David Moyes's Manchester United: Are opponents sensing weakness?

By Ben SmithBBC Sport at Old Trafford
Missed opportunities cost us - Moyes

David Moyes always knew that following in the footsteps of greatness was never going to be easy.

On the approaches to Old Trafford on Saturday, there was no escaping the shadow, the memory.

You can now walk along Sir Alex Ferguson Way, past the vast Sir Alex Ferguson Stand and into the bastion of invincibility that Sir Alex Ferguson built over the course of 26 years.

Just to add to it all, Ferguson's highly-anticipated book hits the shelves this week, followed by the tour to promote it, of course. Sales for his night at the Lowry Theatre,external-link less than a mile from Old Trafford, sold out in four minutes.

It all comes as Moyes is attempting to impose his own identity on Manchester United and put his predecessor in the past. It is proving, as we always knew it would, easier said than done.

When Ferguson retired, United did not just lose a manager, they lost an aura, an air of invincibility.

Ferguson was at Old Trafford on Saturday to watch Southampton score the kind of late equaliser for which his sides were famed.

Two minutes before the goal came, Moyes had replaced Wayne Rooney with Chris Smalling. At the final whistle, some questioned whether Ferguson would have done the same, would have been as cautious.

Others asked why Moyes was failing to extract the extra 10% which his predecessor's force of personality somehow brought out in lesser players and papered over a number of shortcomings in his squad.

United delivered in bursts on Saturday. There were moments when Rooney, Robin van Persie and Adnan Januzaj linked up delightfully but they were too far and few between.

It was strange to see Southampton dictate for so long - they had 54% of possession, made significantly more passes both around the field and in the final third and had 18 shots to United's 12. For long periods United were insipid, not inventive.

The familiar fluency, that cavalier attacking flair that became a hallmark under Ferguson has been replaced by a caution, an instinct to not lose where once United would do everything to win.

'Throw the kitchen sink in the last 15 minutes', was how Ferguson put it. The only side doing that in the final minutes were wearing black and being driven on by Pochettino.

No fear factor after Ferguson departure

Southampton never looked overawed, they played without fear or fragility. After the game, their manager Mauricio Pochettino was asked if the fear factor around United and Old Trafford had gone.

"I have never started a game in a fearful way," he said. "But it was strange for me to come to Old Trafford and not see Sir Alex Ferguson sitting in the opposite dugout.

"Last year when I came here I had the chance to meet him, it was great. I am sure it is not easy for David Moyes to be under the shadow of Sir Alex. But I think David is a great manager, a great person."

United under Moyes have yet to win back-to-back Premier League matches this season and the champions have failed to win five of their first eight matches, losing at Liverpool, Manchester City and home to West Brom. The Red Devils are not used to being eight points behind the leaders after eight games.

It should, of course, be remembered that they have endured a run of games that no manager would have fancied. United have a habit of coming good as the season drags on. At this stage last year, they had lost to Everton and Tottenham. Two years ago, they had been thrashed 6-1 by City.

Moyes rejected suggestions that Ferguson's force of personality had been a factor in what has been a difficult start to the new season.

"The players are the thing because of the quality," he said. "Obviously Sir Alex Ferguson has a great history and his experience will always work in charge of any team. But the players have always been the people that have to do it on the field."

There is not a manager in the world that would have found it easy to slip into Ferguson's shoes. That would have found it easy to continue to drive his players to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat and mount scarcely believable comeback after scarcely believable comeback.

There was a sense that teams that snatched the lead knew they had angered United, and were always bracing themselves for the onslaught. Without Ferguson on the touchline, there is a sense that fear has dissipated.

And yet, Moyes must take great credit for the good things he has done. The courageous decision to throw Januzaj his first Premier League start at Sunderland two weeks ago paid off handsomely.

The 18-year-old made his first Premier League start at Old Trafford against Southampton here, and once again showed flashes of brilliance, creating United's goal and almost scoring a second. Moyes should take credit.

Another huge plus for United is the form of Rooney and the way in which Moyes is nursing him gradually back to life. Against Southampton he has bristled with vim and vigour and thumped a thundering shot against the crossbar.

Even if the result was disappointing, there were signs that Moyes is gradually turning United around after their worst Premier League start. It will take time and he will be given that but the former Everton manager is taking his first steps down a road of which Ferguson came to know every step, for good and bad.

On Saturday, there was no Nemanja Vidic, no Rio Ferdinand. It was a sign of things to come, a sign of the task beyond replacing the irreplaceable, a reminder that this is a squad that - although it won the league at a canter - is also in need of regeneration.

That process will not happen overnight. But in the meantime, teams such as Southampton will, rightly or wrongly, come to Old Trafford sensing a weakness. How long that lasts will be down to Moyes.

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