David Moyes saw the same thing we did. At least that would explain his guarded optimism after Manchester United’s 2-0 victory over Cardiff City. On the day Juan Mata debuted and Robin Van Persie returned to the lineup, the Red Devils spent much of the day playing as Cardiff’s equals. Facing the Premier League’s last place team at home, United’s boss was left with mixed emotions.
“I know I have got some really good players coming back but of course I want to be more convincing,” Moyes said after today’s victory (as reported by The Guardian). “I want to win better and play much better. Don’t think because we have won tonight I have got a smile and am happy … I have got a long way to go.”
Given United’s performance against Cardiff, the reaction makes sense, but within the context of Moyes’ other post-match reactions, the response is curious. In the face of some of his team’s disappointing results, Moyes has touted his United’s performance, occasionally bristling at the suggestion his players performed to disappointing scores. Tonight he seems to be over-compensating in the other direction, taking an almost stridden tone to describe a lacking yet still successful performance.
At its core, however, Moyes’s skepticism is well-deserved. After their sixth minute goal, Manchester United showed little desire to build on their lead and put the match out of reach. Ashley Young’s 59th minute goal eventually did that, but that was neither a result of consistent pressure nor a product of a great attacking play. It was a shot in the dark, albeit a spectacular one.
In that sense, today’s United wasn’t unlike the team that’s struggled throughout the season. They beat the worst team in the league by two at home, but for much of the match, the Bluebirds were still within reach. The kind of home disappointments United’s experienced against Tottenham, Newcastle, Everton, and Southampton could have also happened today, if there opposition was better. Today’s bottom line could be seen as a product of Cardiff’s play rather than United’s.
Yet the Red Devils still got three points. That shouldn’t be overlooked. Qualms about their play over most of the game have to be put in context of the sixth minute goal that allowed them to be assume a leader’s posture. Had they not scored that goal we may have seen a more convincing Manchester United.
Moyes clearly wanted to see that team. He didn’t. While he should be happy his team claimed their third league win in four matches, he’s right to worry about how his team will fare against tougher opposition.