There was no The Month in January for three reasons: it was, admittedly, forgotten about until fairly late, then there was the lack of time anyway, because you know how busy people are, and, finally, perhaps most importantly, oh god, please don’t make me do this. Look at all those commas. That’s what January did. Not even Juan Mata could save it. Then February came along.
February wasn’t exactly worse results-wise. The first month of the year did see United lose five out of seven, after all, if you were to include a penalty shooutout defeat (as we emphatically do), the remaining two acceptable victories at home to relegation-threatened teams. It didn’t help that United were knocked out of both domestic tournaments, as well as being pushed into irrelevancy in the league. So that was bad. It could only get better, right?
Well. How much ‘better’ is one win in five? (Keep going.) The relentless sameness, the frustration at the apparent lack of lessons learned, is difficult to write off as simply a product of a season of transition. “Stand by your new manager,” months on, suddenly sounds sinister. People are constantly looking for reassurance. Look at the attacking players at their disposal! But Stoke win 2-1. A cross every minute, cleared away every minute, and a late goal conceded at Fulham. A draw. Where’s Adnan Januzaj, by the way, almost literally the only good thing of recent things to happen to Manchester United? Arsenal. Another draw. Not a terrible result, but, actually, it kinda is, right? Have you seen the table? Three points against an in-form Palace? Good. We’ll take it. What’s harder to take, though, is the idea that United have actually saved their most appalling performance of this wretched season for Olympiacos, in the Champions League. The one thing that still mattered. Wasn’t that an easy draw? When is it supposed to get good, then? Wayne Rooney’s signed a new contract! But Wayne Rooney isn’t playing well. He’s playing just as badly as the rest. (Woah.)
Olympiacos was, in technical terms, a killer. There is a second leg, and there remains the potential of one of those great European nights at Old Trafford: for Olympiacos. It’s unclear just how good they are, dismissed by one newspaper(‘s podcast) as being equal to a Premier League “mid-table” side before kick-off. That might have been why things worked out the way it did, thinking about it. United were deceived: the numerous scout reports established that their opponents were without their two best players, or perhaps the question of whether it was better spelled with a ‘c’ rather than a ‘k’ led to their unravelling. David Moyes spoke of the “good form” (keep going, oh god, just keep going) coming into this one, hoping to retroactively change results if he says enough positive things. We’ve been great recently! Nope, it still says on here that we lost to Stoke City.
Everyone’s a little confused. Johnny Giles branded Robin van Persie a “prat” for complaining about players being in his “zone”. He might have had a point, given that Van Persie’s comment didn’t make much sense. His zone? Surely that could have only been Wayne Rooney? They both were pretty bad, so in the same zone they were. Van Persie, however, can feel a little hard done by. He didn’t get off lightly, and people are questioning his form. He has managed four goals in the six games he’s been fit, three more than Wayne Rooney. The Englishman typically delivers, but he hasn’t recently. He can get by on his goals and assists, but, well. Van Persie at least has. Rooney also has a new contract, and while his talents can’t be ignored, it’s also bewildering just how easily some of his bad performances are ignored themselves. Van Persie, it must be remembered, has maintained a strike rate similar to last season’s. His spurned chance late on in Greece still hurts, but what was worse is that he only got one. He’s always been allowed to miss an easy one because he puts the others away.
Nobody is having a good time in this post-Fergie world. Moyes should take most responsibility for failing, repeatedly, to get the most out of his men. But it also goes beyond him. Carrick no longer looks like the same player his team-mates voted their best in 2012/13. The defence outdoes itself every week, Chris Smalling quite clearly a centre-back and Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidic and Patrice Evra members of another team a few months too soon. The non Adnan Januzajs out wide, meanwhile, can’t hit the door they’ll hopefully exit from in the summer. 2014’s February was horrible, alright, and we’re glad it’s over.
It could only get better, right.
Made in Manchester is available for just £3. Some of the best football writers take a player each, from Sir Bobby Charlton to Ryan Giggs, George Best to David Beckham, Duncan Edwards to Paul Scholes, and many more, with 30 articles in total. All profit goes to Trafford Macmillan so please support this fantastic cause.