The last year has been torturous for Manchester United fans around the world as we have had to suffer watching our side perform at a mediocre level whilst our nearest rivals, Liverpool and Manchester City, competed for the Premier League title. Pundits, journalists and supporters have all tried to establish the reason for such a poor slump in form although there has not yet been a consistent, prevalent opinion for this. This is not to say that some opinions are incorrect, I just believe that there is no individual reason for United’s inconsistency and their unacceptable performances at Old Trafford in the last 12 months. I would like to share my own thoughts on just why United have been, to quote Sir Alex Ferguson, “knocked off our perch” over the last year or so, with my views on the death of the fear factor at the Theatre of Dreams.
First and foremost, the big players just have not performed. Robin Van Persie was on fire during his first season with the Reds in 2012-13 but looked a shadow of that player during the last campaign, although he picked up a fair few injuries and niggles throughout the campaign. Also, there have been top players leave the club. Players such as Nemanja Vidic, who has been a stalwart in that United back-line for many years, announced he was leaving midway through the season. I believe that this will affect Phil Jones, as I would have loved to see Jones progress as Nemanja’s defensive partner at the back for a full season. Issues such as these have only fuelled the discontent and lack of confidence that have flooded into Old Trafford in recent times. Rumours of training ground rows and arguments have done nothing to help the gloomy atmosphere that has surrounded United in the last 12 months, fuelling visitors optimism and expectations of picking up a good result when they have visited Old Trafford in this period. The good news is that we have a new manager now, bringing a new system of player, a new coaching set up and some new players in to make the team his own. If players such as RVP, Juan Mata and Valencia cannot regain their form from a couple of years ago they will be replaced due to the vast amount of quality that has been brought in to the club.
Secondly, did the club prepare well enough for the departure of both Sir Alex Ferguson and David Gill? This is aimed specifically at last summer and the abysmal performance in the transfer window. After we had reportedly obtained links and made enquiries for Thiago, Gareth Bale and Cesc Fabregas, United ended up with Fellaini, a rejection from Everton for Leighton Baines and a much-up in the Ander Herrera deal, who we signed 12 months later. Okay, we signed Juan Mata in the January transfer window but the damage was already done by then. Also, I’ve always questioned the motives of Ed Woodward and Moyes in the Mata deal. Did they buy him because they believe we needed him? I don’t think so. I believe that Woodward and Moyes felt under pressure from the supporters to buy a world class player, which at the time Mata was.
Referees have often been criticised for giving in to the big teams at home, and none more so than at Old Trafford under Sir Alex Ferguson. Officials now come to Old Trafford and, although technically correct, have nothing to fear and I believe in some cases to even up decisions from the past. Unlike the years under Sir Alex, when referees have mentally pictured the post-match interview of Sir Alex Ferguson grilling their decisions before the game, the officials slightly favoured the away sides a little more at Old Trafford under Moyes, with no match more evident than the home defeat to Liverpool who were awarded 3 penalties during the game. As an honest guy, I can admit that United have had our fair share of dodgy penalties awarded over the years but that is no excuse to try and even up the numbers now that the Fergie years are over.
Finally, the opposition just aren’t as worried about facing United nowadays. For me, visiting sides know what to expect from United at Old Trafford, we are just far too predictable and it is just too easy to defend against. Players like Ashley Young and Tom Cleverley, before his loan move to Aston Villa, should not be used in home games as they slow the attack and are not attacking enough. Opposition full backs must relish the chance to play against Young as he doesn’t have the confidence or ability to attack them. This also allows the opposition winger on Young’s side the freedom to attack rather than being required to double up and help his full back if another winger, for example Adnan Januzaj, was on the field. In turn, the opposition has an extra attacking member to go at our young, often rash, back-line who look shaky at best. I rarely see the United starting XI and believe that we will definitely keep a clean sheet. This coincides with the point on the performance of the big name players. Gone are the days when United have hosted sides obtaining players such as Rio, Nemanja, Patrice, Carrick, Ronaldo, Giggs, Scholes and Rooney during their peak years. This summer transfer window of 2014 has changed that on paper, and we will see whether or not the team will gel this season given time.
There is no doubting that the Premier League has been Manchester United’s era. We have been the dominant force in English football for two decades now and one disappointing campaign does not change this. 7 home defeats out of 19 matches in the Premier League last year shows just how far United have fallen and although we lost our opener to Swansea at the Theatre of Dreams, it is not all doom and gloom just yet. The players that Louis Van Gaal has signed have the capabilities, the confidence and the skill level to help Manchester United regain that fear factor and if so, I have no doubts that the mighty Reds will be back on our perch at the top of the league in the future.