Pitchside Europe

What Moyes must do to save Manchester United’s season – and its future

David Moyes

As Manchester United reach new depths with a fourth home defeat in their last six games at Old Trafford, our friends at Squawka.com analyse how the United manager might yet be able to spend his way out of trouble.

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David Moyes's summer in charge at Manchester United became a dismal story of failed transfer sagas - but January will be the Scot's second chance to start building his new era at Old Trafford.

The need for New Year reinforcements has only grown since that woeful summer with the collapse of the club’s title defence and a shock FA Cup exit.

Everton’s former boss has become a shambling manager who has spent more time playing down expectations than running a football team of late, but his latest admission that there could be little or no business in the January window is troubling to say the least.

Following United’s 2-1 home defeat to Swansea City in the FA Cup, Moyes told the assembled media:

“There is an urgency that we would like to bring people in but are those players available in January? There’s no point in me hyping it up, because the players we would like to bring in are probably not available, not because we don’t want to do it.

“I said I would try, but that it would probably be doubtful because of the window, but I think I’ve been saying it fairly consistently.”

While January is a notoriously difficult month in which to conduct transfer dealings, United are in no position to simply sit out from the market melee having tried and struggled to make headway.

Considering the opportunities missed and momentum lost in the summer, reinforcing from a position of strength is no longer an option.

Regardless of whether he spends now or waits for the summer — when a likely lack of Champions League football may well complicate matters further — United are now playing catch-up, and must simply accept that they will have to pay a premium because of it.

After all, the idea that England’s champions - and the self-appointed biggest club in the world - are in grave danger of failing to qualify for Europe’s most prestigious competition will reach every nook and cranny of club football.

So why wait? With talk of funds in upwards of £100 million to play with, Moyes must make use of any money that’s available to him to salvage some semblance of success from this season’s travails.

The hole in midfield must finally be fixed

Having cited the need to sign three first-choice midfielders in the summer, as per The Guardian, in the end Moyes was only able to bring in Marouane Fellaini for £27.5 million on the final day of the transfer window back in September.

The wiry Belgian has so far struggled to offer any evidence that he is a solution to any of United’s problems - as his five "Sqauwka's worst player" awards in six Champions League matches this season show. In any case, Fellaini is currently out with a wrist problem, joining Michael Carrick on the injured list.

Fellaini's five Squawka Worst Awards in the Champions League suggests he isn't quite cut out for the elite lev …

During the summer, with the squad fresh from winning the league at a canter in Sir Alex Ferguson’s final season, it seemed as though a top-quality midfielder or two would be all that was required to make United the strongest side in the country.

And while heads may be down and confidence appears drained, the arrival of a robust playmaker or dynamic ball-winner with real pedigree could still transform the side and the club’s prospects, even if it means breaking the bank for a lesser-known target.

Step forward Ander Herrera.

Ander Herrera has once again been one of Athletic Bilbao's star performers

Suspicions remain that Athletic Bilbao's Herrera is a good but not great player, and heavily overpriced at £31 million.

But at present needs must, especially with the need to source cover for Carrick now more pressing than ever.

Moyes may need to work with what he knows

Patrice Evra has shown himself to be unsuited to Moyes’ preferred method of utilising his full-backs, and another attempt to prise Leighton Baines away from Everton could yet become the biggest story of United’s January transfer strategy.

While many fans may find the idea of replacing United’s more technical, title-winning footballers with the powerful and direct players their new manager is more used to, if they want to return to winning ways it may be a necessary evil.

That may also mean that moves for hard-working if unspectacular players may also follow, with Moyes’ relative success at Everton built on industry rather than imagination.

Moving for Baines and a clutch of prosaic workhorses might see Fellaini redeployed higher up the field, but if United’s new manager is struggling to find a new identity at Old Trafford he may have to regress into his old habits.

As he told the press after taking the job— lamentably, resorting to the third person: “All I can do is what David Moyes has done before.”

In other words, time to bring in the heavies.

Pre-empt the disappointment of losing Champions League football

What is a major signing, beyond a mere upgrade in personnel? It can be a sign of intent, a landmark leading to new period or style of play, or a so-called coup that elevates the relevant club to glamour and glory previously thought well above their station.

Such captures — the transfer window equivalent of a shot in the arm — used to be the sort of thing needed by clubs aspiring to Manchester United's level. Now it's United themselves who need that fillip to help them return to where they were so recently.

But they need to move fast, because missing out on Champions League football will cost the club what remains of their status in the game, and their attractiveness as a destination for elite players.

It may also lead to a haemorrhaging of talent from within their ranks. Wayne Rooney is already stalling over a new contract, while rumours ebb and flow over the happiness of Robin van Persie, who has already left one beloved club due to his desire to underscore his career with the silverware his talent deserves before its too late.

How United's key players have done under David Moyes

It seems Moyes was also wise to the need to make waves in the summer. But rather than sounding out Kevin Strootman or moving earlier for Herrera, he embarked on a protracted and foolhardy pursuit of Cesc Fabregas.

Talk of Wesley Sneijder once filling the transfer gossip columns, and that level of star is exactly who United must now go for: a status symbol signing who could save United's season in the short-term, and yet also be potentially even useful for reassuring both fans and players that the club still has a place at football's top table.

And above all, Moyes must act now to ensure that matters don’t get out of hand.