MANCHESTER: Last weekend Manchester United believed they had turned a corner. Wayne Rooney had extended his contract for five and a half seasons and a victory over Crystal Palace had brought a first win in four games.
Now all that optimism has vanished again, not only through the 2-0 Champions League defeat in Athens but the nature of a poor performance. This was United’s worst display in Europe under David Moyes and one which the manager said: “We did not expect.”
The truth, as laid bare now to an international TV audience, is that United are as poor in Europe as in England. Manchester City and Arsenal need not have been embarrassed to lose to Barcelona and Bayern but for United to lose so abjectly to a killing goal from a Gunners loanee – Joel Campbell – was very different.
Rooney had said, before the game, that United could emulate Chelsea in 2012 and win the Champions League despite falling off the Premier title pace. But the size of the recovery task is illustrated by the fact that it is 30 years since United reclaimed a two-goal deficit – against Diego Maradona’s Barcelona in the quarter-finals of the Cup-winners Cup
Moyes is heading to end his first season at Old Trafford without a trophy and under increasing pressure only eight months into the job.
He said: “We didn’t deserve anything because of the way we played. I think there is undoubtedly talent at Manchester United but we didn’t show it.
“But there is a second game to come. Old Trafford has seen some great nights in the past, and I am looking forward, hopefully, to seeing another one.”
Moyes made questionable selection choices in not starting Marouane Fellaini after his encouraging display at Selhurst Park and omitting Adnan Januzaj from the 18-man squad altogether. Antonio Valencia, Michael Carrick and Tom Cleverley were poor and Rio Ferdinand embarrassingly bad.
Former United captain Roy Keane, working for TV, said critically that some of Moyes’s players were simply not good enough. He added: “I think that, privately, David Moyes will be shocked at the lack of quality he is having to work with. United need six or seven new players to rebuild the club.”
That may cost even more than the £150m United have already set aside for new signings.