Throughout the season we’ve noted when Manchester United’s approach has been a little too conservative for a Premier League title contending club, analysis that implicitly highlights one of their new manager’s shortcomings. But on a day when David Moyes helped engineer a 5-0 win at Bayer Leverkusen, the Bundesliga‘s second place team, it’s only fair to note that the squad exhibited one of the positive traits of the former Everton boss: an ability to transcend limitations to get results.
On Wednesday, those limitations were injuries, fitness issues that cost the Red Devils Robin van Persie, Michael Carrick, Marouane Fellaini, Nemanja Vidic and Rafael. With the likes of Nani and Shinji Kagawa ready to fill in, there’s only so much we should have cried for Moyes, but his ability to get a hamstrung squad to post a five-goal win in what was supposed to be one of their toughest matches to date is noteworthy. Moyes certainly deserves some of the credit; or, at least, a few idle words on a blog.
“It’s the best we’ve played in my time here and there’s more to come,” Moyes said, the blowout justifying his smugness. Manchester United’s home win over Arsenal (1-0) had previously been considered Moyes’s high point, but whereas that was a score first and protect the lead match, today’s was a romp.
“To score five goals, we haven’t done that, and to do it away is special.”
It was United’s largest away win in their Champions League history. It also extended the team’s unbeaten run to 11 games. While in isolation, performances like this weekend’s draw at Cardiff City may sound some alarms (bells I rang on Sunday, to be fair), within the context of an 11-game unbeaten run, they’re acceptable.
At least, the results show progress from the more uncertain form was saw earlier this year: Flat draw against Chelsea; late goal conceded to Southampton; loss at home to West Brom. Now that we’ve seen this Leverkusen high point, maybe those dips can be seen as needed bumps in the road? Pitfalls that were unavoidable while changing managers.
“I hope I can continue the standards United have set before and the team’s performance tonight has shown that,” Moyes told the press post-match. “It’s what I expected, qualifying for the Champions League and doing well in the league and the cups, and I will try to keep that going.”
Do or do not, Mr. Moyes. The Leverkusen result is phenomenal, but United’s current place in the cups is obligatory. And although the team is doing better in league, the Red Devils are still sixth. Last year, they finished first. Do or do not, Mr. Moyes, but right now, the league season looks like a lot of try.
Wednesday, however, gave United fans reason to think the heights attained last season could be replicated this year. Nobody’s running away with this season’s Premier League, so if the team’s performance in Leverkusen can be replicated against England’s other title contenders, there’s reason for optimism.
That alone is progress. Whereas the seasons first months where filled with doubts, the fall is giving United a reason to believe. Are these the same marauding Red Devils who ran away with last year’s title? No. But as Wednesday’s performance augurs, the dip might not be so big. They may not be title favorites, but they’re still threats.