Moyes’s claim that Manchester United were “really unlucky” in their defeat to Stoke is a sign the manager is fast running out of answers


At the moment, there are two things that David Moyes isn’t very good at. The first is finding a way to win games and the second is explaining why he cannot.

While Jose Mourinho’s habit of hypocrisy can be a little tiresome, what are generally acknowledged are his skills at the art of misdirection: soaking up attention and headlines for himself and keeping the focus away from his players. This isn’t necessarily a requirement for success, as Manuel Pelligrini demonstrates, but it does mean that when a team isn’t performing at its finest or has been outwitted (or “out-tactic’d” as Sam Allardyce would say) he knows what to say to deflect the headlines away from the failings of his players. The “19th Century football” comment was a classic example.

David Moyes, on the other hand, is beginning to look like a defeated man, lacking both the camera-friendly swagger, wit and nonchalance of Mourinho, and the calm, professorial dignity of Pellegrini. As United’s results have nosedived and a Champions’ League place fades further and further away, Moyes has been abrupt, irritable and borderline pathetic in his explanations of United’s dire performances. His answers are inane (“I didn’t win that [against Stoke] and I thought that [it] was important so we’ll try and win the next one we’ll play”) blindingly duh (“we need to stop conceding goals to give ourselves a better chance of winning”) to laughably robotic (“All I can do is try to win the next game. There’s a lot of games to play and we’ll try and do that”).

The hard truth is that whatever your opinion on the quality of the squad Moyes has inherited, a 2-1 capitulation to Stoke City is unacceptable. It may be the responsibility of the players to perform on the pitch, but United fans will find no comfort in the claim of a good performance undone by bad luck in the form of a deflection that was weak work by Michael Carrick, and a wondergoal by Charlie Adam. If Moyes wanted to blame bad luck, he would have been better off citing the injuries to Jonny Evans and Phil Jones, rather than writing off the defeat as yet another great performance with an undeserved scoreline.

The fact is that so far, Moyes has not demonstrated the presence that is required to be at the helm of Manchester United. This is lack of experience, yes, but there remains a certain rabbit-in-the-headlights, hostile stare following games that offers nothing in the way of an explanation as to why a squad headed by 3 of the finest players in Europe cannot propel themselves beyond Stoke City.

Also worrying is the lack of discipline that United have shown in the past few games. Particularly troubling was Nemanja Vidic’s uncharacteristic scything down of Eden Hazard in the defeat against Chelsea, an ugly demonstration of frustration that used to be absent in favour of an angry, yet controlled, exercise in determination that the side would show under Sir Alex Ferguson when United were behind.

Whatever allowances one should make for Moyes after following Ferguson, whatever mitigating factor you might produce about the below average squad, no matter how legitimate those arguments may be – United failing to qualify for the Champions’ League is dire, an eventuality that must have been unthinkable even for the most pessimistic of Moyes’ employers. United’s squad may improve, his luck may turn, but you cannot change a manager’s personality and strength of character and it remains highly possible that Moyes just doesn’t have the presence to pull this off.