Symbolism makes Everton game crucial to Moyes’s Manchester United career 1

Will Quinn discusses the importance of Manchester United’s game with Everton tonight…

It doesn’t need repeating that David Moyes’s first six months as United manager have been an unequivocal disaster. For all the qualifications about the difficulty of the task, there’s no real excuse for taking a side that easily won last season’s title to eighth place just before Christmas.

A failure to beat Everton at home tonight would not end Moyes’s season or cost him his job, but it could be extremely embarrassing on a personal level. Martinez’s Wigan sides did not beat big clubs particularly regularly, but when they did, their proactive passing game gave the impression (often accurately) that they had completely outplayed their opponents. A victory over United tonight would make Moyes’s tactics look dated, dull and overly conservative, even moreso than they already do. It would also evoke connotations of Everton’s embarrassing 3-0 home reverse to Wigan in last season’s FA Cup quarter final- not a match that Moyes needs reminding of right now.

As AVB is once again finding out at Spurs, an underrated aspect of managing a football team is controlling the media narrative. Even highly competent managers can have their position made untenable very quickly if the press are not onside. At the moment the story at United is that Ferguson left at the right time: the transfer window was botched, the young players aren’t yet good enough, they have no central midfielders, and so on. All of these things are true, and as long as these are the stories the media tells, Moyes won’t have to worry about his job.

But there is another narrative, also largely true, that is much less flattering to Moyes. The narrative of a defensive coach out of his depth at an attacking team, stifling creativity and failing to make anything like the best use of the talent at his disposal. He tries to play a rigid 4-4-2 when most of Europe has moved onto fluid one-striker formations. His team responds to taking the lead by immediately dropping back into their own box for the rest of the game. He forces a team accustomed to controlling the ball to instead withstand huge amounts of pressure. And, worst of all, he has given the team no semblance of defensive solidity anyway, constantly throwing away points by conceding Sunday League goals from set pieces.

The point isn’t that Moyes is useless. No one is excellent at their job from day one, and Moyes, like Ferguson, seems to have the intelligence and work ethic to learn from his mistakes. But to do that, he needs time. If the media focus shifts too far from the “Cleverley is awful, Woodward botched the transfer window” story to the “Moyes’s tactics aren’t working” story, the time he has to work with could be very short.

Given that, tonight’s game takes on a symbolic importance that dwarfs the three points on offer. Already the game is being sold as “Moyes vs. Everton”- there’s simply no way that the blame for a poor performance could fall anywhere else. Once the press start a hatchet job on someone, it takes a lot for them to let up. A draw or defeat isn’t crucial at this stage of the season, but one in this particular game would be an absolute disaster for Moyes.

Follow Will Quinn on Twitter.

Latest Premier League odds from William Hill