Levekusen a must-win as Moyes looks to establish his Man Utd credentials
David Moyes’ limited but not insignificant experience in European competition has generally been defined by agonising defeats and wretched luck. And judging by the make-up of Manchester United’s Champions League group, it appears that poor fortune may have followed him from Everton.
United’s continental opener against Bayer Leverkusen at Old Trafford tonight already has a must-win look about it with a much trickier return in Germany, and double headers against Shakhtar Donetsk and the dangerous Real Sociedad to come.
Moyes has to prove he can cut it at Champions League level and a high-profile failure could make his first season at the United helm particularly uncomfortable.
One of the biggest concerns about his accession to the Old Trafford hotseat was that he is a virtual novice in the Champions League – he is much more accustomed to the Europa League – and his initial results at elite level could set the tone for the early part of his reign.
United fans relish European nights, and while many may concede that defending the Premier League title is a particularly tough ask given the increased level of competition this season, an inability to emerge from their group is likely to stir considerable dissent.
Even Moyes, who has been effusive in his rhetoric about the scale of United’s ambitions, would likely concede that a Champions League campaign truncated to a mere six games would represent a major disappointment.
United’s results in the league have been a mixed bag so far but defeat tonight would transform an acceptable start into a unacceptable one. The flipside, of course, is that some positive results in Europe could do wonders for Moyes and smooth his settling-in period.
The Scot’s European track record has been described as poor but perhaps patchy, or inconsistent, might be more fitting. Of course his one dabble with the Champions League lasted just the two legs of a qualifier, but that defeat was at the hands of a supremely-talented Villarreal side – managed by Manuel Pellegrini – and was hastened by some inexplicably poor refereeing from Pierluigi Collina, who promptly retired after the game.
Moyes also fell in the UEFA Cup at the first hurdle on two occasions – against Dinamo Bucharest in 2006 and Standard Liege in 2009. Yet the one campaign that might give United fans some hope would be the 2007-8 UEFA Cup where Everton won eight out of their 10 games in the competition, scoring 23 goals.
Victories over Metalist Kharkiv, Nuremberg, Zenit St Petersburg and AZ Alkmaar were commendable before an unfortunate penalty shootout demise to Fiorentina in the last 16.
There’s no doubt it is less European experience than United would have wanted their new manager to boast, and Moyes will have to quickly prove he has the pedigree to preserve the club’s heavyweight status on the continent.
As while a narrow loss at Liverpool can just about be stomached at present, a home defeat to Bayer Leverkusen might be a bit tougher for United fans to swallow.