(Reuters) – Following in Alex Ferguson’s footsteps was never going to be an easy task for David Moyes but few Manchester United fans would have anticipated the English champions slipping 12 points behind the Premier League leaders with only a third of the season gone.
Wednesday’s 1-0 home defeat by Everton, United’s fourth of the campaign, exposed all the chinks in the armour of a team who won their 20th league title in May after Ferguson masterfully papered over the cracks in his squad.
It would be unfair to put all the blame on Moyes who is still learning the ropes at Old Trafford after 11 years at Everton where he might have viewed finishing in the Premier League’s top six as success with a much tighter budget and limited squad depth.
But the 50-year old Scot has to take some responsibility for failing to inject fresh blood into a ponderous midfield palpably lacking a playmaker and struggling to protect a shaky defence when Michael Carrick is unavailable.
Former England and Newcastle striker Alan Shearer, now a pundit for the BBC, summed up United’s engine-room frailties after the Everton defeat. “They missed Carrick against Everton and a dominant midfielder who is going to create and score goals,” Shearer said after Moyes cut a forlorn figure trudging down the tunnel. “It was too easy at times for Everton to run at United’s back four.”
Recruiting Marouane Fellaini from his former club looks more and more like an ill-judged decision by Moyes, with the towering Belgian resembling a square peg trying to fit into a round hole in United’s normally creative midfield.
The defence, with ageing centre backs Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic well past their prime, has been vulnerable too as the alternatives have failed to show that they are adequate long-term replacements.