United head north, and the only way is up

Posted by Mark Payne

Manchester United had the rug taken from under them last Saturday against West Bromwich Albion at Old Trafford. The 2-1 defeat has shifted the expectations of club and supporters and hopes of a respectable defence of the Premier League title now appear slim. As United head to visit a Sunderland side in disarray Saturday, they seek the victory that will lift the mood of the club.

The first question marks appeared over Moyes as Manchester United manager with that defeat. The answer has been emphatic and from all quarters. “He wants to put [the results] right,” said Ryan Giggs. “I am sure he will.”

“United are in safe hands,” Sir Alex Ferguson concurred from an interview in the United States. Unsurprisingly, Moyes also backed himself, saying Manchester United “know they picked the right man for the job.”

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But the question is now there. These pronouncements, along with the news that the board are willing to 'spend big' in the transfer window, indicate Moyes will be guiding United for this season at least. The club are behind the manager, the fans should be too.

While much will depend on the next transfer window’s success or failure, in the meantime, there are matches to be played. The best way to sway conversation away from negative subject matter is to win them.

It is fair to say that team selection has resembled speed dating recently. Players are being chopped and changed before they have had the chance to introduce themselves and the half-time substitution of Shinji Kagawa against WBA was close to bizarre.

It is time to start shaping a team. Many remain unsure about what playing philosophy the club are following. It is difficult to see a clear formation emerging with different sets of midfielders being deployed every week. For example, Marouane Fellaini was certainly central to United’s play in the 1-1 Champions League at Shakhtar Donetsk Wednesday, but it wasn’t immediately obvious what he was trying to do.

At present, Manchester United need not just a victory, but a performance worthy of the club's name. So far this season there have been flashes of what this squad is capable of, against Swansea and Bayer Leverkusen. Unfortunately, we have also seen them play extremely poorly, with the last two league games being something of a nadir. There are now jokes circling the nation about Moyes finally getting Everton above United in the table.

"It's an important game we want to win. We'll pick a team that we think can get a result,” Moyes said about Saturday's game. Whichever team takes the field, supporters will want to see a performance of gumption and effort. Too many players have been passengers in the league so far. Whether this is because they are tired or unmotivated is yet to be ascertained. But it needs to change.

Moyes added on Friday that it was too early to be making snap judgements, and he is right. "There's a long way to go in the Premier League, it's a long season." That is certainly true. The way things are looking, it is going to be a long season for everybody associated with United. Another wobbly performance against Sunderland and a winter of discontent may begin.

Follow Mark on Twitter @markjpayne

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