Four in a row, and pressure easing on Moyes

Posted by Mark Payne

The tension and anxiety has left Old Trafford for the time being. After defeats to Everton and Newcastle, you couldn’t say boo to a goose in there. Recent results have put some of the swagger back into Manchester United’s play. They needed it.

It would have been easy for David Moyes to shift blame onto his players last month. The supporters were angry and the newspapers were sharpening their scalpels. The easiest thing in the world would have been for him to say, "Ashley Young and Danny Welbeck have let me down." Everyone else was making noises of that ilk.

Instead, Moyes said that he took “full responsibility” for the poor results and that he would turn it around. Four weeks later, and United have won four on the trot, and it is Welbeck and Young who are firing in the goals. There is much to be said for hanging in there.

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On Saturday, West Ham United could not have been more accommodating in United's 3-1 victory. They almost arrived at Old Trafford gift-wrapped and obligingly placed themselves under the Mancunian tree. United almost scored after 60 seconds when Tom Cleverley unleashed a shot that Adrian did well to keep at bay.

Four consecutive victories is impressive, and until Alexander Buttner decided to let Carlton Cole wander toward goal, United had not conceded in more than four hours of play. So it wasn’t perfect, but tremendous progress has been made in a few short weeks.

There are signs United are getting there, even in areas where they had seemed bereft of hope not so long ago. There were good performances from Chris Smalling and Jonny Evans at centre-back and the continued absence of Rio Ferdinand is glaring. His position in the pecking order has plummeted since he publicly questioned Moyes’ team-selection methodology. Other players will no doubt have taken note.

Rafael and Antonio Valencia, Team South America, continued their sterling work on the right flank and have developed an understanding opposition defences are struggling to cope with. It would be fair to ask Valencia to add some variety to his crossing, though.

United’s main avenue of creativity on Saturday came from the left, where Patrice Evra spent most of the match in the opposition half and Adnan Januzaj drifted around causing mischief. United fans are trying hard not to get too excited, but the Belgian youngster has outrageous ability. The only way to steal possession from him seems to be to commit a foul.

His balance is supreme, and with his goal he revealed an ability to make the right decision under pressure. Unfortunately, he is gaining a reputation for diving. The primary problem with that is he won’t be awarded the free kicks he earns. It is too early for comparisons with Ronaldo, but the time cometh.

Phil Jones and Wayne Rooney were imperious in the middle of the pitch, Rooney quietly running the game and stroking passes out wide with panache. Politically, it should not be mentioned that Rooney is deployed in that department, but he is. Cleverley also had an energetic and effective game behind the roaming No. 10.

The real problem, though, is not in United's squad, board room or manager's office. The real problem is a Uruguayan who is at the top of the league. For all the improvements United have made, Liverpool are top three days before Christmas. And it just doesn’t feel right.

Mark Payne is the author of “Fergie’s Last Stand,” now available in paperback.

Follow him on Twitter @MarkJPayne.

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