Depending on which way you look at it, the international break couldn’t have come at a better or worse time for David Moyes. On the one hand, the end of the transfer window was such a catastrophe for Moyes and fellow culprit Ed Woodward that the break no doubt came as something of a respite – the Scot has had a chance to keep his head down whilst the media turned their attention to international matters.
On the other hand, the fact that there has been precious little domestic football news has also had the opposite effect for the Manchester United boss, with those possessing memories capable of retaining more than two week’s of information still fully aware of the shambles that represented United’s deadline day dealings.
Moyes cannot change what happened on September 2nd, when he failed with a number of bids for a number of players; eventually managing to procure the signature of Marouane Fellaini for £4m more than the Belgian would have cost him earlier this summer. Nor can the Scot change the fact that he went public with bids for both Thiago Alacantara and Cesc Fabregas, with both midfielders opting to rebuff United’s advances and make the Scot and the United recruitment team look very foolish indeed.
Things have not been particularly rosy on the pitch for Moyes either, with United’s initially spectacular start halted first by a drab goalless draw against Chelsea and then a very poor performance against arch-rivals Liverpool that resulted in the Red Devils first loss of the season. Once again, these are not things that Moyes can change. What’s done is done, and Moyes must now focus on the future rather than dwelling on the past.
There is little doubt that when initially appointed, Moyes did not truly understand the magnitude of the job he had taken on, but during the high profile coverage of his last minute transfer bungling, the penny has now probably dropped. The ex-Everton boss possesses perhaps the biggest job in football, and with many now doubting whether he is up to the task, Moyes now faces one of the most daunting weeks of his United career so far.
Let us deal first with the Premiership. The English league resumes on Saturday, and you can bet your bottom dollar that the scrutiny and pressure on David Moyes will be ramped up even further ahead of Crystal Palace’s visit to the Theatre of Dreams on Saturday. Had Moyes managed a positive result against Liverpool, the pressure would be – to a certain extent – off. His mistakes on deadline day and throughout the summer would largely have been glossed over as irrelevant if he had been the man to beat Liverpool on their own turf. But he wasn’t. And therefore, United welcome Palace to Old Trafford knowing that a loss would see Moyes’ position and standing become – not untenable – but certainly much weaker than it was a few weeks ago.
The whole world has stood and laughed at United, and United fans do not enjoy being laughed at. United need a win to restore their credentials as the number-one team in England. Moyes needs a win to restore favour among the fans. In normal circumstances the visit of Crystal Palace would be viewed as a straightforward fixture that United were odds-on to win; it would be viewed as one of the lowest pressure games of the season. But given Moyes’ position and United’s poor performances both on and off the pitch, coupled with Ian Holloway’s ability to build teams that can topple giants, this is perhaps United’s biggest game so far. A win is expected; a loss is unthinkable.
Following the visit of the Eagles, United will go straight into preparation for this season’s first European fixture; a home match against Bayer Leverkusen. This will be David Moyes’ first game in the group stages of the Champions League, and as such, the pressure will again be on the Scot to deliver a performance – and a result – worthy of Europe’s premier cup competition. Moyes’ detractors have pointed forward to his lack of European experience as a significant weakness, and if he wants to stay on the right side of the United fans, he needs a good result against Leverkusen. This, however, is easier said than done. The German club finished third last season, only one point behind Borussia Dortmund and will be a tough nut to crack. For a club like United, safe passage beyond the group stages is a must, and if he fancies staying in this job for a while, the Scot must make that safe passage a priority. The trouble is, as we have already expounded upon, he must do it whilst maintaining a decent performance in the Premier League.
There are some who would speculate that Moyes has already bitten off more than he can chew. There were plenty – myself included – who felt the appointment of a man who had never won a major trophy was an unwise one, and so far, those people will have seen nothing to dissuade that opinion. Moyes simply must succeed this week, otherwise the pressure he feels now – no doubt the most of his career so far – will only become more acute.