybody.
Then there's the case of Shinji Kagawa. The Japanese brilliantly cut-in from the left in the Champions League match midweek, offering Rooney the option to play farther ahead — resulting in goals galore. Alex Ferguson also went with Antonio Valencia at right-back sometimes last season, allowing him to field Welbeck and Kagawa together — and if that doesn't excite the purist, then a faster more skillful Fabio should have played there.
Last comes Nani. The Portuguese, however inconsistent and selfish, takes on players and shoots from distance. So is the young and precocious talent of Adnan Januzaj. It's the direct and fearless who win these matches and United barely beat a man in 90 minutes.
As has been seen so many times, it's either complete caution or a risky attacking side that gets points from these games. Moyes' side was neither — he went for middle-ground and has hopefully learnt his lesson that it doesn't work.
Maybe it was not United's day and it'll be unfair to judge Moyes on the basis of a handful of games. But these were opponents he really troubled during his time at Everton.
Last season, out of the top-four teams, United picked up the most points from teams below the top-four. This loss will probably not even be spoken about come May 2014, but the real fear is that if United play such a lifeless boring game, without any intent to win them, then even those easy points will be hard to get.
As Kompany said post-match: "Maybe this match meant more to us than it did to them."
And that, for a team whose identity is built on determination and grit, is not a nice compliment.
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Updated Date: Sep 23, 2013 11:31:30 IST