While some will look at the away goal conceded as the biggest negative, I couldn’t get over the latest of many, many clear signs this season that United desperately need stronger, sharper midfield talent.
Marouane Fellaini’s dismal start to life at Old Trafford has been underscored countless times, and understandably it will be until either the issue is solved or United simply cut their sizable losses on him.
I don’t think it’s a simple case of ‘stepping up to a bigger club’, either – if anything it can be tougher to succeed at a side with less expectations, because the support around you isn’t as world-class and you face more challenging fixtures.
Last night showed that the Fellaini of 2013/14 quite simply does not have a clue what his role in the team is.
He’s not a ball-winning midfielder for United. He’s not a defensive-minded anchor. He’s not a creative attacking midfielder. He managed all of these at Everton to varying degrees, which makes it frustrating as he’s shown what he is capable of. And since David Moyes was his manager at Goodison Park, too, his failure to slot in is even more baffling.
The biggest disappointment for me however was Ryan Giggs.
Quite frankly, I’m surprised Moyes even went with him against Bayern. While even at 40 Giggs has produced a few great performances for the club, they have all come in games where the Red Devils controlled most of the possession, allowing Giggsy to pull the strings as only he can.
That wasn’t the case against this classy Bayern side, even when they’re not at their absolute top gear. And I remember back in the early 90s, even when Giggs was young and full of energy, he wasn’t the best at defending. Sure, he’d track back eventually, but he always has been very much an ‘on-the-ball’ player.
With that in mind, I cannot fathom why Moyes would use him on Tuesday rather than save his legs for Saturday’s trip to Newcastle United.
Newcastle were absolutely abysmal against a confident and stylish Southampton, and would be ripe for the picking by someone like Giggs, just like they were at the mercy of Adam Lallana.
Now, time will tell if Ryan will even be up for the full 90 minutes in the North-East after chasing shadows in midweek.
Giggs has been spared the fierce criticism many of his team-mates have had to endure this season, and rightly so. The man has done so much at the club that nobody can really turn on him just because things aren’t going well in one season, after over 20 of wonderful Giggsy moments.
That doesn’t mean the criticism wouldn’t be just, were someone to pipe up, however.
The best way I can approach it, personally, is to say I believe Giggs has a huge decision ahead of him this summer.
Could he still do a job on the pitch for United every now and then next season, aged 41? Yes. He has the heart and he has kept himself in great shape for his age, so he’d remain a good squad player.
The biggest problem he faces is that his fledgling coaching career and his continued presence in the team are hurting each other.
Player-coaches and player-managers can work, sure. Kenny Dalglish is the shining example of this. But the overall success ratio is very, very low.
Footballers have egos, there’s no secret about it. Proud men in a fast-paced, physical, competitive environment. It’s unavoidable. Now imagine how those egos feel about someone like Giggs telling them to do something, then stepping onto the pitch in their place and failing to do it himself.
One dazzling throwback performance every now and then isn’t going to cut it. Giggs cannot lead by example week-in, week-out so he needs to pick one or the other: lead, or keep doing it for another year.
Moyes has stalled on another contract extension for him for the time being. Giggs should use this as an opportunity to make his own decision before the gaffer does it for him.
He can retire this summer to a hero’s departure and throw himself headlong into coaching – and United need more people as experienced and respected as Giggs in their dugout full-time. Or he can put those plans on hold completely for a year and enjoy 12 more months of cameos, hopefully with a better career finish than this campaign will give him.
But if he continues to try and juggle both, I suspect United risk further deterioration even if they finally secure the big-name midfielders they’re after.
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- Ryan Giggs
- Manchester United
- Bayern Munich
- Marouane Fellaini