David Moyes defended his team’s approach in Sunday’s 2-2 draw with Fulham with reference to the ingrained Manchester United art of swinging crosses into the box – it’s ‘in the genes’, he said.
While no one can argue with that, there are a few major points that Sir Alex Ferguson’s successor appears to have missed.
Watching Ashley Young and Rafael putting ball after ball into a crowded Fulham penalty area patrolled by the towering 6ft 7in Dan Burn, was reminiscent of Conference tactics, as Burn himself put it.
You would think that an attacking quartet with the quality of Robin van Persie, Wayne Rooney, Juan Mata and to a lesser extent Ashley Young, would be able to come up with something more imaginative between them.
Of course they could, but this was a team that looked like it had been explicitly told to focus on whipping balls across in the ‘United way’, as they have for decades, the only difference is that for some reason it doesn’t work anymore.
Crosses are most effective when they are out-swingers that are hit from the bye-line while the defending team is on the back foot.
The best teams contain wide-players that have an intuitive understanding with their strikers and are able to send in a cross safe in the knowledge that there is going to be someone on the end of it.
It was evident on Sunday – and for much of this season – that players such as Young, Rafael, Patrice Evra and Antonio Valencia have picked up a bad habit of stopping and looking up before they release the ball.
Whether down to confidence issues or instruction from the manager, this moment of hesitation allows the defending team to steady themselves and pick up their men, and also betrays the lack of cohesion that has blighted United in all departments throughout this campaign.
There is no one player that blame can be attached to, Van Persie and Rooney are two of the best forwards in the world, while only a small amount of yesterday’s crosses were below par.
But in almost every case the ball took far too long to enter the box, giving the 21-year-old Burn and Johnny Heitinga time to pick their space and hold it with little risk of being out-jumped by their world-class opposition.
So who should be lumbered with the guilt?
United were one of the most effective teams in Europe at hitting on the counter, employing a lethal blend of speed and precision to carve up the opposing team while they were still trying to get back into position, let alone track multiple runners.
That was under Sir Alex Ferguson, and even the most die-hard Fergie loyalists are forced to acknowledge that United have been in a steady decline since the departure of Cristiano Ronaldo, admittedly not quite as apparent as it is this season.
Therefore Moyes is not entirely culpable for this campaign as a whole, after all, succeeding Sir Alex is hardly an enviable task.
However, for the decision to swing endless crosses into the Fulham box for the full 90 minutes when it had become clear after half an hour that it wasn’t working, the blame rests entirely at his door.
It is not just against Fulham that this hindering approach has failed to yield a positive result, rather it has been a feature of United’s play all season, plenty of possession in the final third but no imagination and no end product.
To have attacking players such as Rooney, Van Persie, Mata and after 60 minutes, Adnan Januzaj, yet not fully utilise their mouth-watering array of talent is not what the Old Trafford faithful expect, regardless of ‘settling in’ time.
The statisticians say that United put 81 crosses into the Fulham box during the game, the most in a Premier League game since 2006, but only 18 of them found a red shirt.
David Moyes seems to be breaking plenty of records in his first season in charge, unfortunately they are not quite the right ones.
Image courtesy of BBC via YouTube, with thanks.