To realize the importance of today’s win over Liverpool, imagine the situation at Manchester United if they’d lost. Just over a month into David Moyes’ tenure, his team would have two North West Derby defeats, a thrashing at the hands of Manchester City, and a disappointing performance against Chelsea.
But with today’s 1-0 result at Old Trafford, Moyes finally has big win. He was at home, and he did have the better squad (even if he didn’t pick a better team), but coming off a 4-1 loss Sunday that the Etihad, Moyes needed this result. Without it — with an early exit from a cup competition at the feet of Liverpool — “small sample” caveats would become as defensive as they are informative.
“What was important was that the whole club showed that we were hurt by the game on Sunday,” Moyes explained after today’s win, one which put United into the League Cup’s fourth round.
“We didn’t perform to our levels. And they’ve gone out and the players have done a great job to get us a big result, so I’m really pleased with them.”
Holding Liverpool to three shots on goal, the defense played a decisive role. Phil Jones and Ryan Giggs, an unlikely partnership in front of the defense, protected a back line marshaled by Jonny Evans. While they’re unlikely to displace Michael Carrick, Marouane Fellaini, and Nemanja Vidic, they proved enough to keep Liverpool from creating changes from their edge in possession.
In the broader sense, it was United’s depth that deserved the credit; or, Moyes’s ability to employ it. Only three players — David de Gea, Rafael, and Wayne Rooney — would be considered part of a choice XI, even if the likes of Shingi Kagawa, Nani, and Javier Hernández are still considered top talents.
With Robin van Persie injured and players like Ashley Young struggling, that depth may need to be leveraged if United’s to continue moving forward.
“We know we have to improve,” Moyes said, the Red Devils sitting eighth ahead of Saturday’s visit from West Bromwich Albion. “I’m getting to know them. They’re a really good team; they won the Premiership last year. But we need to make sure that we’re looking to improve as well.”
It’s a subtle reminder from Moyes, who sardonically noted he’d heard few positives when asked to reflect on United’s best start under a new manager since 1968 (an observation with a deceptive implication). He is still getting to know his team. There is every reason to think United will improve. United may have won the league last year, but it also may be a mistake to assume there won’t be a period of adjustment.
But as Sunday showed, the competition’s stepped up over the summer. Last year’s performance is unlikely to win another Premier League. Moyes may not only need to step in for Alex Ferguson and manage that adjustment but also improve the legend’s last championship squad.
Wednesday was surely a step forward in that process. Through most of Moyes’s XI, it may have been a second choice team, but the result should still inject confidence throughout the squad. They’ve knocked one of their biggest rivals out of a cup competition, doing so in a way that hints Moyes already knows how to handle his recently-inherited squad.