There were no shortage of Premier League talking points this week. David Moyes fired. Ryan Giggs as player-manager at Manchester United, with Scholes and Butt to join him as a temporary Class of '92 coaching staff. It's incredible how a seventh place team takes all the headlines heading into a weekend the Premier League title could be all but wrapped up and heading back to Anfield for the first time since 1989-90.
More on Liverpool in a moment. Here are this week's Musings:
- David Moyes relieved of his managerial duties at Manchester United was no surprise to anyone bearing witness to the miserable brand of football being played by last year's Champions. Call the Moyes appointment a mistake. Call him out of his depth. The most important move made at Manchester United since Sir Alex Ferguson stepped aside 11 months ago was firing Moyes now.
Some will complain about the manner of his dismissal. Some United supporters will remain steadfast Moyes should have been given more time. Others will blame the Glazers. There is plenty of blame to go around but to admonish Moyes is still more than fair for his grandiose failure as manager. How a manager cannot name a same starting XI over 50+ games is incomprehensible. From man-management fiasco, to tactical failure, from formational ambiguity to an extinguished team spirit, from transfer window flops, to public embarrassments, from press conference gaffes, to record breaking losses – you get the point; the Moyes era was a debacle any way you slice it.
Disappointing results were less disconcerting than the porous performances, which were getting worse by the week. It's an indictment of Moyes who turned a group who were 11 points better than any a season ago into a lifeless, tactically deficient, error prone, often times confused group showing a lack of impetus to attack. Remember, this Manchester United team has 14-15 players who will likely head to Brazil to represent their respective countries at this year's FIFA World Cup. The players haven't played well. Ask yourself why.
Patience can be preached when the process is clear and the directive is solid. Patience is earned, not given blindly. While "standing by" this manager was always an admirable instruction, it simply couldn't be given without a requisite resume or proper command of star players. This wasn't Manchester United of 1986 Moyes was taking over. These were perennial league contenders. The bar has been set miles higher. Preaching patience because United stood by Ferguson during difficult early days is a stretch. The game doesn't work like that anymore. The current squad was by no means on par with the likes of Bayern Munich, Real Madrid, Barcelona, etc. Adjustments are still required. They shouldn't be 23 points back of Liverpool either. For a team of this quality to only pick up six points out of 36 against teams better than they in the table is unacceptable in a year where mediocrity reigns supreme in the Premier League. Flawed teams can win. And they have.
Moyes was a mistake. Just a more costly one than Bebe, Djemba-Djemba, Kleberson, letting Pogba go or any other of Ferguson's miscalculations. The club will learn, they will grow, and they will move on.
Manchester United will be just fine. And are better off without Moyes.
- So who will be the next manager of Manchester United?
Louis van Gaal has all the right credentials and demeanor, and would bring the type of stature required at United. The Netherlands manager's World Cup journey could extend into July, which is hardly what United needs. A summer makeover is ahead. Growing accustomed to the United way from the get-go, as early as possible is essential. No sense repeating last summer's embarrassment by leaving it late. Short-term and long-term are intrinsically linked here.
Just because a manager says he's not interested in the job doesn't mean he is staying put. United have found themselves on the wrong side of player negotiations, where the target says they would be up for a move to Old Trafford only to bag themselves a new, better deal to stay with said team. Borussia Dortmund manager Jurgen Klopp saying he wants to stay in Germany may simply be a ploy to demand a better contract. Whether that comes from BvB or United remains to be seen. Don't rule him out.
Same goes for Pep Guardiola. The Bayern Munich manager would be the best fit for United among all candidates: tactically sound, young and with an understanding of the importance of building a squad from academy through to the senior team. If Bayern Munich crashes out of the Champions League next week, with Franz Beckenbauer already unhappy with this week's performance at the Bernabeu, United should test the waters. There is little suggestion Guardiola would leave, but nonetheless you still make the call. His relationship with Sir Alex Ferguson bodes well and United would pay over the moon to get him, no questions asked.
Would Jose Mourinho leave Chelsea after only one season back at Stamford Bridge to embark on a United adventure? Better question: would Ferguson extend the olive branch, acknowledging his mistake of not giving the job to Mourinho in the first place? If stories are true that Mourinho broke down in tears after the job was given to Moyes, it's conceivable he swaps blue for red. He would certainly bring swagger, confidence and appeal to the position.
Other candidates will emerge. Those not proven winners and/or enigmatic personalities need not apply. United needs style and substance after the mess Moyes created.
- On paper, Liverpool-Chelsea is as mouthwatering a match you can get. In practice, Sunday may turn into a farce of a crucial and possible league-deciding match at Anfield. Chelsea is five points back of Liverpool, not an insurmountable number considering a trip to Selhurst Park lay ahead for Liverpool. Crystal Palace has won five in a row, including wins over Chelsea and Everton. Liverpool can drop points. Chelsea is still in the mix. As is Manchester City.
Yet Mourinho has made it clear wholesale line-up changes are on the way, after Chelsea's 0-0 first leg Champions League draw against Atletico Madrid Tuesday. The return leg in West London goes Wednesday. New injuries to goalkeeper Petr Cech and defender John Terry complicates selection, with question marks surrounding the already walking wounded Samuel Eto'o and Eden Hazard. So it looks to be a mish-mash Chelsea team taking to the field Sunday, basically opening the door for Liverpool to take another step towards clinching the title. The only virtual locks to play are Frank Lampard and John Obi Mikel (suspended for the second leg), and Nemanja Matic and Mohamed Salah (cup tied). After the four and assumedly goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer, all bets are off. It's an absolute shame a team still in the mix wouldn't make the league match priority. It's a tricky situation either way for Mourinho. After 35 league games, you'd hope the effort would be consistent with the season. Sunday may turn out to be a colossal disappointment for all non-Liverpool supporters, and the league is worse off for it.
- Manchester City may have kissed their title chances goodbye in a 2-2 draw against pesky Sunderland last week. In fairness, the Black Cats should have taken all three points, so perhaps City are lucky to still find themselves in the position they're in. City needs Liverpool to lose a game, then win all their remaining games and rely on superior goal differential to be crowned Champions, as they were on the dramatic final day to win the league two seasons ago. That Sunderland gave City a go shouldn't surprise. Sunderland is 4-2-2 against City over the last four seasons. They are a bugaboo team for City. The blue side of Manchester will be hoping Sunderland stay in the relegation zone the rest of the season. Good riddance.
- Norwich City is on the verge of disaster, facing relegation with three games to go. It was an ambitious summer of signings for the Canaries, but it's all gone pear-shaped. Ricky 'van work-rate' van Wolfswinkel has been the biggest of summer busts. Just one goal from 15 starts (24 appearances) for the Sporting Lisbon man is representative of the frustrating season. From front to back, they haven't been good enough. A league-worst 28 goals and likewise league worst eight points from their travels is why they are fourth from the bottom. Firing manager Chris Houghton a fortnight ago was merely an act of desperation with the writing already on the wall. They won't get points against Manchester United Saturday with the emotion of Giggs, Butt and Scholes at the helm. Perhaps they'll catch a mentally drained Chelsea next week, but there is no guarantee there. And Arsenal in the final week is as tough a match as you can get. With points there for the taking for the current bottom three, it seems the last three games will be their farewell tour from the Premier League.